11:55 a.m., April 30, 2013

Opinion:

Geschichte einer kleinen jungen Deutschen

Story of a little girl growing up in East Germany

As many of you know by now, I am from Germany. East Germany, to be correct. I don’t know what you have learned in history about my country, but I thought it was time to give you some of my insight. This may be biased in a way, but these are my memories from growing up in East Germany, seeing the country reunite and later living in Bavaria, which was part of West Germany way back when.

I grew up in the Russian zone of Germany. I had a Russian grandfather and German grandmother. My biological father is African and still lives in Africa. How did he get to East Germany? Well, a program was in place that brought in immigrant workers. Either learned a trade in the trade schools or they got free education at our universities as long as they helped with the rebuilding effort in East Germany. So, my ethnic background is spread over two continents.

Growing up in the East never really seemed bad to me. Life may have been rather simple, and we may have been behind in some innovations, but life was good. The exception from the overall good life for me was I was the only black kid in school and a “freak” because I was born with epilepsy. I think, in a way, my family may have been seen as privileged because my mother was a nurse, and we were allowed to travel to West Germany once every three months. We shopped for items we didn’t have in East Germany (like Coca Cola), traveled, visited family stuck on the other side of the Wall or just tried out the different restaurants.

I remember goods and services in West Germany were more expensive than they were in East Germany, so maybe that was the reason we went only once every three months.

Berlin Wall leaves lasting impression

The last time I was in Berlin the Berlin Wall was still standing. It is a rather vivid image in my memory because I moved really close to the wall and was told with a gun in my face to back up or suffer the consequences. It scared me straight and left quite the imprint in my 5-year-old memory.

A few months later, the Berlin Wall came down; Germany was reunited, and the entire nation partied for a week. In old East Germany we are all still very grateful to Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the Soviet Union (1990-1991), and U.S. President Ronald Reagan for their part in reuniting our country.

As I have written in a column in fall 2011, I finally “met” my hero Gorbachev in Laramie after countless times missing him when he was in Germany.

But the reunion of the country also brought change the East may have felt more than the West. Suddenly, everything became more expensive. For example, when we used to go to a fair, we, a family of four, could spend an entire day there and never spend more than 20 Deutsch Mark (about $18 at that time). The day at the fair included three full meals and as many rides as one kid could handle. This quickly changed after the reunion, but Germany was one again, and that’s all that mattered at that time.

Later, toward the end of the 1990s, we moved to Bavaria. Germany has several dialects depending on if you travel north or south. It took me three months to understand my new teachers.

Second, I was faced with a new kind of racism I never thought would be possible. Bavaria was used to having the U.S. Army barracks and the African American soldiers. I had a relative high standing in school, at first, because people assumed I was half American. As soon as they found out I was, in fact, half African, I found myself at the bottom of the popularity chain once again.

Further, I was too light-skinned for the Africans in town, who assumed I was rich and arrogant, and too dark-skinned for the African Americans in town, who assumed I barely made it out of the jungle alive. I guess racism will always have different ways of making its way into society no matter how educated that society may be. As I was growing up, people protected me from much of what happened like one of our neighbors being picked up by the Stasi (East German Ministry for State Security).

Yet, overall, I have many great memories of growing up in East Germany and learned many valuable life lessons. Even with our infamous past of starting world wars, Germany has come a long way and learned from the horrible mistakes of the past. Therefore, I am, and always will be, proud to be German.


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