I wrote this story for school a while back. It’s supposed to be a historical-fiction sort of novel, but I think I exaggerated a few of the main facts, such as when the guards wouldn’t let people go through the wall anymore, so heh heh, it’s not too historical. 🙂
It was August 12, 1961 in Berlin, Germany. Germany and Berlin were split up into East Germany and East Berlin, and West Germany and West Berlin. I was twelve years old at the time, and I lived in West Berlin. My cousin and best friend, Maria, who was also twelve lived over in East Berlin. The Soviet Union controlled East Berlin; and the United States, Great Britain, and France controlled West Berlin. Sure, I knew that life wasn’t as good in East Berlin as it was in West Berlin, but I never knew just how bad it was until that day…
My cousins and my sister and I were planning one last sleepover before school started. We were so excited that we kept running back and forth to each other’s houses every hour or two to see how the other family was getting along with the sleepover preparations. Our houses were very close to each other, but my house was just inside the border of West Berlin, and my cousin’s was just inside the border of East Berlin.
“Can’t you wait?” I asked my cousin excitedly on one of the trips over to her house.
“I can hardly stand it!” she replied.
“We’re going to have bratwurst and sauerkraut for supper – mmmm!” I said. “You had better have something better for supper than bratwursts and sauerkraut, or I’m not coming!” I teased. We were going to switch houses: Joyce, my cousin who was the same age as my sister, was going to our house for a sleepover, while I was to sleep at my cousin Maria’s house.
“Oh, don’t worry about that!” Maria answered. “We’re having bratwursts and sauerkraut too!”
I laughed. Our families were so much alike we were even having the same meal without knowing it! “OK,” I said, faking reluctance, “I guess I’ll come.”
Just then my sister Korrie ran up. “It’s time for lunch, Greta. Mother says we can’t have the bratwursts yet because we have to save them for tonight, so we’re having cabbage soup.” She made a face. None of us children liked cabbage soup.
“I’m coming.” I said reluctantly. “See you tonight, Maria!” I called over my shoulder as I ran down the path to our house.
Finally, after several long hours and four more trips to see how the other family was doing, it was time for the sleepover. Joyce came over before I had a chance to get all my things out the door, and she and Korrie were giggling and whispering together as I plodded out of the house with my load of sleepover luggage.
“Goodbye, Greta!” called Mama and Papa as I trudged towards Maria’s house.
“Goodbye!” I shouted without bothering to turn around. Later I wished I had turned around. Later I wished I had never even gone to this sleepover, for this sleepover would change my life forever – and not in a good way.
Maria helped me bring my luggage up to her room. We unrolled my sleeping bag on the floor next to her bed, then sat on it and talked. We talked and talked until Maria’s mother called us for dinner. You would think that we wouldn’t have much to talk about because we saw each other so often, but we had no trouble chattering away until supper.
Supper was good, of course, both because bratwurst and sauerkraut is my favorite meal, and because Maria’s mother is an amazing cook. She could make cabbage soup taste like a delicacy… well, maybe she isn’t that good of a cook. I suppose no one could make me like cabbage soup.
Maria was excused from dishes clean-up because I was there. She sure was grateful. “I wish you could live here all the time,” she told me. “You’re much more fun to have around than Joyce. She always wants me to play dolls with her.”
“I know how you feel,” I said. “Korrie is always nagging me to play games with her or sew her more clothes for Percy.” Percy was Korrie’s well-loved teddy bear she had gotten as a baby. Despite the fact that Percy had a wardrobe that any good bear would think was a bit much, Korrie always welcomed more clothes, and somehow managed to stuff the new piece into the bulging box under her bed where she kept Percy’s wardrobe.
Eventually even Maria and I, the masters of chattering, started running out of things to say.
“What do you say we play salon?” Maria asked after awhile. “I bought a beautiful new hairband from Martha’s Beauty Shoppe the other day.” She got up from the bed where we were sitting and took it out from her treasure box on top of her dresser.
I gasped – “That is the very same headband I look at every day on the way to school!” I longed to buy that headband, but I thought it far too unpractical to waste my money on something like a headband. The headband was very wide, and it was a beautiful deep purple color with painted vines curving and spiraling along the edge, and in the center of each vine was a light pink rose edged with dark pink. All along the edges of the headband were beautiful golden dots. I had wanted it so badly because I thought that maybe, just maybe, the headband’s beauty would overshadow my dull, straight brown hair and make it beautiful. And here I could finally try it on!
We had a lovely time doing each others hair. I discovered that the headband, while it didn’t make my hair beautiful, did add a pretty touch. Maria was a master hairdresser on account of her long, shining, dark brown curls that she had to fix every day. My hair was short, so I usually just let it hang.
“Shall I do your hair in a crown braid or a pulled-back braid?” I asked Maria.
“I think a crown braid. They look so elegant, don’t you think?” Maria turned to me.
When our hair was elegantly styled, we decided to watch a movie. It was a good movie. Maria and I laughed and cried at all the same spots.
After the movie was finished Maria’s mother came into the room. “It is about time for two certain girls to be in bed, don’t you think?” she hinted, winking at us.
“Yes, Mama,” Maria said sleepily. We were both tired after the movie.
We were too tired even to whisper like we usually did, so we just brushed our teeth, put on our pajamas, and went to bed. As I snuggled down I thought how lucky I was to have a cousin like Maria, and how nice it was to have a sleepover with just her and in two minutes I was asleep.
I woke up while it was still dark. I thought that unusual because I often slept late – too late. I looked at the clock on the wall and I couldn’t make out the time from the soft, faint light of the alarm clock. It was dark, maybe early in the morning.. I wondered what woke me up. Soon I heard it again – a sort of rumbling noise, and then some shouts.
I went over to the window and pulled the curtains aside. In the streetlights I could see shapes moving, and what looked like big trucks carrying something. It almost looked like they were building something. “What could they building at 12:30 at night?” I wondered silently. I shrugged my shoulders and went back to bed. I could see what they were doing in the morning.
The next morning I woke up before Maria. I looked over at the lump in her bed and knew that she was still sleeping soundly. If her snores were any indication, she would not want me to wake her up just yet.
Then I remembered what I had seen last night and decided to go check it out. I snuck softly down the stairs and slipped on my shoes. I opened the door slowly and went outside. The day was gray and it looked like it could rain later in the day. I trotted through the alley until I came to the spot that I saw out of Maria’s window. I turned the corner and stopped short at what I saw.
It was a huge wall. Not just a wall, but a fierce concrete wall bristling with barbed wire. There were soldiers all along the wall, with faces like cold stone. It was frightening. It looked almost like, like… like we were trapped behind the wall!
I ran blindly into the house, this time not caring whether I made noise or not. I rushed up the stairs and burst into Maria’s room. I stood there, gasping for breath. I was scared. More scared, I thought, than I should be. “After all,” I reasoned, “it’s just a wall. A wall can’t hurt you.” The more I thought about it, the more I was disgusted with myself for acting like such a baby.
Just then, Maria woke up.
“What are you doing?” she asked groggily.
“Oh, nothing,” I said, trying to look nonchalant. “I just took a little walk outside.” That was true of course, and I didn’t know if I wanted to tell her what I had seen just yet.
“OK…,” Maria yawned. “Let’s go get breakfast. I’m hungry.”
“Alright,” I agreed.
Breakfast was probably really good, but I couldn’t taste anything. I kept thinking about the wall, and the stony faces of the soldiers. After breakfast I cautiously suggested that Maria and I go take a walk. I wanted to see what she thought of the wall.
As we turned the alley corner, I watched Maria’s reaction. “Oh!” she gasped. “Where did that come from? It wasn’t there yesterday. And what…” her voice faltered, “what are those soldiers doing?” Maria began to looked frightened. I was secretly relieved. I wasn’t the only one who was scared of this strange wall.
“It feels like we’re trapped!” Maria whispered.
“I know,” I said. We were both silent for a moment, then I said, “Oh, we’re just being silly! Let’s go explore it!” I tried to sound cheerful, but it wasn’t easy with that forbidding wall staring down at us.
“Well… alright,” Maria said doubtfully. We approached a soldier timidly.
“Ex-excuse me,” I stammered. “May we go to the other side of the wall and look around?”
He looked down at us as if we were insects he wanted to squash. “No one is allowed to cross the wall,” he said, looking annoyed. “That is the whole reason the wall was built, after all – to keep you sneaking vermin from escaping to West Germany.” He said these last words with a sneer on his face. “From now on you must be content to live under the rule and reign of the great Stalin – hail his name! You will never escape – the wall surrounds all of West Germany and all of West Berlin!” The soldier grinned down at us, as if he thought it was just what we deserved.
“But, but sir!” A horrible new thought had just entered my mind. “But sir, please, my family lives on the other side of the wall! Can’t I go…”
The soldier cut me off, “You certainly may not go visit your family. You will stay on this side of the wall, forever!” He laughed a cruel laugh.
I just stood there, stunned. This couldn’t be true – was I never to see my family again?
In desperation I moved on to another soldier and asked him, pleaded with him, to let me pass through the gates; I told him that I just wanted to get to my family. It was no use. He just shoved me off and laughed. I didn’t know what to do, so I just sat down on the ground and wailed. I wept for myself, for my family, and… Maria…. I remembered that Maria was with me. I stopped crying and looked around for Maria. She was still standing at the first soldier we had talked to. She looked pale and frightened.
I ran to her and put my arms around her. I had almost forgotten that Joyce, Maria’s sister, was over there too. “But at least Maria gets to live with all of her family except for Joyce,” I thought. “I don’t have any of my family here at all.”
Maria shook herself a little and blinked. “Greta, I… I think we had better go tell Mama and Papa.” I agreed.
We walked slowly back to Maria’s apartment. Maria’s mother was making breakfast.
“Are you alright?” Maria’s mother looked concerned when she saw our faces.
“Mama,” Maria began, “There’s…” she couldn’t finish her sentence. Maria started crying. When I saw her crying I started crying again too.
“What’s the matter girls?” Maria’s mother looked bewildered. “Are you hurt? Was someone mean to you? What? What is the matter?”
We didn’t have to answer, for just then Maria’s father burst into the house, boiling over with anger.
“Those Soviets! What are they trying to do to us?!”
By this time Maria’s mother was fairly frantic with curiosity. Everyone had just come into her peaceful home and started going crazy! Finally, Maria’s father calmed down enough to explain to her what was happening.
“Those Soviets have built a wall around West Germany to keep us from escaping. We not only can not get to freedom if the situation gets worse here, we will not be able to go to the shops and cities there were we go to buy food at good prices. And…,” his voice became soft and faint “we we won’t be able to see Joyce.”
Maria’s mother looked horrified. Her daughter was gone. She was so close, yet so terribly far away.
No one felt like breakfast. No one even pretended they were hungry. We sat down, spooned the oatmeal on to our plates, and let it get cold without even touching it. Any other time Maria’s mother would be scolding us and telling us not to waste good food, but this time even she couldn’t eat.
Maria and I moped around the house. On one of my many pacings of the parlor, I had a great idea. I wondered that we didn’t think of it earlier. We could call our house by telephone! I ran joyfully to Maria’s mother. She, too, wondered why we hadn’t thought of it before. It wasn’t as good as actually seeing my family, of course, but at least I could hear their voices. I dialed their number and waited breathlessly. The wait seemed endless. In fact, it was endless – the Soviets had cut the phone lines! Now I was completely and utterly cut off from my family. And I couldn’t help thinking, “This is all because of the sleepover. If we wouldn’t have had this sleepover I would still be trapped by the wall, but I would be trapped with my family.”
It was a terrible day.
In the years that followed Maria’s family informally adopted me, seeing as I was basically an orphan with no way to get to my parents. I learned to call Maria’s mother “Mama” and her father “Papa.” It was hard for me to do at first, knowing that my real parents were still alive, and that they still loved me as much as ever, but I got used to it with time. It was nice to have Maria as a sister. Of course, I missed Korrie very much, but Maria was a good substitute. We didn’t always get along as well as we had when we were cousins, instead of sisters, but we formed a deep and lasting friendship.
Life in East Germany was hard. I realized that when I started actually living there. I had never known before how privileged I was to live in West Germany, where the people were free to do what they chose instead of working for the Soviet government.
One time I asked Maria’s mother why they hadn’t moved to West Germany before, while they had the chance.
“I suppose because we live in East Germany – that is our home.” she replied. I thought it a rather unsatisfactory answer, but I supposed it was true. I wouldn’t want to move from my house or my country unless it was absolutely necessary.
Life went on despite the wall. The wall was actually torn down several times, but a new wall, always stronger and more fierce than the last, was quickly put up in its place. The people of Germany didn’t always resign themselves to their fate: some tried to escape. But their bravery almost always ended in failure and death. The soldiers guarding the wall were always on the lookout, and they had orders to shoot whomever they saw trying to escape.
The years passed quickly – my thirteenth birthday came and went, then my fourteenth. Time kept passing on. One day I celebrated my twentieth birthday. When I was twenty-two and so was Maria, Maria was married one of our neighbors’ sons. His name was Kristopher. They didn’t have much money for a glamorous wedding, so they had to content themselves with a very small ceremony. They didn’t mind too much, though. At least they had each other.
One day in April, after I had just turned twenty-two, I had a sudden thought: I had been apart from my family for 10 years. That seemed like a very, very long time. Suddenly, I had the sudden urge to escape, to flee from this horrible life and to find my family again. I knew that it was practically impossible to escape through the gates of the towering wall, but… there must be some way! I was determined to find a way, somehow, and to escape, whatever the cost would be.
One night, as I lay in bed, an idea came to me. A crazy idea, it was true, but an idea that could possibly help me escape: the gates in the wall were guarded well, but if I couldn’t go through the wall, why not go over it? Of course, the big problem was I didn’t have an airplane, nor did I know anyone with an airplane, nor would I know how to fly one if I had an airplane. But I wouldn’t let these obstacles stop me.
About a month later, I thought of a solution: I would make a hot-air-balloon! I hardly knew any more about hot-air-balloons than I did about airplanes, but there was one big asset to a hot-air-balloon: I could make one. I could gather up scraps of cloth and sew them together, and this would make the balloon that would carry me to freedom. I was so excited I could hardly sleep that night for planning my escape.
The very next day I put my plan into action. I went around the neighborhood, collecting scraps of cloth, or buying them with the small amount of money I had saved up. Soon I had enough to start making my balloon. Now I was glad that Korrie had always nagged me to sew her clothes for Percy. It certainly had sharpened my sewing skills! Five more months and my balloon was finished. It took me awhile because I could only work on it in my spare time between chores and my job. Then, with the help of Maria’s father, I put the balloon together. Finally, the balloon was finished.
I planned the date of the journey with fear and rejoicing: fear because this was an extremely dangerous thing to do, for the soldiers could shoot a hole in my balloon and I could crash to the ground and be killed; but also rejoicing, for, despite the dangers, there was a chance that this journey would make me free!
Finally the day arrived. Maria and her husband and Maria’s parents and I got in the balloon. I turned on the gas and we went sailing up into the sky. Slowly, we gained altitude as we headed for the wall. We came nearer and nearer the wall, until we were fairly above it. Then, something dreadful happened.
A soldier happened to look up in the sky and spot us. He shouted, and more soldiers came to him and looked up to see us. Then they started shooting. There guns were powerful enough that they reached the balloon. We could hear bullets whistle all around us. Then, oh joy! We were past the wall and the shouts of the soldiers faded away. We were free at last!
But when it looked like all would end happily ever after, one stray bullet came whistling toward us. It hit the balloon with a “Plunk!” We all heard the sickening sound of tearing fabric, then the balloon starting falling, faster and faster. We were going to crash!
The ground came up to meet us as we hurtled toward it. The balloon, unable to hold itself up because of its rip, suddenly plunked down on top of us in the basket. Now we weren’t able to see where we were going and it was all the more terrifying. We all waited for the jolt that would tell us we’d hit land. It seemed like we would never stop falling.
But, of course, we did stop. The basket thudded to the ground with a bone-crunching “THUMP!”. As soon as we hit the ground, my left arm started burning. My head whipped forward as we stopped, and I hit the edge of the basket hard. My head started aching so badly I could barely see. I thought I was going to pass out.
Through my pain I heard a voice sobbing. I lifted my aching head and looked around. Everyone was lying on the bottom of the basket, either stunned or injured. I looked over to Maria, and saw that it was she who was crying. Her face was turned away from me. I crawled over to her as best I could.
“Are you alright, Maria?” I asked her. I feared that she was badly injured. Maria never cried unless it was really serious.
“Oh, Greta!” she sobbed, turning her face to me, “Oh, Greta! I’m just so happy to be free!”
“So am I, Maria, so am I,” I whispered. I was surprised, but also very much relieved. Maria was crying tears of joy, not tears of pain!
Now that I knew Maria wasn’t injured, I crawled around and asked everyone else how they were doing. Maria’s mother was fine, just a little shaken. Maria’s father thought he had a twisted ankle, but he insisted that it was nothing. I came to Kristopher last.
“How are you doing Kris?” He didn’t answer. He was lying face-down in a corner by himself. “Kristopher, did you hear me?” I asked again. No answer. I tried to pull him into a sitting position, and as I turned him over, I saw that there was a deep gash in his forehead. He was unconscious. I quickly called Maria and her parents over to help. Maria’s mother bathed his forehead with some water that we had brought with us in the balloon, and Maria wiped his cut gently with her dress.
Slowly, Kristopher opened his eyes. He smiled at Maria.
“I’ll be alright,” he told her, still smiling weakly. He became dizzy when he tried to sit up, so we made him a comfortable bed from what we could find in the balloon and told him to rest.
Now that everyone was taken care of, I had time to look around us. We had landed in someone’s back yard, narrowly missing a tree growing there. I did not recognize the place, but I hoped whoever lived there would not mind that we had ripped up a lot of their lawn when we landed. “Everyone,” I announced, “I am going to go knock on the door of this house and ask whoever is living there if I can use their phone to call a doctor for Kristopher.” I had remembered at the last minute that people in West Germany could use their phones. Everyone agreed to my plan, so I climbed out of the basket, walked up the back steps and knocked on the door. As I waited for someone else I decided to ask whoever came to the door if they knew where my family lived.
A servant opened the door. “What is it, miss?” she asked politely, although secretly I’m sure she was disgusted at my unsightly appearance.
“May I use your phone, please? I would like to call a doctor.” I smiled and attempted to look a bit more civilized.
“Why certainly, ma’am,” she replied, “I hope it is nothing urgent.”
“No, not urgent, he just needs a doctor,” I said.
“And where is this poor fellow at now?” she asked, looking concerned. I was rather embarrassed to tell her, but I did anyway.
“Well, he’s… he’s actually in your back yard,” I said, flushing. She was very surprised.
“We have just escaped from East Germany,” I said quickly, trying to explain. “You see, the living conditions are horrible over there, and you know, the wall, and we just had to escape, so we came over in a hot-air-balloon and landed in your backyard, and then Kristopher got a cut in his head and he’s too dizzy to sit up, so we need a doctor.” I leaned heavily against the doorframe and tried to catch my breath.
The servant looked at me like I was crazy – for which I certainly didn’t blame her.
“Well, the telephone is in here to your right” she said. She hesitated, then said “Are you sure you don’t need a doctor?” She looked at me doubtfully.
“No, no, I’ll be fine,” I pushed past her and found the phone as quickly as I could. I had almost forgotten how to dial, I hadn’t used a telephone in so long.
After I finished my call, I turned back to the servant, who was still staring at me.
“Excuse me, but do you know where the Linbergher family lives?” (Linbergher was my last name.)
“Why yes, miss,” she said, “you’re standing in the very house.”
I was astonished. Now that I looked around, the house did seem familiar. I guessed I just hadn’t recognized the backyard in all the excitement. But, there was one thing that made me skeptical: we had never had a servant when I lived here.
“When were you hired?” I asked the servant.
She looked startled at the sudden question. “Well Miss, I.. I think two years ago, if I remember correctly.”
I was relieved. No wonder I didn’t know her. I suddenly laughed.
“Where is your mistress?” I asked.
I was hardly able to contain my excitement as the servant led me along the hall to the dining room. I cried out in pure joy – for there before me, just sitting down to dinner, was my cousin Joyce… and my family!
Mama! Papa! Korrie! Joyce!” I shouted. They all looked up with startled faces.
Mama was the first to recognize me. “Oh! Greta, Greta darling!” She flew from the table and hugged me hard. Soon everyone was flocking around me and laughing and crying and asking questions.
Before I answered anyone, I led them to the backyard and to everyone waiting in the balloon basket. Everyone was almost hysterical at a reunion so soon.
We spent the rest of that day in exchanging stories, and catching up. Korrie was engaged, and Joyce was still single. Mama and Papa were both in good health and all the more for seeing me again. Joyce and Maria were ecstatic about seeing each other, and Maria introduced everyone to Kristopher who was still a little dizzy, but happy that he could finally meet all the people that Maria and I talked about so often.
The doctor came later and gave Kristopher some ointment to help his head recover. The doctor said that Kristopher would be fine in a few days, but that until then he must rest. The doctor also diagnosed me with a broken left arm, and Maria’s father with a broken ankle. But these were things that would heal. The main thing was that we were together again!
About 18 years later, the Soviets proclaimed that all East Germans were free to go into West Germany if they so wished. At first people were skeptical, but when they saw that it was no trick, people started pouring through the wall. A few people started chipping off pieces of the wall. Nobody stopped them, and soon everyone was tearing down the wall with wild enthusiasm. My family and Maria’s family came too. (Korrie and I were married by that time, and Maria and Kristopher had two children. Joyce stayed single the rest of her life.) We brought pickaxes, our hands, stones, whatever we could find, and attacked the wall. Soon it was all torn down, the wall that had caused so many people misery and death. All that is left today is cobblestones showing where the wall once was. The Iron Curtain as it was called, is now only a bad memory. But as for me, I will never forget that dreadful day of the sleepover and the horrible Berlin Wall.
Click here to read an article about the Berlin Wall. There are even a few paragraphs about the dangerous escapes people made – one kind of escape really was in a hot air balloon!
This story definitely used true facts, but the characters are fictional, and the whole part about the Berlin Wall is sort of mixed up time-wise. There really was a Berlin Wall though, and many, many people actually lived the hardships behind the wall. As I said above, the hot-air balloon escape was an actual event, but lots of people weren’t so lucky. Doesn’t that make you glad for our freedom in America?!