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We remember the 9th of November: ‘Memories’ by Alicja Paszek Back

We remember the 9th of November: ‘Memories’ by Alicja Paszek

6 Nov 2019

We sometimes ask our staff members to reflect upon historical events and how those events relate to their life afterwards. With all anniversaries on the Fall of the Wall this week, here are the personal memories of Alicja Paszek:

I was only eight years old when the wall fell and while some memories of this moment are blurry, others are very vivid and feel as if they happened yesterday. My parents and I have lived for just over two years in West-Berlin and the wall was something that belonged to this new place we were living in. We didn’t live far away from it and made regular Sunday walks close to it. The only thing I knew (as I was told so by my parents) is that you don’t want to be on the other side. It was only two years before, my parents took the courageous step to leave our 60m2 apartment that we had shared with my grandparents, my aunt, my uncle and my cousin in Gdańsk, to start a new life in the West. There was a lot at stake; my parents could have ended up in prison if the border control would have found our birth certificates that they had taken with them. Thankfully, the border control overlooked that one little case that was very visible lying at the dashboard in a four-hour car and personal search.

Streetview Gdansk, 1987. Courtesy of

After living in an emigrant house for some months, we soon got a small apartment for us three. And with that our first coloured TV with a remote control, a telephone (in the street I grew up there was only one family that had a telephone in their apartment), a bathroom with a bathtub and something which I thought too good to be true; a tiny room for myself. Up to that moment I didn’t know any child who had their own room and no family within my surrounding that had a bathroom with a bathtub or shower, as the kitchen was the place where people washed themselves. Also, everything seemed so colourful, from shops to candies. West-Berlin was like a fairyland for me and I felt very sorry for the people behind the wall as I imagined their life was like our life in Poland before.

What I did not understand fully however was why we were never going back to Poland. I missed my family and my friends and I often wished that I could bring them all to this nice country. But the choice of starting a new life in West-Berlin meant to never come back to Poland as my parents were too scared to get caught and be put in prison. This was especially painful for my parents when my grandmother died and they were unable to attend her funeral.

Only later I understood how painful it must have been, especially for my father. Something, which I also didn’t know back then, is that the wall had a great impact on the life of my grandmother, the mother of my father. When she was young her parents and brother moved to Germany and she was supposed to follow. This however didn’t go as planned as her family ended up in what did become East-Germany. Years later she got the opportunity to emigrate there too, but her husband (and my grandfather) refused to move to a country which in his mind was worse off than Poland. Therefore, they stayed in Poland and my grandmother only saw her family every few years for some short visits. When I was older, my father told me that when my grandmother visited us in the winter of 1987, she had such a hatred at this piece of stone that she peed in front of it to make a statement.

I don’t remember what has happened exactly on the day the Wall fell. However, I do remember that one day our teacher took us children to one open border so we could wave to all the Trabis that were entering the West. We were not the only children standing there and waving. There were others as well, who just stood there and welcomed everybody entering the West. I remember that I was happy for all those people because I thought that now they will get the opportunity to see how wonderful this place is. I also remember some children being less enthusiastic about this event and saying things at school such as; “the Ossis will now come and buy all our bananas.” Those comments made me so angry, because I could not understand why some of the kids were not happy for those people but seemed to be more scared (which they obviously just reflected from their parents). Also, this whole distinction between Ossis and Wessis confused me a lot and made me question my own identity. I am a Wessi because I live in the west I told myself. At the same time I came from the East, even further East than East-Germany, so did this mean that I was even a greater Ossi than the Ossis from East-Berlin I wondered? Anyway, the fear did not prevail long between children in my class as we soon got new classmates and a new class teacher from East-Berlin and once they got to know the newcomers, all fears vanished into thin air.

image: Rainer Jensen/dpa

Once our new teacher also took us children to East-Berlin and showed us the centre and some historical places. I somehow didn’t expect that there would be so much to see behind this wall! The old buildings, the big streets – it all seemed so different from West-Berlin but also so different from Gdańsk (which were my only two reference points until then). In my young little mind I somehow thought that everything behind the wall was bad, but when being there and exploring this part of the city and hearing all the stories from my teacher who grew up there, it surprised me that it didn’t feel so bad at all. My young worldview of easily thinking in good and bad started to be challenged.

Looking back, I feel extremely privileged that I lived parts of my childhood and adolescence in such a vibrant and changing city that had so much to offer and where there was so much to discover. My generation grew with the city and after some time, when I was a teenager, nobody at school cared who came from the East and who came from the West, it simply didn’t matter. This however was quite contrary to some adults I knew who made this distinction on a quite regular basis.

But what was the greatest thing about the fall of the wall for me as a eight year old was the fact that we could now go back to Poland and visit my family. My parents were in such a disbelief when the Wall fell that it took them days if not even weeks to understand that it really happened. Once they understood that it’s for real and that the borders would not be closed again they were delirious with joy. And they finally dared to go back to Poland to visit our family and friends. So, after three years not having been in Poland we finally went back in the summer of 1990 to spend our holidays there. We felt as the luckiest people alive as we had thought that we will never see our birth place again.

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