A Trip to the DDR - "The Journey of my Life"

Chapter 4: Take-Off with Interflug

Do you remember your first ever flight? After Shimelis' father never came back from war, he went to a special camp for children. For years he hoped to get chosen as part of a delegation to visit another country. Finally the day came and he was sent to the DDR. How do you travel from Ethiopia to the DDR in 1987? Shimelis still remembers very well... by Michael Geithner (10 Oct 2017)

Before the Flight

We were sent to the the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa one week before the departure. We already knew the city from revolutionary festivals. Almost all children in the camp had taken part at these festivals before. At these celebrations, we were presenting revolutionary songs, gymnastics and other artistic performances, that appreciated Socialism and the militarist government. We used to glorify our revolutionary leaders and the revolution.

In Addis Ababa, we got training, that should help us to adapt ourselves to the strange life style that we were going to pass through, such as eating with cutlery. Ethiopian foods are eaten with bare hand and we had no idea about how to use these utensils. We also got traditional clothing, which we should present in Germany. I kept being afraid of Germans. Everything was confusing and I felt like a prisoner, who was sent to jail.

Document, "Route map Interflug - Europe, Africa, Middle East"

My first flight ever

I was 14, when I entered an airplane for the first time in my life. It was a giant Boeing with the text "Interflug" written on both sides. When the smiling hostess welcomed us warmly, I was surprised and shocked simultaneously. My mind clicked to me that "she must be German". How could a racist German woman welcome a young black boy so kindly? I thought she was kidding.

The seat I was given in the plane was near the wing. Before the plane took off, we were told to fasten our seatbelts and I had no idea what to do. My team members and some other Ethiopians sat apart from me. So I could not ask them for help. I was so confused, that I almost cried. I did not understand what happened. Everything was strange.  

Interflug passenger ticket of May 1987 from Berlin to Addis Abeba, though it is not Shimelis' ticket.

One Friendly German

Suddenly, the hostess, who welcomed us, came to help me. To me, she must have been the only innocent and friendly German among millions. I remember her short blonde hair, white and delicate skin and protruded nose. Although she gave me her warmest smile, I couldn’t respond to her. While I was hesitating, she came nearer, said some words I didn’t understand and showed me how the belt had to be fastened. Yes, I could prove there was at least one humble and friendly German on the planet. I was not sure about the rest, though. When the plane started floating above the clouds, I felt as if I could touch the sun, the moon and the stars.

I had hundreds of questions in mind during the flight. I could see the wing of the plane through its circular windows. Due to the comfort, I fell asleep after some time.

HISTORY BOX: Interflug

In the 1950s the significance of civil aviation increased worldwide. That affected the DDR as well and the Council of Ministers formed the first ever DDR airline. In 1955, the "Deutsche Lufthansa" was founded and on September 16th 1955 the first Lufthansa airplane took off to Moscow. But the peace didn’t last for long - because not only the DDR had established an airline called "Lufthansa". West Germany now had its own airline with the same name.

To avoid a long lasting legal dispute, the DDR created a second airline in September 1958: The "Interflug Company for International Air Traffic with Limited Liability". In 1963, the DDR liquidated their "Lufthansa" airline, while "Interflug" remained as the official DDR airline. The significance increased within the DDR ever since, because the route network expanded constantly. First of all, the network was enlarged within the Eastern Socialist Bloc. Later on, to provide an even larger interconnection, the airline extended to further destination, such as Asia or Africa.

One-of-a-kind In-Flight Services

When I woke up, the friendly stewardess stood at my side. This time, I couldn’t help smiling. She was wheeling a serving trolley full of food and drinks. Thanks to my knowledge of English, even if it was limited, I was technically able to tell her what I would like to have. But since I didn’t know any of these items, she chose for me.

When she came back to me after serving the passengers around, she found me crying bitterly. She was very disturbed and asked what was wrong with me. I showed her - the plastic cup broke in my hand after I finished the juice in it. She couldn’t help laughing. Eventually, she told me that plastic material is produced to be used only once and thrown away right after.

We arrived in Berlin at dusk.

Finally, I was in the DDR.

To be continued...

Bordjournal Interflug
Brochure "Bordjournal Interflug"

Text: Shimelis Haile Aga
History Box: Lisa Laubner, Elke Sieber
Editorial staff: Michael Geithner, Lisa Laubner


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