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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Happy 25 Year Anniversary to the Free Folk of Former East Germany

Every year on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Jenny hosts a community event at Grace Studio; she puts together an East Germany Museum to celebrate her heritage and educate the local international community.

As you know, this past weekend marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall. 

Jenny is pointing on the map to her childhood home, Nordhausen (about three hours from Berlin.) She was young when the wall fell, but she still has some fascinating memories of growing up in the DDR. And she loves sharing those stories with others each year. 

I asked her what her thoughts are when she looks back at how different her life has been since the wall fell?

"My life would be nowhere near it is now. I would have never met an American nor be married to one. My kids would have not been fluent English speakers. I would have never been to America or any other capitalistic country. I would have never opened up a dance studio because private businesses didn't exist, I would have never had things like fruits from warmer countries, I would have never been able to speak my mind without the fear of getting in trouble....too many things to list and I am aware of them every single day and feel super grateful and blessed."

The first thing Jenny did after welcoming us was serve us glasses of East German champagne and give us bowls of Soljanka soup.

The champagne was to illustrate how there are still a few East German companies in business today. She showed us examples of the champagne, pickles, and delicious mustard from original East German companies.

These small East German companies survive to this day because they were some of the few that were any good! When the western businesses flooded into East Germany, most of the not-so-good businesses shut down immediately.

Soljanka soup is a Russian dish that Jenny said was very popular in East Germany. It is usually made with whatever you have on hand. Here is a recipe I found in English that seems to be about what Jenny served us.

I really liked that it had pickles in it!

After we had our yummy East German history in hand, we moved to the section of the room with the hardcore history on display.

Hearing Jenny and her uncle talk about their experiences growing up in East Germany was amazing. And I also loved Jonathan's perspective, as he remembers being stationed over here with his parents during that time period.

We were able to look, touch, read, listen to stories, and ask lots of questions. It was fascinating.

This puppet is The Little Sandman. He was one of the few regularly broadcasted East German children's television shows.

He came on every night around bedtime.

Almost like a goodnight story for the kids! Jenny said there were also Russian fairytale shows. And although the adult television was constant propoganda, none of the kids programming had any real socialist theme. It was a nice little treat for the kids, no socialist strings attached.

The money was super light... Jenny jokes that it's basically Monopoly money!

It was really interesting to learn that while the East Germans didn't have many important freedoms, they did have pretty significant security. Everyone had a job, food, heat, electricity. They weren't allowed to travel much or speak their mind, but they didn't have to worry about not having a job or being cold in the winter.

So while we might think "oh wow, they must have been so relieved when the wall came down and the DDR was dissolved" it was actually very scary for the older generation. Jenny's dad never had to look for a job in his life until after the wall fell. 

Interesting to think about! She said that a lot of people were scared about what would happen to them during the transition from a socialist state to a capitalist state. They knew that they had been missing out, but they also knew that what they had was safe.

I can't even imagine.

I'm sure those fears were fueled by so much misinformation about what life was like on "the other side" of that wall.

Jenny said they didn't even really care that much whether you learned English. Why bother if you're never going to use it? 

She was pretty fluent in Russian though ;o)

There's little Jenny in the trifold card. 

The stock image of the uniformed girl in pigtails was another interesting story. It was a greeting they'd do at meetings... the leader would ask the children, "Are you ready?" and the group would put their hands over their head like that and answer, "Always ready!"

Cute, huh?

Except they were essentially pledging that they were always ready to promote socialism. 


Long lines were a pretty regular occurrence. Any time anything new or rare was released at a store you would queue up for it.

Now doesn't that sound like fun?

When the wall fell, Jenny remembers being excited and a little overwhelmed as she experienced variety for the first time! She recalls going to the grocery store and coming home with 20+ tubs of yogurt, just to try all the different flavors! 

And she literally ate herself sick once by eating too many bananas.

She made a good point - Sometimes we think that it's so great to have so many options. But then you realize... maybe we don't actually need that many options for flavored yogurt? True story.

The car situation was nuts! Imagine that, in order to get your [cheaply made] family vehicle, you had to be put on a waiting list!

And when your name came up, you didn't have a choice about the color! 

Whichever car was ready was yours.

We also watched a documentary on the fall of the wall and it was really great. You can check out the link here:

This is the documentary that Jenny recommends.
{By following this affiliate link, you help support my blog. Amazon pays me a portion of any purchases you make through this link, at no additional cost to you. Thank you!} 

What an eye-opening afternoon!
A huge thanks to everyone at Grace Studio for putting it together. I know I'm not the only American in the KMC who is grateful for your willingness to share your amazing stories.
And for the contribution you make to this community!
I am personally extremely thankful that the wall fell 25 years ago... otherwise I would never have had the privilege of working for and learning from Jenny!
Did you like this post? Learn something new about German history?
I'd love to hear what you think in the comments!

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