Why We Crossed Over

Before the border of East Berlin was sealed, the citizens of that beleaguered place, in increasing number, were making up their minds to escape. In the brave, candid statements that follow, we understand why.

Dieter S., twenty-one years old, has classic German good looks: blond hair, clear blue eyes, a fine nose, and a square chin. His father was killed in action, and his mother died after the war. He grew up with relatives in East Berlin and received a secondary school education. He belonged to various Communist youth organizations as the price of securing this education. Dieter crossed the East Berlin-West Berlin frontier the day before the wall went up.

After I had finished my regular schooling, I was told that I would make a good hospital worker, and I was assigned to a hospital for training. It was my hope to become a laboratory technician, and I was told that this was possible. Nevertheless, I continued to work as an orderly. This is not bad work, but there is not much future in it if you ever want to get married and have a decent life, so I worked hard and kept asking for higher training.

I knew in my heart that I would never have a chance for such training. I was not doing the right things. Often I skipped the lectures on Communism that all the hospital workers were supposed to attend. I cannot explain this, really. A lot of people go to the lectures who do not believe them. Most people, in fact, do not believe them. Besides, the lectures are extremely boring and very long. I had heard it all many times. Still, it was better to go if you wanted to get ahead. I knew it, but I could not make myself go. At the same time, I had dropped out of the various organizations I belonged to as a student. The reason was the same: they were dull and boring, the same thing over and over again.

One day my supervisor called me into his office. He charged me with my behavior and asked what was wrong with me. I told him I was discouraged about my future and asked why I had not been given the training I had been promised. He grew angry. He said that people who showed no sign of loyalty to the state would not be picked for higher training. He told me that I was politically unstable and that a serious view of this was taken by the authorities. Naturally, I was frightened and didn't know what to say. He sent me away.

A day or two later, I had a call from the police. They said that they knew that I had been going frequently into West Berlin to see my aunt. They knew also that I had many friends in West Berlin and that I had been seen riding on a motor scooter with a decadent girl from West Berlin who had long hair, like Brigitte Bardot's. All of this was true enough, and I could only admit that it was. I was ordered not to go to West Berlin any more, and, in particular, not to visit my aunt. I said that she was my only relative. The police said that this made no difference, that she was a bad influence who made me forget my loyalties.

I expected that when I told my aunt she would cry or be upset and maybe ask me to flee from East Berlin. Instead she advised me not to get into trouble on her account and to do what I thought best. Because I knew that I was being watched, I stopped crossing the border. Also, I went to the education classes and let them try to rehabilitate me. All the time I was melancholy. I did not hear what was being said in the education classes. I felt that there was no hope in the world for me.

After a while, I was called into the supervisor's office again. There was another man there to see me, and the supervisor went out of the room while he talked to me. The man was from the police, and he had my record with him in a folder. My name was on the cover. He riffled the pages of the folder as he talked to me. It made me nervous.

The man told me that there had been some doubt about me, but the authorities were encouraged at the progress I had made. They were convinced that I was trying to do better. He was very charming and sympathetic. He knew all about my plans and hopes to be a technician.

This, he said, was very possible if I had the right attitude. All I had to do was observe certain patients and fellow workers whose names would be given to me, and report what they said and did and who they saw. It was simple. It was a patriotic duty. It was a way to get ahead. I told him that I would think about it.

That night I crossed the frontier into West Berlin and knocked on my aunt's door. To be a technician in a laboratory does not mean that much to me. There is a limit to what you can be asked to pay, and I have paid enough.

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