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

Chapter 5: Welcome to the DDR

A few weeks ago, Shimelis sent a shout-out for his old friends, and one heard the call. Constanze Prehl was still an amharic student, when she was sent to Pionierrepublik "Wilhelm Pieck" as an interpreter for a delegation of young ethiopians. Shimelis remembers her from the second on he stepped out of the Interflug airplane. by Michael Geithner (17 Oct 2017)

A surprising first impression

It was the end of June and I felt cold when we exited the airplane. The airport was crowded and I had problems hearing due to the changes of air pressure. All of a sudden, we stood in front of two women. One of them greeted us in Amharic, the official work and office language in Ethiopia, and introduced both of them. It took me some time to believe that a German could speak our language.

She was called Konstanze Prehel and functioned as our interpreter. She wore a scarf just like the traditional costume of my country. I didn’t understand why a racist typical German would wear the costume of a black nation.

My childhood mentality told me that I was in the land of Nazis, who have tortured and killed thousands of people and even committed genocide of the Jews. I was told, they have limitless animosity and hostility to all black people. In my mind, Germans were merciless persecutors. But the women here seemed warm and friendly. For welcoming us, they hugged and kissed us on the cheeks.

The ethiopian delegation including Shimelis (holding the ethiopian flag), three other ethiopian children, their teacher, Constanze Prehl and her fellow interpreter.

HISTORY BOX: Memories of Constanze Prehl

From 1984-1988, I studied Sprachmittler [DDR term for interpreter] for English and Amharic at the Karl-Marx University Leipzig. During the summer holidays, we always could apply for different student employments. At the beginning of my studies I worked on a construction site in Berlin, afterwards, inter alia, in a holiday property of the FDGB [Freier Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, engl.: Free Federation of German Trade Unions] in Mecklenburg. Later we could apply for more profession-oriented internships, such as language-oriented internships.

I did an internship in the Pioneer Republic “Wilhelm Pieck”. This was a big international summer camp, were children and teens from all around the world met. I remember delegations from Mozambique, Angola, Tanzania, São Tomé and Principe. Every group was photographed in front of the Wilhelm Pieck memorial. The young people from “my” delegation were the older ones. The photo shows clearly, that the ethiopian characters were more conservative and formal, which firstly loosened during the performance of the traditional dances. The camp offered an extensive leisure program and they put a lot of effort in introducing the various cultures and in reciprocal exchange. There were, for example, evenings, were they served country-specific dinners and we never lacked any ingredients. The Ethiopians passionately cooked their beloved Wot [very spicy meat goulash], even sweet potatoes, which I had seen and tried for the first time back then, were cooked by the Mozambicans.

Of course there were politically educational programs, too, the groups had different workshops, which for example dealt with children’s rights. We rehearsed a lot for the closing event. I remember an ethiopian Pioneer song and a dance with animal fur on their heads to represent a lion. I can imagine, that a summer in the Pioneer Republic was a lasting experience, especially for the Ethiopians.

Journey to the Pioneer Republic

Confusion and suspicion were circulating in my teenage blood. While we were walking to the bus, which was prepared to take us to Pioneer Republic “Wilhelm Pieck”, Susanne, the other woman, grasped my hand and tried to calm me down. I could tell, she was happy, even though I didn’t understand her words.

The Pioneer Republic “Wilhelm Pieck” was 60 km away from Berlin. It was night and what we could see in Berlin was highly impressive. The colorful magnificent city was charming at night. I had never seen such a comfortable bus. Its seats were delicate and every part of it was tidy. There were many other teenagers of our age and visitors of the summer camp. There were delegates from various countries streaming to the camp.

During the ride, Coni talked with me. I felt more and more secure, although I was still suspicious towards other Germans. My parents have never told me bedtime stories. I never saw them sitting together or taking me away for a picnic. No one hugged me as his or her child. But this woman, who I had met minutes ago, treated me like a mother.

Picture from "Pionierrepublik 'Wilhelm Pieck'" made by Constanze Prehl

Arrival at night

We arrived at the camp at night. There were many lights illuminating the area. The beauty of the garden was breathtaking. Susanne led us to the apartments. An elder woman, who was the administrator of our apartment, came outside to welcome us. All dormitories had one German coordinator who guided them.

We were distributed to different dorms. My Ethiopian friend and I lived with three Hungarian boys. The dormitories were magnificently prepared. This was my new home for the next couple of months.

Reunion via Skype: Constanze Prehl and Shimelis Haile in September 2017.

To be continued...


Text: Shimelis Haile Aga
History Box: Constanze Prehl
Editorial staff: Michael Geithner, Lisa Laubner


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