Tag Archives: Berlin Wall

Peter Gabriel Singing at the Brandenburg Gate

I heard Peter Gabriel was supposed to be performing for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The gala will be taking place at the Brandenburg Gate on Sunday, Nov 9. You can read more about it here. http://petergabriel.com/news/peter-play-anniversary-bash-brandenburg-gate/

The motto for the event will be “Standing up for Freedom!”

And When the Wall Came Down, They Failed to Celebrate!

In just over three weeks, people will be paying tribute to the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. I am looking forward to seeing what they do in Berlin. I remember seeing footage of people dancing on the Wall back then. Years later, while speaking to a dancer/choreograph (and now director) who was born and raised in East Berlin, I asked her if she was perhaps one of those people celebrating on top of the Wall. Her response was rather anticlimactic.

Beate, my contact, explained that on that very evening, she was attending a reception after a performance. In the midst of the event, everyone heard the announcement that the borders were opening up. These announcements were being broadcast over loudspeakers from the West. It was one method the West used to send information to citizens behind the Wall. People at the party stopped what they were doing and walked over to the window to try to hear and see what was going on. Observing a buildup of tanks in the streets, they concluded that the news could not possibly be true. Beate told me that she remembers feeling irritated that the West would play such a prank by sending “false announcements” over the loudspeaker. They simply ignored it, shut the windows, and continued on with their event.

After the reception, Beate returned home and went to bed. It wasn’t until the following morning, after waking up, that she found out that the West had been telling the truth, and that she had missed the biggest party of all. :-)

A New Description

In New York City, 1989, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, world-renowned prima ballerina Andrea Brandt is accused of murder. She admits to her attorney that the “devil got what he deserved”, but she says she has no recollection of what happened. As her attorney presses her for more information, Andrea begins to tell her story, taking him back in time to WWII, five years before her birth, in what would eventually become Soviet East Berlin.

The reader goes back in time to 1943 Berlin, when Andrea’s parents first meet in a club in which her mother, Ingrid, works as a dancer. As their relationship grows, so too do the hardships as they struggle to survive the allied air-raids, followed by the invasion of Soviet Forces, and the subsequent occupation.

Andrea is born in 1948 and knows nothing but her parents’ love. However, when she is only four years old, she witnesses a terrible tragedy, which dramatically changes the course of her life. She becomes withdrawn, refusing to talk, haunted by the recurring nightmares of her past, until she finally realizes that she cannot change anything.

As she grows up, Andrea becomes increasingly rebellious, but learns the hard way that some level of conformity is necessary to achieve her dreams. However, after having achieved success behind the Iron Curtain, she sets out to break away from the East, only to have her past catch up to her years later.

Two Days of Book Signing

Today the base exchange at Fort Leavenworth hosted a book signing for Berlin Dancer. A big hearty THANK YOU goes out to their manager, staff, and customers for top notch hospitality. The signing only lasted a couple of hours and, by the end, the store sold out of the book. I truly enjoyed meeting the customers and hearing their many stories!

Vom Westen! (From the West!)

After the Berlin Wall came up in 1961, many family members found themselves cut off from one another. In the East, some of the things we Westerners take for granted, such as chewing gum and chocolate, were hard to come by. Once in awhile, a family member from the West would send a package to his or her relatives in the East.

In the German Democratic Republic, there was a constant state of paranoia. People could never be too sure about who they could trust. There were informants everywhere. Without knowing what was in the package, it was best to open in private, which is what main character Andrea does, before any of her friends arrive for her small birthday celebration.

The following short excerpt from the novel, Berlin Dancer, offers a glimpse into what it was like for a ten-year-old to receive one of these packages. Andrea is getting ready to celebrate her 10th birthday when her father brings the package to her.

Andrea’s eyes lit up. “Vom Westen!” she exclaimed. “This is the second time we’ve gotten a package from the West!” Medwin was Victoria’s little brother, who lived in Bavaria. While Andrea had never actually met him, she knew all about him from Victoria’s many anecdotes.

Andrea put her hands gently around the package and smelled it. “You can tell it came from the West by the way it looks and smells,” she said dreamily.

“Go ahead and open it before your friends arrive,” urged Hanna, who had walked up behind her.

Andrea carefully folded down the edges of the package and then reached inside. First, she pulled out several packages of chewing gum. “Kaugummi!” she cried out. “There’s enough here to share with the girls!” Also in the box she found chocolate, nail polish, a jar of peach preserves, a brush, several hair ties, and a doll dressed in a white tutu. “She’s beautiful!” Andrea gasped, hugging the doll.

Escape Tunnels

During a conversation with Beate Vollack, a dancer/choreographer (and now dance director… congratulations!) who was born and raised in East Berlin, I asked her about the different ways people tried to flee the East. Her response was, “If you can imagine it, somebody tried it.” People were quite creative. Some examples include hijacking a train, using a hot air balloon, jumping the wall, and using escape tunnels.

If you visit Berlin today, you can actually tour some of these escape tunnels.


Today in History – 1964: Elderly Can Visit Kin in West

According to the New York Herald Tribune, European Edition, on this day, in 1964, East German Communist leader Walter Ulbricht announced that elderly East Germans would finally be able to visit relatives in the West. In August 1961, while the citizens in the Soviet sector slept through the night, the authorities were busy sealing off the borders and laying out barbed wire. When the people awoke the following morning, many of them headed to the border crossing to go to work, but were turned away. Two days later they began constructing the Berlin Wall. Basically, lives were drastically changed over one night.


Writing Cannot Be Forced

I took a creative writing class in college about three decades ago. I knew I wanted to be a writer and hoped that this would help me. The class was often frustrating. If anything, though, it taught me that great writing cannot be forced.

The teacher would often choose two or three stories to read out loud during class. He would read through them and then we would critique them. I was often impressed at how my fellow classmates would weave together their ideas, often tying symbolism into their stories.

One day, as I walked through a park, I suddenly felt inspired. I knew what my next story would be. I would write about an aging woman and somehow tie her character in with the changing seasons. As she grows older, the air grows colder and eventually the trees are barren and the woman is dead. It was brilliant. Poetic, visual, and profound! Who could resist it?!

I spent the weekend carefully crafting my story and the next time we met in class, I approached the teacher and asked him if he would read it. He did and when he finished, I braced myself for my classmates’ comments. The class grew silent and no one raised their hand. “Anyone?” the teacher asked.

Finally, one woman raised her hand and said stiffly, “It was boring, dry, and uninspiring.”

I was crushed. Did she not even appreciate the way I crafted my story to include great symbolic descriptions of the changing seasons? Unfortunately, everyone agreed, including me.

Nearly one month later I decided to write a much different kind of story. This time I wrote about a man who writes horror fiction. His main character, Jenny Freeman, was a twisted psychopathic nurse with flaming eyes and skin as white as snow. Jenny begins to appear to him in his dreams. In the end, he dreams that Jenny carves him up and hangs him from the ceiling. The next morning, they find his body hanging in his room, carved up. The story was in the style of Freddy Krueger before I had even heard of Freddy Krueger. The teacher read the story to the class. I sat back, smiling to myself as my classmates squirmed and gasped at the graphic content and outcome of the story. I’m afraid I went overboard this time, but at least no one could say it was “boring.”

In the first story, I was trying too hard to create something that just was not my style. While I was desperate to amaze my classmates, my heart was really not in the story. I had a much better time crafting the second story, although I will admit that horror is not my area either.
In my novel, Berlin Dancer, I fell in love my characters. I was fascinated by the history and intrigued with a culture that was so different from my own. I took my time writing and researching it. In fact, the story took on a life of its own each time I sat down to write. I never knew what would happen next. It was always a surprise. The reviews speak for themselves. The lesson for me is that the best writing cannot be forced. It has to come from the heart.


Living Behind the Wall: What was it Like?

One of the biggest challenges in writing Berlin Dancer was not researching the actual history, but rather bringing my characters to life in a realistic setting. There was a plethora of information available on the political and military situation of the time. However, there seemed to be very little information available about the lives of individuals beyond a bird’s-eye-view.

To Americans, it is impossible to understand the kind of struggle that German citizens experienced during post-war Germany. I thought I understood at first, but eventually learned that there was so much more to it.

I shared one of the first drafts of the story with a historian who kindly told me, “Your characters are living a life of luxury.” This prompted me to go back to the drawing board to make life tougher, and more realistic. Through numerous articles, interviews, and pure imagination, I was finally able to rework parts of the story.

In post-war Berlin, there were countless struggles. The Soviet invasion was frightening. The soldiers were brutal, taking what they wanted, including the women. The Soviets were not the only threat. The citizens were cold and starving. Even boiling a potato was a challenge. Real coffee was unheard of. The black market became rampant. I read through several diaries written by women who had lived through those times and I spoke with people who had spent time there and who had even grown up behind the Wall. The research was eye-opening.

In Berlin Dancer, a murder-mystery, the characters live through these times and in these settings. Therefore, the scenes have to be realistic to add to the flavor of the story. We have to immerse ourselves in the characters’ lives. The reader becomes steeped in history without even realizing it. Truly, Berlin Dancer is about the characters and not the history, but you can’t have one without the other.