The plan was to spend five days in Budapest, staying in a hotel. We had already booked our flights, there and back. On October 20, 1989, the four of us – myself, my girlfriend at the time, her colleague, and her colleague’s mother – went to Berlin Schönefeld airport.
My traveling companions had already passed through all the controls and were in the transit area when a security officer pointed at my bag on the baggage conveyor belt and asked if it was mine. When I said yes I had to take my bag off the conveyor belt and follow the security officer to a separate room. I had to completely empty my bag and undress down to my underwear. My clothing and toiletries were screened again, but nothing was found. In the end I was allowed to join my friends in the transit area. What a relief! I had been especially nervous as my intention wasn’t merely to go on vacation – although nobody but my girlfriend knew about that yet. Like so many other people in that electrifying summer, we wanted to leave the German Democratic Republic and never come back. Of course, we hadn’t told our friends about our plans.
The only people we had consulted about our planned escape via Hungary and Austria were my girlfriend’s uncle and aunt, who lived in Frankfurt am Main in West Germany. We had kept the whole thing very secret and only discussed it with them in person, as we knew that the Stasi had ears everywhere. That’s why we also had none of our certificates or other important documents with us when we set out for Budapest. My sister had the key to my apartment, and after we left she retrieved all my important papers, so that I’m still able to produce my GDR originals to this day.
Guests of the Chancellor
We were 19 years old and saw no future for ourselves in the GDR. I had grown up in a children’s home from the age of six, and I moved out of there when I was 18. It wasn’t hard for me to leave the country as I had no family that I would miss.
We spent our five days of vacation in Budapest as planned. It wasn’t until the day of our return flight, when we reached the airport, that we told our companions they would be flying back alone. Of course they were very surprised. That same day, my girlfriend and I took a taxi to the border. We were able to enter Austria on a one-day visa. From there we were taken by bus to a West German army barracks in the Bavarian Forest. We weren’t there long. Next, we got the train to Frankfurt am Main, where we were welcomed with open arms on October 26.
So when the Wall fell on November 9, 1989, we had only just arrived in the Federal Republic. That evening we were in Bonn, at the Federal Chancellery – guests of Helmut Kohl, so to speak. We were in the company of Rudolf Seiters, who was Head of the Federal Chancellery at the time. My girlfriend’s uncle was active in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and had organized a tour for us. We had dinner on a ship sailing down the Rhine. At one point a waitress called out excitedly: “The Wall is open in Berlin – they just said so on the radio.” Of course, we were absolutely astonished. We gathered around the captain’s radio so that we could follow what was happening. Back in Frankfurt am Main late that night we sat for hours in front of the TV, mesmerized by the reports coming from Berlin. We still couldn’t believe that it was actually happening.
German history was written that night, and I’m glad that I experienced it.
As I write these words, lots of old feelings start to resurface: the fear I felt during our clandestine preparations and before our flight (Will everything turn out okay? Did anyone hear us? Will our plan work?), the emotional farewell at Budapest airport, the suspenseful journey over the border, the relief at finally arriving in Frankfurt.
I then lived in Frankfurt am Main for 27 years, and worked for Deutsche Bahn. The city became my home,although things were tough in those early days. My girlfriend broke up with me in March 1990, and I moved into company housing. That same March I received a telegram from my sister telling me that our mother had passed away and that my father had had a stroke, from which he was never to recover.Like I said, that wasn’t the best time for me. But after a while I made friends and joined sports teams. In my free time I played soccer and ice hockey.
Since I was single for a long time I also traveled on my own. At age 22 I went to the U.S. and Africa. After that I took trips to Spain, Greece, and Egypt. I also went on a one-week catamaran cruise in the Maldives. At the age of 42 I met my future wife, who was from Berlin. She moved to Frankfurt but felt too homesick to stay. In August 2016 we came back to Berlin, where I am glad to be a part of the wonderful Max Delbrück Center.
© picture-alliance/ dpa/ Istvan Bajzat