Divided Germany in my Life

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Another quiet Sunday. In fact, the weekend has been quiet. As with many people associated with academia, I like to say that I do not watch television. I do not watch too much of it (I think). I watch it to unwind in bed. Last night I thought all the programmes were boring and I switched to DW TV, (Deutsche Welle TV) and watched an interesting documentary about the fall of the Wall and popular music. I found the film interesting because I spent 13 years of  my life in Germany and was familiar with some of the music, which I had not heard for ages! Udo Lindenberg, Marius Muller Westernhagen and so on. As music often does, it brings back memories. I could relate to the film.

This morning, as I made my bed, I turned on the TV again and saw that CNN was running a live feature on Germany’s commemoration of 25 years after the fall of the wall. I watched Angela Merkel, the mayor of Berlin, and some other people at a church service. Later, I watched as they lit candles and placed them at the memorial. I did not continue with my TV viewing as I had other things to do but it set me thinking.

I went to Germany in 1972 at the age of 17, and stayed there for 13 years. I often say I grew up there. When I returned to Ghana I was an adult woman and had to learn about the dynamics of living in Ghana as an adult. But that is another story. I returned to Ghana in 1985, before the Wall came down. I was surprised when it fell, not only because I ceased to follow developments in Germany when I returned to Ghana, but also because I never even considered the possibility of re-unification for the Germans.

Today as I watch the footage and the live events, I notice I am happy for them and proud of their achievement. People power has achieved much in world politics since then. Only last week we saw the people of Burkina Faso go onto the streets to chase out Blaise Campaore. Good old people power.

The focus on Germany made me think about what impact my sojourn there made in my life, and asked myself what kind of awareness I had at that time about the divided Germany I lived in.
In 1972 I entered a German language school, on a scholarship from the Ministry of Culture in the state of Baden Wurttemberg. I do not recall learning about the division in the language school. I learned about the river Rhine, the Lorelei, German philosophers but nothing about the other side. At the university, I came across Africans who had ‘escaped’ from the ‘Ostblock’ as we called it, and I must say I never was impressed by them. This is because I had come into contact with leftist leaning people and leftist ideology and thought of those Africans as people who had let down the cause. I was aware of the Otto Benecke Foundation, set up to help students who had left the Ostblock. As an active member of the Ghana Students Union I often attended meetings in (West) Berlin. The train went through the German Democratic Republic and I recall that I thought the border guards there were much more thorough than those on the other side. They took a good look at one’s face, comparing it with the passport picture. The guards in the West never did that. Then there were the Intershops, where one could buy good cheap Russian Vodka and chocolate. I did not know much, I never read much about the history of the divided Germany and the Germans I associated with did not talk much about East Germany. I even dated a man who had escaped from Leipzig one summer. He never told me about his experiences. So I was pretty ignorant about the other side of Germany. Even when the poet Wolf Biermann made the news headlines, I did not pay much attention, although I knew he was a so-called ‘dissident’. And so time passed and I lived my life, not paying attention to such issues. I left Germany in 1985, and faced a period of adjustment and adapting to life in Ghana.

My first child was born in 1989, in Accra. I now know I must tell him he was born at a time when important changes were taking place in the world. Apartheid came down, and the Berlin Wall as well.
I love many things about Germany. It is not home for me; however it is a familiar place where I learnt a lot about life. I love the food, the efficiency, the down to earth nature of Germans. I salute all Germans, particularly  those I am still in touch with: Jackie, Rika, Ferdinand, Frederick, Eva-Maria, Sabine, Frank, Rheinhilde, Rudiger, Julian.

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