Life Before the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Life Before the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Why you should care

Because the wall is gone, but the memories remain.

OZY contributor Sean Williams marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989, with a series of articles that tell the story of the wall and the division of Europe through the eyes of individuals who lived under its shadow.

A Youth Misspent Trying to Escape Communism

After two failed attempts to escape East Berlin, Cliewe Juritza had one final option: Get arrested and hope to be sold to West Germany. As the GDR’s planned economy faltered, selling prisoners became a key source of state income. Juritza boarded a train headed to the town of Eisenach. Halfway there, a border guard demanded his papers. “He asked me, ‘Do you want to escape?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ So he took me away.” Juritza was charged with attempting to escape and sentenced to a year in jail. Ten months passed, until one day a guard beckoned him to a prison van. From the van he was put on a prison train for two days. Only then did Juritza learn that West Germany had paid for his freedom. Read the story here.

Love in a Police State

There are many days Albanian Jorgji Doksani will never forget. Christmas Eve 1961 is the worst of them. As Emma, his Russian wife, stepped onto the plane that took her away from him forever, she stole one last look at him. “ Til the last moment she felt she’d be back,” he says now, wiping aside a tear. “I only found out her death secretly.” Emma died 11 years later, in a car wreck south of Moscow. It would take until the early 1990s for Jorgji, by then almost 60, to piece back together a family lost to the bitter feud between Russian and Albanian communism. Communism brought Jorgji and Emma together. It tore them apart almost as quickly. Read the story here.

From Riots to Unequal Riches in Poland

Ryszard Podkowa was tucked up in bed when his father rioted against communist rule in Poland. Ryszard was 11 years old and it was 1981. Discontent with Poland’s government had risen to a boiling point, and workers began throwing down tools in protest. The country’s leaders imposed martial law. By the time martial law was lifted two years later, thousands of activists were in jail and dozens had been killed. “Poland was not a happy place to live,” Ryszard says. Today he lives in Warsaw, where he moved to from the Krakow suburb of Nowa Huta where he grew up. A quarter of a century after communism’s fall, Ryszard lives a very different life: working to develop apps about the city and spending time cycling, traveling and attending live music concerts. Read the story here.

Cruising Through Communism

The day Anna Babitskaya first stepped onto the Taras Shevchenko was the proudest of her life. She was just 19 as she boarded the giant East German-built cruise ship named after the Ukrainian poet and statesman. Her job, waiting on the Soviet elite, capped the end of a six-year journey through school and technical college. More important, it would spell an end to the poverty that had plagued her family since the end of the Second World War. By 1971, Anna had married, and life in the Soviet Union got better. “Back then the authorities cared about you,” says Anna. “Now people have to care about themselves.” Read the story here.

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