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.

Ursula F., twenty-five years old, is a small, pretty girl with a mass of auburn hair. She has a quick laugh and a mobile, expressive face. She speaks a witty German, full of unexpected phrases.

A few years ago, when I was studying in Berlin Free University, I used to go out sometimes with a boy who hated Communism. He used to ask me, "How can you think of going back into that prison? Why should you put your mind into cold storage?" I was younger then, and I thought it was possible to live under the Communists. I used to tell my friend: "It is too ridiculous to last. Don't worry." Now I am older and I still think that the Reds are ridiculous and that they can be killed, really destroyed, by laughter. The trouble is, of course, that everyone is too scared or too tired or too bored to laugh. Therefore, they go right on Communizing and Bolshevizing and looking fat and severe. Anybody want to laugh?

I am asked all the time why I decided to come across the border. It is difficult to package up the reasons and give them to you with a red ribbon tied around them. To be truthful, it was no one thing. It is the corrosion and gradual wear and tear that get one in the end.

This is my case history: I came to West Berlin to study in the Free University. This was not a wise decision politically, but my love is literature and I wanted to read my books in peace and discuss them in freedom. At least, I thought, I'll have that secreted in some corner of my mind, even if I do go back. And so I have. After I had been in West Berlin for a while and had even fallen in love a little bit with the boy I told you about, I started to receive callers. These ladies and gentlemen talked to me very mournfully about my family and about my duty to the fatherland and how I should go back to East Germany. I kept saying no. I wanted to finish my studies. But they sometimes came to see me every day. When I was trying to study, two of them would come and talk to me for five hours or more, repeating the same things over and over. Finally I gave up. It was impossible. I went back home. I haven't seen the boy again, but maybe he is still here somewhere, and if he is, I want to tell him how right he was.

So I went back and finished my studies, and then I had good luck and was given a job in a publishing house. I started as a clerk, but after a time I was asked to read and criticize manuscripts. Some of them were pretty good, but we never accepted these. We were very eager to publish good, solid socialist realism, but anything with a grain of truth in it had no chance. I used to read things first, so I could do some good: if a young writer wrote a critical novel, I could always send it back to him and warn him not to submit it elsewhere if he wanted to stay out of trouble. Some of those young men, burning with talent and frustration, really needed protection. God knows what will happen to them eventually if they keep writing.

After I had been at the publishing house for a time it was suggested that I join the German-Soviet Friendship Youth Organization. Everyone has to belong to something like this in order to keep up appearances, and it seemed pretty harmless, so I joined. One night I lost my temper during a discussion period and asked why there couldn't be free elections and a sound economy that would furnish the necessities of life in East Germany. I was ruled out of order and was told to sit down. Our activities at the youth organization included not only dialectical discussion but also rifle practice. We were supposed to be ready for the American aggressors and their West German lackeys. As for me, I would have shot the gun off into the air like a red Indian, mad with joy at the first sight of an invader from the West.

Nothing came of my speech except some suspicious looks and a friendly talk with the group leader. He liked me, I think, so the report he turned in on me couldn't have been too awful.

At about this time I began to go with a journalist. He was a nice young man, and he introduced me to his friends. They cling together, journalists, and tell each other all the stories that they write each day. After a while, the police came to me and asked if I knew So-and-so, my journalist friend. I said yes. And did I know his friends? Was I an intimate member of their group? Yes, I said. Ah, then, would I mind, as a small gesture of citizenship and loyalty to the state, writing a little report now and then on what they said and did—especially what their political sympathies seemed to be?

I refused. The same policeman came again and gave me another chance. Again I declined. He was very angry and went away. The next day two other policemen came to my house and searched my effects. In my handbag they found a copy of a West German newspaper. This was the sinister evidence they were looking for, and they waved it around and lectured my poor mother about it until she nearly cried. Then I was ordered to report on the following Monday for political education. On Sunday I took a train to East Berlin, walked to the nearest border checkpoint, and said to the guard: "I just want to buy a copy of the Frankfurter Allgemeine." He smiled and let me through.

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