After the Fall, East Meets West
Ask Yvonne Schulz what her
strongest memories of growing up in former East Berlin are, and
she’ll tell you it was the day she brought a banana from her
school lunch home to share with her brother. It was the only
banana she or her family would see for the entire year. Such was
the life of a child growing up in the Soviet-controlled German
Democratic Republic before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In November 1989 the former
Soviet Union collapsed. And with it, an ideology, as well as a
wall that separated two halves of a city, began to crumble. For
many Germans this meant an end to a way of life they had known
since birth. Yvonne was only 9 years old when Germany reunited.
Her family, including two brothers and paternal grandparents,
were living in the city of Magdenburg, about an hour’s drive
outside of Berlin.
Schulz recalls life in the
Soviet-controlled East – it was a disciplined and rigid system
of allotment, allowance and surveillance. Where the distribution
of a banana or pineapple was limited to one day a year and where
no one was above suspicion.
“Two members of our family were
watching my mom and dad. I think it was my father’s uncle – but
he never told me,” Schulz said. “My father has read the file
that the Stasi (secret police) kept on my family. Sometimes he
is very sad to know who was watching them.”
Her mother, Gabe, was denied
passage to visit her family in the West three times after her
brother escaped East Germany. Finally she was allowed to attend
her father’s 80th birthday party in the West, only to
be held at the border for three hours, her bags thoroughly
searched when she attempted to cross back. Her father, Achem,
was kept under surveillance by the Stasi after declining to join
“They made him an offer to be a
member – then he would get, for instance, a holiday house,
special holiday trips, telephone or a new car earlier than
normal people – but he said no,” Schulz said.
But she also recalls the fun
times she had playing dress-up with her class or summers spent
at the state-sponsored summer camps. For her family, life was
not all deprivation. Her father and grandfather had good jobs
with the state-sponsored electric company and after eight years
were able to acquire a new Trabant car.
“It was blue, bright blue, and
my father was so proud,” Schulz said.
By 2001, Schulz had moved to
Berlin. Since then, she has attained a business degree from the
University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and today works as
a purchasing agent for a multi-national company specializing in
biomedical implants and prosthetics.
Though much of her extended
family lived in the West during the communist years, her
immediate family chose to stay in the East, even after the
collapse of the Soviet government. Her mother, father and
brothers Michael and Carlsen remain there still. When asked if
she would ever return, she became thoughtful.
image moving back to Magdenburg (but) I am alone here,” Schulz
said. “The life there is cheaper – that is clear. But, I like
life in Berlin.”