Back in the 1980s I had pen pals in East Germany. I was studying German at the university and that was the only way for Soviet citizens to practice the language with native speakers. In 1989 the Soviet Union travelling regulations got looser and I finally had the possibility to visit East Germany. A real dream come true!
That autumn I visited two families of my pen pals. The first family was politically very active and they even held secret political gatherings in their apartment every evening. It was in Leipzig during the well known Monday demonstrations of 1989 and, of course, my hosts wanted to participate. I went along and ended up being part of the GDR (German Democratic Republic, DDR in German – ed.) demo where everybody, including me, was chanting “DDR, DDR, DDR!” To be honest, I didn’t give it much thought back then and was just following the others, since I was not involved in any kind of politics.
But what happened next was hilarious. Apparently, some TV cameras had been filming my enthusiastic chanting and for the whole week the TV stations started the news about the demonstration with my face in close-up chanting “DDR, DDR, DDR!” It was quite complicated to explain the whole thing to my second host family, who were clearly pro West Germany and enjoyed the support that the neighbouring country was offering. For example, they acquired regularly vouchers to visit shopping malls in the “evil” capitalist West Germany and they enjoyed this luxury very much.