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Boise Resident Remembers East Germany And The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Courtesy: Franziska Borders
Ten-year-old Franziska Borders (third from the left, second row) poses with her school class in East Germany mere weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall

November 9,1989, Germans tore down the Berlin Wall that separated communist east Germany from the West. It was the beginning of the end of the Cold War. On the 30th anniversary, we hear from Idaho resident and an East German immigrant, Franziska Borders, who witnessed history firsthand and now teaches German at Boise State University. 

An edited transcript:

The biggest misconceptions about people that live in East Germany that they're all unhappy and grumpy and that it's gray. My name is Franziska Borders, I was born in the former German Democratic Republic in 1979, 10 years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I remember it being colorful, but I can see where people get the gray from because we all wore the same clothes; we all drove the same car. There was no environmental protection, so I remember my mom hanging white clothes outside and white clothes would never be white. They would always have like a grayish film.

After World War Two, Germany was separated in fours by the four allies, which was the USA, Great Britain, France and Russia. East Germany was given to Russia. And then, on October 7, 1949, East Germany became German Democratic Republic.

Shopping was simple and difficult, so simple in that way that we didn't have that many choices. I remember there were only three types of ice cream, which was chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, like bananas, for instance, oranges, you would get once a year.

Communism is where the state owns everything and the state tells you what to do and what you need to study and what your job is going to be. In the spring of 1989, they were slowly meetings in churches where the people would get together and just talk about that they wanted a change in East Germany. 

And then in the summer, people that were vacationing in the Czech Republic and Hungary just stayed and they went to the West German embassy. So, there were about 10,000 people in Prague and the East German government said, okay, those people can go but, no more.

There were still people within East Germany that didn't necessarily want to go to West Germany, but they wanted change of reform in the country. They wanted the freedom of traveling, the freedom of speech. So there was already going on this movement, which then we're going into October, more and more people go on the street. Berlin, there are millions on October 7th, which is the 40th birthday of the country and they're on the streets.

By November 9th, when Günter Schabowski, who was the media president of East Germany, reads this piece of paper saying, we as a country have decided that people will be allowed to travel to West Germany without any restrictions. He was, then asked, when is this happening? He didn't read his piece of paper to the end because it would have said November 10th, 6:00 a.m., because then the border guards also would have been informed. But he forgot to mention that and he said, as far as I know, right now.

On November 11th, which was a Saturday, we would leave at 7 a.m. to just visit West Germany. We left at 7:00 in the morning and it took us 12 hours. And then we went through town and I saw the big yellow M and which I've heard of. So, we went in there, but I didn't get a kid's meal or a Big Mac. I got French fries and I didn't eat them right away because as a good East German, you just saved things. And so, I had them not on Sunday or Monday, I had them on Tuesday and I was very disappointed.

What it means for me, the fall of the Berlin Wall, that I wouldn't have come to the United States. I wouldn't be here and teaching German. And I think it's a good thing that it fell to have more possibilities and choices and becoming who you truly want and not a state telling you what you should become.

The Department of World Languages at Boise State University is hosting a Tear Down the Wall event at 10:30a, Friday, November 8 at  Riverfront Hall on the Boise State University campus. 

For more local news, follow the KBSX newsroom on Twitter @KBSX915

Copyright 2019 Boise State Public Radio

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