Contemporary Witnesses

Many witnesses speak more than one language and can be requested for international oral history classes, interviews and projects. Here, they recount their personal experiences ranging from the 'People's Uprising' on 17 June 1953 to the Peaceful Revolution and German reunification and include episodes of escape, departure, political imprisonment and their eventual purchase of freedom. Some were active in the (Protestant) Evangelical Church, others in oppositional groups or the literary and arts scene.

If you are interested in getting in contact with the witnesses, please write to zeitzeugenbuero(at)

Peter Bieber, Berlin

'Striving for freedom means arriving at the right place at the right time. We paid a heavy price, but it was certainly worth it.'

Biographical information

1945 Born in Königsberg, Prussia (today Kaliningrad), displaced since 1948
1955-1959 Schooling and apprenticeship in Seifhennersdorf, Hiddensee and on the island of Rügen
1966 Completes school with an Abitur leaving certificate
1970 Escape from the GDR
1972 Law studies at the Free University of Berlin
1972-1977 Active escape agent; pre-trial custody in East Berlin as well as imprisonment in Brandenburg
1978-1992 Continuation of his studies at the Free University of Berlin, employment at the Axel Springer publishing house in Hamburg
1992-2003 Employed at the Ministry of the Interior of the State of Brandenburg


I was born in Königsberg, Prussia, in the last days of the war. Following our expulsion, I grew up in the GDR - on the island of Hiddensee in the Baltic Sea. The Wall was far away and life appeared free to me. It was in Leipzig where I first witnessed restrictions and repression. I studied literature and librarianship, but was not allowed to read the books I wanted to. I made the decision to escape to the West. My desire to live a free and self-determined life was inspired not least by my visits to West Germany before the wall was built, when I went to see my father in Hanover. I was deeply affected by the Prague Spring and the spirit of political awakening at the time, so I travelled to Bratislava, and from there to the Austrian border. The border guards stopped me and put me on a train back to Leipzig. The thought of escaping, however, would never leave me after that: I tried to get out on a ship via Danzig and in a West German car through Bulgaria, but both attempts failed. On 28 April 1970, I hid in a cupboard in the loading space of a West German lorry. I made it that time, the inspectors along the transit route did not find me. As a form of thanks for helping me during my own escape from the GDR, I returned the favour to eleven more people who also escaped to freedom. During one such escape in October 1972, I was arrested by the Stasi after an informant revealed our plans. Following a five-year prison term, the West German government managed to buy my freedom in 1977.

Dr. Eugenie Trützschler, Thuringia (Bad Berka)

'We are all citizens of one world, we are all of one blood. To hate a man because he was born in another country, because he speaks a different language, or because he takes a different view on this subject or that, is great folly.' (Jan Amos Komenský)

Biographical information

1950 Born in Prague
1967 Emigrates to West Germany
1969 State examination as nurse
1970 Birth of daughter Nikola
1972 Finishes school with an Abitur leaving certificate
1972-1979 University studies
1976 Birth of son Jan
1979-1992 School teacher in Bavaria, specialising in German as a foreign language
1992-2011 Civil servant in the State of Thuringia


My family belonged to what was known as the 'non-labouring intelligentsia' in Czechoslovakia. My grandparents and parents were not allowed to work in their respective fields and forced to work in 'production' instead. As a result, I was granted not even the slightest of opportunities by the state, which is why I had to leave. Following a one-week holiday as a regular tourist in Munich, my mother applied for political asylum for the two of us. I worked as a nanny initially, followed by my training as a qualified nurse. After completing that course, I went back to school and completed my Abitur, moving on to become a secondary school teacher. The question of national identity represented the main focus of both my graduating thesis in political science as well as my doctoral dissertation in history. Relationships between nations continued to draw my interest after 1989, and I was able to once again travel to Prague where I became involved in German-Czech reconciliation and rapprochement. After learning that both the Czechoslovakian and the East German state security forces had kept files on me, I decided to review and reconstruct this period scientifically, as well as in my novels. In the latter, I deal with the fates of people who otherwise often appear merely as nameless, impersonal historical data.

Languages: English, Russian, Czech

Prof. Dr. Manfred Görlach, Baden-Wurttemberg (Heidelberg)

'Who fails to resist, lives amiss'


Biographical information

1937 Born in Berlin
1957 Abitur in Bad Harzburg (Lower Saxony)
1957-1964 English and Latin American Studies in West Berlin, Durham, Heidelberg and Oxford
1961-1964 Arrested on charges of aiding escape and subsequent imprisonment at the Stasi remand prison in Potsdam and the Brandenburg-Görden prison
1964 Release purchased by the West German government
1970 Doctorate
1967-1984 Assistant, Academic Council at the English Seminar of Ruprecht Karl University in Heidelberg
1984-2002 Professor in the Department of Medieval Studies and English Linguistics at the University of Cologne


Manfred Görlach holds a PhD in English and is a retired Professor of Medieval Studies and English Linguistics at the University of Cologne. Born in Berlin, he grew up near the inner-German border in Lower Saxony. He began his studies at the Free University of Berlin in 1957 and experienced the effects of the Berlin Wall's construction first-hand. In 1961, he was among the students allowed to visit East Berlin despite the tight border restrictions on West Germans in general. During these visits, he served as a courier for one family and later helped a fellow student escape to West Berlin. When Görlach attempted to contact another student in Potsdam who wanted to leave the GDR, the Stasi intercepted one of his letters and arrested him. Following pre-trial custody in Potsdam, he was sentenced to four years in prison and moved to Brandenburg-Görden. In 1964, the West German government arranged a deal for Görlach to be released to West Germany. In West Berlin, he was able to resume and complete his studies, receiving his doctoral degree in Heidelberg in 1970 before being appointed to a tenured professorship at the University of Cologne. He published his GDR prison memoirs in two volumes titled Eingemauert ('Walled In') in 1991-92. He returned to Heidelberg in 2003.

Joachim Rudolph, Berlin

'It was extremely risky for us, and not an easy decision.'


Biographical information

1938 Born in East Brandenburg/Neumark (Poland)
1945 Resettlement in Berlin
1953 Witness to the popular uprising on 17 June 1953
1959-1961 Studies in safety and telecommunications technology at the Friedrich List Transportation Academy in Dresden
1961 Escape to West Berlin
1961-1971 Studies in communications engineering at the Technical University of Berlin
1962 Assisted escapes from the GDR and participated in building the so-called 'Tunnel 29' in Berlin
1971-1973 Work as a graduate engineer
1973-1975 Training as a secondary school teacher of maths and physics, followed by a teaching position in West Berlin
1979-1987 Teacher and deputy headmaster at the German School in Lagos, Nigeria.
1987-1990 Position as director of studies in West Berlin


Joachim Rudolph is from East Brandenburg, which has belonged to Poland since 1945. He grew up in East Berlin, witnessing the popular uprising of 17 June 1953 as a fourteen-year-old and the construction of the Berlin Wall on 13 August 1961. Following his Abitur, he first completed an apprenticeship as an electrical assembly fitter at the maintenance yard of the East German railways (Reichsbahn) in the Berlin district of Schöneweide before beginning his studies at the transportation academy in Dresden. After the construction of the Wall, he and a friend soon decided to flee the GDR together. In September 1961, the two waded from Schildow in northern Berlin through the Tegeler Fliess waterway and across the border fortifications towards the West Berlin district of Lübars. Once in West Berlin, Joachim Rudolph resumed his studies and joined a group of students from the Technical University who were digging a tunnel to East Berlin beneath Bernauer Strasse. The tunnel was finally completed on 14 September 1962 and allowed 29 people to escape to West Berlin, earning it the name 'Tunnel 29'. Encouraged by this successful operation, Rudolph joined in the construction of two other tunnels. These undertakings were discovered by the Stasi, however, and those escaping as well as a number of West German helpers were arrested on the spot.

Dr. Claus-Jürgen Duisberg, North Rhine-Westphalia (Bonn)

'We owe it to a curious concatenation of luck and merit that today all Germans can live in freedom under one state again.'


Biographical information

1934 Born in Frankfurt am Main
1955 Abitur in Wolfsburg
1955-1958 Law studies in Bonn and Geneva
1958 First state examination as a lawyer
1962 Doctorate of Canon and Civil Law at the University of Bonn
1963 Second state examination as a lawyer
1964 Entry into the diplomatic service
1964-1986 Stationed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the embassies in Moscow (1964-1965), Washington (1967-1972), New Delhi (1972-1975), and West Germany's Permanent Representation in East Berlin (1978-1982)
1986-1990 Chair of the 'Germany Policy' task force at the German Chancellery
1990-1995 Director of the Foreign Ministry's office in Berlin
1992-1994 Simultaneously chief negotiator for the contract regulating the presence and withdrawal of Russian troops
1995-1999 German ambassador to Brazil


Claus J. Duisberg, born in Frankfurt am Main, studied law in Bonn and Geneva. Following both his state examinations as a lawyer and the completion of his doctorate, he found employment with the Foreign Service in 1964 and remained there until his retirement in 1990. He held several posts in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the embassies in Moscow, Washington and New Delhi. After working on Germany and East Berlin-specific matters in Washington as well as at headquarters in Bonn, he was transferred to West Germany's Permanent Representation in East Berlin for four years from 1978 onward. From 1986 to 1990 he led the task force on Germany policy (Arbeitsstab Deutschlandpolitik) in the Chancellery under Helmut Kohl and ministers Schäuble and Seiters, and, given this function, was directly involved in negotiating the unification treaty. Following German reunification, he became the director of the Foreign Ministry's Berlin office responsible for dismantling the East German Foreign Ministry until 1995, including from 1992 as chief negotiator for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Germany. From 1995-99 he served as the German ambassador to Brazil. He published his memoirs and experiences during German reunification in 2004 in a book titled Das deutsche Jahr - Einblicke in die Wiedervereinigung 1989/1990 ('The German Year - Insights into Reunification 1989/1990'), published by wjs Verlag in Berlin.

Anke Domscheit-Berg, Brandenburg (Fürstenberg on the Havel)

‘There are no hopeless times!’


Biographical information

1968 Born in Premnitz, Havelland, raised in Müncheberg, Märkisch Oderland
1986 Abitur in Strausberg
1987 Work placement as a worker in the craft producers’ cooperative; ‘5th Party Conference’ in Frankfurt an der Oder

1987-1991 Studies in textile art at the Technical School of Applied Arts in Schneeberg (today a branch of the University of Applied Sciences in Zwickau)
1991-1993 Work as a travel agent at Ameropa travel agency in Frankfurt am Main
1993-1996 Studies in international business administration in Bad Homburg and Newcastle (UK), earning both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees
1997-2005 Business consultant, Business Development Manager at Accenture
2000 Birth of her son
2006-2008 Project manager at McKinsey, Business Technology Office
2008-2011 Director of Government Relations at Microsoft Germany
2010 Married to pro-transparency activist and former WikiLeaks spokesperson Daniel Berg

2011- Self-employed entrepreneur running the businesses and located in Fürstenberg on the Havel (organising presentations, workshops, training courses, texts, interviews, debates)
2014 Publication of her book, Mauern einreißen - weil ich glaube, dass wir die Welt verändern können!, which deals with gender justice, the fall of the Wall and the question of what lessons can be learned from the GDR for the present and future in terms of democracy, civil rights and ‘surveillance 2.0’.


I was brought up in a household that certainly encouraged critical thinking, but at the same time had a generally positive view of socialism. Nevertheless, I was not allowed to study my preferred subject and encountered many hypocritical policies. I was politicised during my university days: protesting against the harsh treatment of my best friend in a prison in Halle, submitting a complaint to the Post and Telecommunications Ministry concerning the ban on the magazine Sputnik, and typing leaflets on my grandfather’s typewriter at night to distribute the next day. While some letters sent to me never arrived, others came already opened. My room was also searched. In September 1989, the Stasi attempted to blackmail and coerce me into cooperating with them. I was scared and intimidated, but I resisted, and was consequently denied permission to begin my sponsored three-month study trip to Paris which I had won at a French language competition. I wrote in my diary a lot at the time. That weekend, beginning on 10 November 1989, I moved to West Berlin. Having experienced these various methods of state control, I am today an active campaigner against state surveillance.

Tim Eisenlohr, Berlin

'True freedom is not something a person can give or take from you. True freedom only emerges in your mind.'


Biographical information

1973 Born in Berlin's Mitte district
1980-1983 Attendance at the 'Arkadi Gaidar' polytechnic secondary school (POS) in Niederschöneweide, Berlin
1983-1989 Attendance at the 'Erich Weinert' polytechnic secondary school (POS) in the Berlin district of Treptow
1987 Arrest during the raid of the environmentalist library (Umweltbibliothek - UB)1989 Departure for West Germany
1989-1993 Attendance at the Waldorf school 'Rudolf Steiner' in Berlin's Zehlendorf district
1994-1995 Civil service at the 'Sonnenhalde' institution for children and adolescents requiring special emotional care, a facility complete with an adjoining special needs school; working in horse-riding therapy.
1997 Examination as IPZV trainer (trainer for Iceland horses)
1995-2006 Work as trainer and riding instructor in Iceland, Switzerland as well as several German states
2006­- Living and working on the North Sea island of Amrum, continues to work with Iceland horses


Tim Eisenlohr spent his childhood and adolescence in Berlin, becoming politically active at an early age. At school, he frequently got into arguments and conflicts with teachers and the administration for asking critical questions and committing provocative acts such as hanging an NVA (National People's Army) calendar upside down or wearing Christian symbols. He left the Ernst Thälmann Young Pioneers at the wage of twelve. During a holiday youth camp organised by the Evangelical Church he heard about the Umweltbibliothek (environmentalist library) in Berlin, referred to as the UB, where he began volunteering in 1987, mainly at the issuing counter and in the production of environmentalist leaflets and magazines. In the night of 24/25 November 1987, fourteen-year-old Tim was arrested along with six other UB staff members. Following an eight-hour interrogation at Stasi headquarters, he was among the first to be released. He continued his activities at the UB until 1989. In the summer of that year he left the GDR for West Berlin with his family. His parents had applied for an exit permit years prior, hoping to find a better treatment for his mother's cancer. Here he joined 'Peace Bird', a children's and youth organisation advocating for nuclear disarmament, as well as Amnesty International where he soon founded his own youth group focussing on Romania and Sri Lanka. Beginning with his civil service, he ended his political activity and devoted himself to working with Iceland horses. He spent a total of one-and-a-half years in Iceland and some time in Switzerland, after which he worked as a trainer in several German states. He has lived on the island of Amrum since 2006.

Steffen Gresch, Baden-Wurttemberg (Karlsruhe)

‘Seventeen million people … They’re not trying to rise above the wall – but rather to the skies! For a cold shower is forecast for these pink slobs! (1985)’ Lyrics from a song by Steffen Gresch

Biographical information

1965 Born in Quedlinburg
1982-1984 Training as technician at a chemical factory near Halle on the Saale – volunteer artistic work with a youth theatre group
1984-1985 Nursing work in a medical facility in Leipzig. Composed and performed anti-system protest songs during this period
1986-1987 Application for an exit visa – job as cleaner and messenger at a church-run college in Leipzig – organising and conducting oppositional meetings and events
1987 Relocation to West Berlin


In 1986, I submitted an emigration application to resign my GDR citizenship in Leipzig. From that point on, all I could do was wait. I did not conceal my decision to my friends. My main objective now was to bring together different people who were all united by a firm belief in freedom of opinion. A reading I organised in my home, where Peter Grimm and I introduced the new oppositional newspaper Grenzfall (‘Border Case’), marked the beginning of a fertile cooperation between East Berlin and Leipzig. Regular meetings took place. We looked for adequate locations or drafted the meeting agendas. The big day arrived on 24 May 1987: in the basement of St. Michael’s church in Leipzig, our human rights working group presented itself to the public for the first time. Our performance, ‘Ich bin soo frei!! - Das Menschenrecht Meinungsfreiheit im Gespräch’ (‘I am oh so free – debating the human right to freedom of opinion’), was very well-received. I was unable to witness any more of these events personally, however, as the regime effected my ‘relocation’ (border guard jargon) to West Berlin, and I suddenly found myself in Marienfelde.

Andreas Kosmalla, Brandenburg (Neuruppin)

‘Now we breathe again, we cry and laugh the foul sadness out of our chests. Boy, we’re stronger than rats and dragons. And we’d forgotten that. But have always known it.’ (Wolf Biermann)

Biographical information

1962 Born and raised in a pastor’s home in Denstedt near Weimar until 1969, followed by the Burgau district of the city of Jena
1979 Completion of the 10th form at the Adolf Reichwein secondary school II in Jena, including his Abitur in Russian
Until 1981 Professional training as electrical mechanic at the VEB (‘people’s owned enterprise’) Carl Zeiss, Jena

Until 1987 Worked as an electrical mechanic at the VEB Carl Zeiss, Jena

May 1984-October 1985 Military service ‘without a gun’ as a so-called ‘construction soldier’ in Prora, work deployment at the construction of the ferry port of Mukran
1985-1987 Partial Abitur via evening classes at the adult education centre in Jena

1987-1990 Studies to become a qualified teacher of mathematics and physics at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, subsequent resumption of studies at the Technical University of Berlin

Since 1992 Positions as freelance youth education officer and director of an educational institution
Currently freelance lecturer and political youth education officer and youth political educator


Growing up as the child of a pastor in 1970s Jena, I was exposed to the harassment and discrimination common for pupils of Christian backgrounds, nor was I admitted to my Abitur examination. On the other hand, I was a member of the FDJ (‘Free German Youth’) and underwent both secular Jugendweihe (socialist-secular coming-of-age ceremony) and Protestant confirmation. I had been involved in church youth work since my school and apprentice days, supervising congregational youth groups, organising recreational church activities and events, playing music in the ‘church underground’, and active in the church’s peace work. In particular, I witnessed and participated in various actions of the ‘Jena peace movement’ during this period. After completing my military service as a so-called Bausoldat (‘construction soldier’), we set up a working group on questions of military service (‘Arbeitskreis Wehrdienstfragen’) at Jena’s city youth parish office in 1986, providing counselling and training seminars to conscripts. During my maths studies at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena from 1987 onward, we enjoyed a great deal of freedom at the mathematics department to engage in self-organised ‘Perestroika activities’. Beginning in the autumn of 1989, I became involved with the New Forum in Jena and was the election campaign coordinator for the List New Forum/Greens during the first regional elections in the state of Thuringia in 1990. As a board member of a working group on work among Protestant schoolchildren, I was involved in initiating an important process of East-West rapprochement and unification in church-based youth work between 1990-92.

Hannelore Schneider, Rineland-Palatinate (Mainz)

‘Freedom is different from what you imagine it to be when you live without it!’


Biographical information

1950 Born in Hoske (Upper Lusatia)
1968 Abitur in Hoyerswerda
1968-1972 English and German studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin
1969-1970 Spokesperson of the Catholic Student Community of East Berlin
1972-1977 Teacher at the polytechnic secondary school (POS) in Cottbus
1977-1981 Theatre consultant
1981-1986 Teacher in Cottbus (Abitur classes)
1986 Application for an exit visa; subsequent dismissal from teaching

1986-1989 Copy editor at the St. Benno publishing house in Leipzig
1987-1989 Participation in the ecumenical working group ‘peace’, sub-group ‘justice’

1989 Departure from the GDR, new place of residence: Essen

1989-1991 Speeches and presentations on conditions in the GDR
1991-1992 Teacher training and second state examination as a teacher in Oberhausen

1992-2001 Teacher
2001-2008 Vice-principal of a comprehensive school (Realschule) in Mainz

Since 2008 Vice-principal of the comprehensive school (Realschule) in Nierstein


Working as a teacher, I realised very quickly that my Christian worldview and my pronounced sense of justice would not stand a chance against the dominant monolithic ideology, and yet I always tried to encourage a free exchange of opinions among my students, albeit with little success. An important period in my life was my work with the environmentalist group in Cottbus from 1987 to May 1989. We exposed the fraud in the Cottbus local elections and officially filed a criminal complaint citing electoral fraud. The group’s leadership, myself included, was expelled from the country within three days. We had hosted meetings on human rights issues in the Evangelical (Protestant) churches of Cottbus – secretly attended by the Stasi, as well. My educational and awareness work in various seminars, including at the University of Cottbus, certainly helped me come to terms with the harm I received from representatives of the old East German state.

Peter Hampe, Berlin (Berlin)

‘Have the courage to use your own reason’ (Immanuel Kant)



Biographical information

1944 Born in Magdeburg
1963 Abitur

1963-1964 Job as a labourer

1964-1965 Pedagogy studies in Potsdam

1965-1967 Political detention and university ban; sham purchase of freedom

1967-1968 Job as a locksmith assistant in heavy machinery construction in Magdeburg

1968-1971 Steel construction fitter while attending evening classes to become a chemical engineer

1971-1978 Engineer at the VEB (‘people’s owned enterprise’) Minol, Magdeburg, while taking correspondence courses at the Martin Luther University in Halle/Wittenberg
1978-1984 Head of various laboratories, awarded scientific doctorate

1984-1985 Application to leave the GDR
1985-1997 Employment as graduate chemist at the former Schering AG in Berlin

2005 Retirement


Due to an escape attempt and a reader’s letter to the editor of RIAS (Broadcasting Service in the American Sector) in West Berlin, the high military court in Neubrandenburg sentenced me to one-and-a-half years of imprisonment. In addition to my sentence on charges of subversive agitation and ‘attempted passport fraud’, I was issued a lifelong ban from university studies. The Stasi threatened to refer me to a penal labour camp. In May 1967 I was released back into the GDR, learning about the alleged exchange involving my person only years later. The West German government believed to have purchased my release and shortened my sentence, but in truth I had simply already served my time. Thanks to the help of some generous GDR citizens, I was able to attend evening school courses to move up from a worker and earn my PhD in chemistry. Even when my family and I were finally allowed to exit the country in 1985, this was only possible after a year-long period of waiting and urging on our behalf by then-Austrian chancellor Dr. Fred Sinowatz. I published my memoirs in the book Die DDR - mein Absurdistan, Innenansichten und Dokumente aus einem Überwachungsstaat (‘The GDR – my own Absurdistan. An Inside View and Documents from a Police State’).

Ralph Kabisch, Berlin (Berlin)

'Democracy, freedom and peace are the most valuable goods we are now able to enjoy day after day. Yet they are also highly vulnerable and must therefore be actively lived and protected in order to prevent dictatorships in the future.'

Biographical information

1942 Born in Görlitz
1945 Family flees to Osnabrück
1947 Relocation to Düren and later Cologne
1961 Abitur in Cologne
1961- Studies in construction and transportation at the Technical University of Berlin in pursuit of a degree as civil engineer
June-October 1964 Participation in the construction of so-called 'Tunnel 57' from Bernauer Strasse 97 to Strelitzer Strasse 55 in Berlin
1965-1966 Assistance in escape operations at the Liesenstrasse cemetery and via the transit routes to West Germany
1967 Escape operations via the CSSR and Bulgaria to Austria and West Germany
19 November 1967 Arrest in the CSSR, six months of pre-trial custody in Prague
27 March 1968 Indictment in Prague
24-26 April 1968 Main trial at Prague's District Court 1
9 May 1968 release from prison and return to West Berlin in the context of a general amnesty issued by the new Czechoslovakian president
1969 Marriage, completion of studies
1970-1972 traineeship at the German railways (Deutsche Bundesbahn), qualification as construction assessor
1972- Civil engineer in leading positions at the Deutsche Bundesbahn in Hamburg, Krefeld and Frankfurt am Main as well as at the Deutsche Eisenbahn-Consulting GmbH (DE-Consult); supervision and management of major projects, including in Asia and North Africa
1980-1986 Office director of DE-Consult in Taipei, Taiwan; responsible for planning and constructing the lowering of the Taipei railway and the new construction of the central train station
1990-2001 relocation from Frankfurt am Main to Berlin; position as chief executive of European Transport Consulting Ltd., subsequent retirement
2002-2004 Operations and Training Manager for Siemens Bangkok Ltd. in the context of a project to construct and assemble a metro line and launch its operation in Bangkok


Ralph Kabisch came to Berlin to begin his studies in October 1961, shortly after the city's partition. 'The air was on fire' in West Berlin at the time, and those among the students who wanted to help their friends and family escape from the GDR quickly found one another. In 1964, 22-year-old Kabisch joined the group around Wolfgang Fuchs - one of the most well-known escape agents - in order to fetch his cousin who lived in Görlitz. They worked on 'Tunnel 57' together with roughly 25 other students, digging one metre per day, lying flat in the narrow shaft with only a shovel in their hands. After six months of digging, 57 people were able to escape through the tunnel, yet Kabisch's cousin was not among them, as she had to perform 'harvest service' in Bernau near Berlin. Escape agents transported many GDR refugees to the West via Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria, hiding their human freight in a converted dashboard. During one of these escape operations, Kabisch realised he was being watched and followed and aborted the plan, driving to Prague instead where he acted as an interested tourist. On his return to Austria on 19 November he was arrested and - in the wake of the Prague Spring - received a surprisingly mild verdict. He was released through a general amnesty issued by the new Czechoslovakian prime minister and returned to his parents in West Germany and later Berlin on 9 May 1968. His cousin was caught when she attempted to flee via Bulgaria, extradited to the GDR and jailed, and eventually had her freedom purchased by the West German government. Ralph Kabisch ended his activity as an escape agent and began his professional career after completing his studies, which would take him to various countries around the world to direct tunnel projects for railways and metro lines.

Hartmut Ernst Henke, Baden-Wurttemberg (Leinfelden-Echterdingen)

‘Plant a tree and find a friend!’


Biographical information

9 October 1944 Born the son of farmer Karl Henke in Görlitz
1950-1958 Primary school in Ludwigsdorf
1958-1962 Extended secondary school in Reichenbach (Upper Lusatia)
1962-1968 Engineering studies at the Technical University of Dresden; degree as a qualified engineer for agricultural machine technology
1968 Design engineer for VEB (‘people’s owned enterprise’) Fortschritt Neustadt, Saxony, working at the combined harvester factory in Singwitz

21 August 1968 Protest against the invasion of the CSSR by member states of the Warsaw Pact
20 December 1968 Convicted and sentenced to 22 months in prison by the Dresden-East District Court

1969 Freedom purchased by and release to West Germany
1970-1971 Postgraduate studies in economics at RHTW Aachen University

1971-1973 Civil service as ‘Peace Corps Volunteer’ in India

1976-1991 Foreign assignments as international development aid worker: Cameroon, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Turkey
Since 1992 Technical advisor for agricultural engineering projects in developing countries

Henke lives in Leinfelden-Echterdingen near Stuttgart with his family.


As a child, Hartmut Henke used to sing the GDR’s national anthem, ‘Risen from ruins, and facing the future, let us serve you for the good, Germany, united fatherland’, quite enthusiastically. Living in Ludwigsdorf during the popular uprising on 17 June 1953, he saw the GDR’s true character unveiled when his friends’ fathers were arrested and sentenced. His Christian drive for freedom had awoken. Following Henke’s Christian confirmation and refusal to undergo the socialist-secular Jugendweihe, he was debarred from attending secondary school. Yet when his parents joined the agricultural producers’ cooperative (LPG) in the wake of forced collectivisation, their son was permitted to attend secondary school after all. After the Wall was built, Henke was able to take up studies in agricultural machinery engineering at the Technical University of Dresden even without prior military service. In the night of 21 August 1968, the Red Army’s tanks stationed in the district of Dresden embarked to Bohemia in the CSSR to put down the Prague Spring. ‘Brown German fascists in Prague in 1938 – red Soviet Communists in Prague in 1968’, was his comment at a meeting in the construction office of the combined harvester factory in Singwitz. He later tried to escape from the GDR to avoid being drafted into the NVA (National People’s Army), yet his escape failed and Henke was sentenced to prison in Cottbus, although the West German government purchased his freedom later on. Since then, he has been able to live up to his motto of ‘swords to ploughshares’ in many places around the world.

Languages: English, French

Dr. Karl Heinz Bomberg, Berlin (Berlin)

‘Whoever failed to subordinate themselves and spoke up was excluded, slandered and rendered harmless.’


Biographical information

1955 Born in Thuringia, married, two children
1976-1982 Study of medicine in Leipzig, subsequent doctorate

1980s Specialist for anaesthesia, psychotherapeutic medicine and psychoanalyst
1984 Three months of imprisonment
Today Deputy chairman, training analyst and lecturer at the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Psychoanalyse und Psychotherapie Berlin e.V.


Karl-Heinz Bomberg is a songwriter and author who was imprisoned in the GDR for three months for writing lyrics critical of the regime. The practicing doctor retained his terse and pointed tongue even after reunification. Today, the singer tours Germany and Europe, dissecting the political landscape and social injustice in his songs. Beside his songs, Bomberg has also expressed himself politically as an author, while also publishing several children’s books and numerous scientific articles. He has made himself heard in the media landscape as well, contributing to a number of productions by the RBB and MDR broadcasters and publishing articles in the weekly Focus or the daily Die Welt. He continues to digest his experiences as a GDR citizen as an author of the journal Horch und Guck (‘Listen and Look’). Karl Heinz Bomberg lives in Berlin with his family and works as a doctor, frequently giving lectures on, among other topics, the psychological effects of repression in the GDR.

Gisela Kallenbach, Saxony (Leipzig)

‘With my deep roots in the GDR civil rights movement, I have consistently faced up to new challenges since 1990.’


Biographical information

1944 Born in Soldin
1960-1962 Apprenticeship      

1962-1969 Lab and research assistant at the Saxon Academy of Sciences in Leipzig
1969-1990 Head of laboratory, research assistant and subject coordinator at the Scientific-Technical Centre (WTZ)

1970 Degree as graduated engineer through evening classes and correspondence courses

1982 Member of the working group ‘environmental protection’ and, since 1984, co-organiser of the peace mass in the Church of St. Nicholas in Leipzig
1987-1989 Participation in the conciliation process between the GDR’s congregations

1990-1991 Independent city councillor for the Green Party’s parliamentary group in Leipzig
1991-2000 Personal aide at the Department of Environmental Affairs and Sports, since 1994 Department of Environmental Affairs, Regulation and Housing

2000-2003 Employed by the UN mission in Kosovo
2004-2009 Member of the European Parliament


Gisela Kallenbach is an East German civil rights activist and politician for the Green Party. In 1989, she was a founding member of the ‘Ökolöwe’ (‘Eco-Lion’) society, an environmentalist church group in Leipzig which was also involved in the Round Table. Prior to that, she was an active member of the working group on environment protection at the youth parish office in Leipzig, and participated in the conciliation process (Konziliarer Prozess) between the churches of the GDR. Kallenbach had refused the Jugendweihe in her youth, prompting the Ministry of State Security to deny her the completion of her Abitur. Instead, she began an apprenticeship as a lab assistant and earned a degree through completing correspondence courses. She remained in this profession until reunification. From 1990 to 2000 she was an advisor to the Department of Environmental Affairs in the city of Leipzig and an observer at the Green Party’s regional leadership in Saxony until 1999. Her international activities led her to join the UN mission in Kosovo. Subsequently, Kallenbach represented the Green Party in the European Parliament from 2004 to 2009. Today, Kallenbach – who has also been awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany – is a member of the board of trustees of ‘Bürger für Leipzig’ (‘Citizens for Leipzig’) and numerous charitable societies.

Martin Jankowski, Berlin (Berlin)

‘German history was decided on that 9 October in Leipzig – peacefully.’


Biographical information

1965 Born in Greifswald
1983 Abitur in Gotha, tour guide at Friedenstein Palace

1985-1987 Training as a librarian in Leipzig; study of theology and ancient languages at the
Humboldt University in Berlin
1987- Singer and writer in Leipzig
1995- Freelance writer in Berlin

1996 Writing scholarship from the ‘Kulturfonds’ foundation
1997 and 2007 Artist’s scholarship from the Berlin Senate

1999 Recipient of the Jahrespreis für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte (‘Annual Award for Literature and Intellectual History’)
2003 Guest lecturer in modern German literature at the Universitas Indonesia
2004 Host of the Kollwitzplatz literary salon (Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin)
Since 2007 Host of the Berlin/Mitte
literary salon


Martin Jankowski belonged to the oppositional arts scene in the GDR during the 1980s. The poet and writer was denied permission to perform as a singer by the authorities, prompting him to perform illegally – not only in East Germany, but in Hungary, the CSSR and Poland as well. The Ministry of State Security had already initiated subversive measures before this time, first registering him in 1982, in an ‘operational procedure’ (OV) titled ‘Jesaja’, and once again in 1985 in OV ‘Maja’. Next came a travel ban and surveillance of his private residence. Between 1987 and 1990 he was one of the spokespeople of the ‘Trägerkreis’ (‘platform of supporters’) of the civil rights groups organised around the Church of St. Nicholas in Leipzig (Nikolaikirche). Following reunification, the artist studied theology and ancient languages as well as German and American studies at Berlin’s Humboldt University while simultaneously publishing poems, short stories, essays and a novel. His texts have been translated into various languages and appeared in numerous German and international anthologies and journals, earning him a number of awards. Today, Jankowski lives in Berlin and works as a freelance writer and publisher, involved in organising international literature festivals and projects, and serving as the host of two monthly literature salons.

Peter Keup, Berlin (Berlin)

‘The state of peace in which we think ourselves to be can prove deceptive.’


Biographical information

1958 Born in Radebeul near Dresden
1974 Parents’ application for an exit visa for West Germany, subsequently forced to leave extended secondary school in Radebeul (debarment from completing 11th and 12th form)
1975-1977 Training as typesetter
1976-1981 Professional ballroom dancer with his sister Uta
1981 3rd place in the GDR national championships, selected for the GDR national dance team
1981 Attempted escape via the CSSR and Hungary to Austria (by swimming across the Danube). Arrested by the Stasi in Dresden, four months in pre-trial custody. Sentenced to ten months of imprisonment on charges of ‘preparing to escape the republic’
1982 Release from prison and prisoner purchase by the West German government. Arrival in Essen
1989-2013 Owner of a dance school in Dinslaken
2016 Bachelor's degree in cultural studies from the University of Hagen
2018 Master's degree in political-historical studies from the University of Bonn
Currently scientific volunteer at the Ruhr-University Bochum, Institute for German Research


My parents applied for an exit permit in the winter of 1974, changing our family’s life overnight. I was forced to leave extended secondary school in Radebeul after the 10th form and seek out a trade. From 1975 to 1977 I trained as a typesetter, after which I was given a job placement. I was kicked out of my athletics sports club in 1975, after which I began competing in dancing tournaments. In 1981, my sister Uta and I placed third in the GDR national championships and were selected for the national dance team. Henceforth the Stasi placed us under surveillance. Any trips to participate in tournaments in the West were prohibited. In the summer of 1981 I tried to escape to Hungary (via Czechoslovakia) and from there to Austria. After my arrest on the Czech border, I was detained at the Stasi’s remand prison in Dresden for four months and sentenced to ten months of imprisonment on charges of ‘preparing to flee the republic’. After another four months of detention in Cottbus, I was deported to the West in a government deal in March of 1982. Since 1982, I have lived in Essen  – the city where my parents are from. Until 1989 I worked as a professional dancer and after that I ran my own dance school in Dinslaken for about 24 years. I successfully completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in cultural studies in 2016 and at the end of 2018, I obtained a Master of Arts degree in historical-political studies. As a witness, I have been working for various institutions and initiatives in Germany and abroad for many years, including the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial and "die politiksprecher".

Dagmar Meier-Barkhausen / a.k.a. ‘Tina Österreich’, Lower Saxony (Westerstede)

‘There may be more beautiful times, but this one is ours.’ (Jean Paul Sartre)


Biographical information

1944 Born in Bautzen
1962 Abitur
1964-1968 Teacher training in Leipzig and Altenburg (via correspondence courses)
1964-1974 Employment as teacher and educator at the 11th secondary school in Leipzig
1974 Sentenced to 16 months in prison on charges of ‘preparing to escape the republic’
1974-1975 Incarceration at the penal labour camp in Dessau-Wolfen
1975 Release purchased by the West German government
1977 First book published under the pseudonym ‘Tina Österreich’
1979 Cultural work scholarship from the ‘Märkische Kulturkonferenz’
1979-2000 Employment as a teacher at a vocational school in the Wesermarsch area in Lower Saxony
1990 Art Prize of the German Democratic Republic
1995 Shortlisted for the ‘Deutscher Kurzgeschichtenpreis’ (German Prize for Short Stories); contribution to various anthologies and TV productions; numerous reviews for Die Welt and Rheinischer Merkur
2002-2009 Spent most of her time in Canada
2010-2018 Residing in Bad Zwischenahn and Rastede
2018 Residing in Canada
2019 Residing in Westerstede


Born in Bautzen, Dagmar Meier-Barkhausen was sentenced to 16 months in prison for ‘preparing to escape the republic’ in 1974. The West German government purchased her release after one year in a penal labour camp in Dessau. In 1977, she published her first book under her pseudonym ‘Tina Österreich’. In her novel, Ich war RF’ (‘I Was a Fugitive of the Republic’) she describes her arrest, trial, conviction and everyday life in the GDR’s women’s prisons. Her second book, Gleichheit, Gleichheit über alles (‘Equality, Equality über alles’), contains short prose on life in the GDR. The topic of her third book, Luftwurzeln, is resettlement in West Germany. She frequently gave lectures and presentations on behalf of the Federal Ministry of All-German Affairs and the Federal Ministry of Intra-German Relations as well as for different organisations, parties and schools until 1997. She had set herself to reporting on these very matters. She describes the day of reunification as one of the greatest in her life.

Birgit Schlicke, Hesse (Wiesbaden)

‘When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.’ (Bertolt Brecht)


Biographical information

1969 Born in Görlitz
Until 1987 Extended secondary school, subsequent expulsion due to parents’ application for an exit visa for the family
1988 Arrested by the Stasi; six months of pre-trial custody in Cottbus
August 1988 Convicted of ‘illegal communications transmission’ (§ 99) and ‘interference with state activity’ (§ 214); imprisonment in Hoheneck

1989 Exit to West Germany in December
1990 Abitur in Rottweil
1991-1997 Study of American studies and political science in Tübingen and Washington D.C.

1998 Advanced training in business administration, Frankfurt am Main
1999-2008 Work as marketing officer for various companies and industries in the Rhine-Main region

2009- Active in the business planning department of a Japanese corporation


Birgit Schlick’s biography represents compelling evidence of the fundamentally unjust character of the GDR state. Even twenty years after the fall of the Wall, the reappraisal of and accounting for the crimes of the GDR regime is far from complete. In her book, the author recounts the inhumane methods applied by the SED and the Stasi. Following her parents’ exit visa application, she was banned from further education, forced to quit secondary school, and temporarily worked as a postwoman. Letters of complaint to GDR government authorities, a letter to the West German International Society for Human Rights (IGFM) and her part in organising a silent protest march led to her arrest. Following her conviction, she went through hell at Hoheneck women’s prison: drills, forced labour, harassment and aggressive advances from convicted murderers. Although the Wall came down on 9 November 1989, Birgit Schlicke was not released until 17 November – after serving almost two years in prison.

Dorit Linke, Berlin (Berlin)

‘We will want to stay – once we are allowed to leave.’ (Joachim Gauck)


Biographical information

1971 Born in Rostock
Until 1988 Polytechnic secondary school
Until 1990 Extended secondary school, Abitur
1991 Au-Pair in Manchester
1992-1999 Study of landscape planning in Berlin

1999-2014 Employment in various fields and occupations in Berlin and Glasgow
2014- Working as a writer


Dorit Linke grew up in Rostock. Like many of her peers, she came to know that there were many secret and forbidden things in the GDR – things she should not talk about with anyone, such as, for example, the fact that she sold individual pages of Bravo (a popular West German teenager magazine) on the pier in Warnemünde. As an athlete, she had insight into the world of the GDR’s high-performance sports. Her sport being swimming, she worked as a lifeguard on the Baltic coast. Towards the end of the 1980s she was very much aware of the sense of political awakening and no longer willing to obey rules and prohibitions, but wanted to decide for herself. Dorit Linke participated in the ‘Thursday Demonstrations’ and the citizens’ movement vigils in Rostock in the autumn of 1989. As was true for many, her life changed for good when the Wall came down. A year later she completed her Abitur in Rostock and went on to study landscape planning at the Technical University of Berlin. Living in, among other places, Lübeck, Manchester and Glasgow, she began her professional career as a writer. In her GDR-based novel Jenseits der blauen Grenze (‘Beyond the Blue Border’), nominated for the German Youth Literature Prize and recommended by the Goethe Institute, she digests the 1980s and her own generation’s multi-faceted political and personal experiences while growing up in the GDR. Dorit Linke is a member of the association ‘Autoren helfen’ (‘Authors Help’) which raises awareness around humanitarian and social issues.

Martina and Rüdiger Schmidt, Schleswig-Holstein (Stockelsdorf/Lübeck)

‘Freedom is not something you own, but something you do.’ (Carolin Emcke, recipient of the Peace Prize of the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchandels)


Biographical information

Martina Schmidt

1960 Born in Stockelsdorf and raised in Rostock
1977 Secondary school graduation
1977-1979 Professional training and graduation from commercial college in Rostock

1982-1986 Youth work, children’s prayer service and work with young adults, peace activism, assigned to communities in Rostock’s inner-city districts of St. Marien, St. Nikolai, St. Jakobi
1984-1986 Study of theology via correspondence courses at the Evangelical Theological Seminary Burckhardthaus Berlin/Potsdam

1986 Exit from the GDR to Bremen
1988-1992 Validation process and certification as community educator of the North Elbian Evangelical-Lutheran Church

2000-2002 Qualification as certified programmer and web designer, subsequent part-time work as freelance media designer; advanced training in the field of media management at the University of Hamburg
Since 1989 Active in various areas of the North Elbian Evangelical-Lutheran Church

Today employed by the North Elbian Evangelical-Lutheran Church, project management and administration at the Kirchlicher Dienst in der Arbeitswelt in Lübeck on behalf of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Northern Germany

Rüdiger Schmidt

1960 Born and raised in Rostock
1977 Graduation from secondary school
1977-1979 Professional training, certified as communications engineer

1982-1986 Youth work, peace activism; assigned to communities in Rostock’s inner-city districts of St. Marien, St. Nikolai, St. Jakobi
1983-1986 Full-time staff member of the St. Petri/Nikolai Church congregation in Rostock

1984-1986 Study of theology in the form of correspondence courses at the Evangelical Theological Seminary Burckhardthaus Berlin/Potsdam
1986 Exit from GDR to Bremen

1988-1992 Validation process and certification as community educator of the North Elbian Evangelical-Lutheran Church
2000-2006 Extra-occupational study course at the University of Economics and Political Science in Hamburg and Hamburg University

2007 Graduation from Hamburg University with a degree in cultural and educational management
1990- Active in various areas of the North Elbian Evangelical-Lutheran Church

Today Regional director of the Kirchlicher Dienst in der Arbeitswelt in Lübeck on behalf of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Northern Germany


Martina and Rüdiger Schmidt both grew up in Rostock. In the 1980s, they were active in the Evangelical Church of Mecklenburg, first as volunteers and later full-time in the church’s youth work. They stood in close contact with the city’s youth pastor at the time, Joachim Gauck. Their active peace work, their critical attitude towards the GDR’s deeply ideological school system and Rüdiger Schmidt’s conscientious objection to military service and refusal to perform ‘construction soldier’ service earned them the attention of the Ministry of State Security. In 1982, the Stasi launched an investigation, or ‘operational procedure’ on the Schmidts, titled ‘Polyp’. Both witnessed people’s everyday adjustments to arbitrariness and coercion on the part of the GDR regime, and searched for ways of leading a self-determined life – albeit unsuccessfully. They were allowed to leave the GDR and travel to West Germany in 1986. Today, the couple lives near Lübeck. In 2012, their book, Mauerbruch – eine Heimatgeschichte, was published. It is a book against forgetting, a book which seeks to keep alive the memory of life in Germany’s two different social systems. The authors tell a story of adjustment and re-orientation and what it actually meant to resettle in the West from the East.

Dr. Gerd-Heinrich Kemper, Berlin (Berlin)

‘Protect citizens from the state administration’s interference with their basic rights!’


Biographical information

1938 Born
1967 Government assessor at the Federal Ministry of the Interior

1973 Appointed Senate council under Berlin’s Senator of Justice
1976-1981 Head of division at the Berlin Senate Department of Justice

1981 Judge at the Federal Administrative Court
1996 Appointed president of the Higher Administrative Court of Saxony-Anhalt

2000 Elected president of the State Constitutional Court of Saxony-Anhalt
2004 Retirement


Gerd-Heinrich Kemper witnessed the GDR’s transition from a Communist regime to a constitutional democracy first-hand during his eleven years of service in former East Germany. He was appointed president of the Higher Administrative Court in 1996, and from 2000 onward also the president of the State Constitutional Court in Saxony-Anhalt. In this position, he was responsible for, among other things, appointing judges and rebuilding the judicial system. The graduated lawyer had been a senior government official at the West German Ministry of the Interior from 1972 onward, and subsequently a Senate councillor to the Berlin Senator of Justice up until 1981. Between 1981 and 1996 Kemper was a judge at the Federal Administrative Court before taking up the position in Saxony-Anhalt. Since his retirement, he has frequently given presentations on the transformation of the ex-socialist European states.

Gabriel Berger, Berlin (Berlin)

‘One year of political detention was not too high a price to pay for the freedom I was able to enjoy in West Germany – even before the Wall came down – from 1977 to 1989.’


Biographical information

1944 Born into a Polish-Jewish family under German occupation in Valence, France
1946-1948 Lived with his parents in Antwerp, Belgium

1948-1957 Lived with his parents in Wroc?aw, Poland

1957- Resident in the GDR

1962 Abitur in Markkleeberg near Leipzig

Until 1967 Studies in physics at the Technical University of Dresden
1967 Application to be relieved of GDR citizenship

1968-1969 Military service in the National People’s Army
1969-1976 Position as research assistant at the Zentralinstitut für Kernforschung (Central Institute for Nuclear Research) in Rossendorf near Dresden
1975 Application to relocate to West Germany

1976 Arrested and convicted of ‘defamation of the state’, sentenced to one year in prison
1977 Relocation to West Berlin
1979-1981 Position as scientific assistant at the Institute for Nuclear Engineering at the Technical University of Berlin
1981-1983 Employment as a journalist; assignment to report on the Solidarno?? movement in Poland, philosophy studies at the TU Berlin

1984-2014 Employed as IT trainer and freelance work as author
2007- Retired, IT trainer, author, lecturer, in contact with Jewish organisations in Germany and Poland


Born into a Jewish family, I was deeply aware of the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust from my early childhood onward. My family upbringing was decidedly Communist, yet as early as 1967 I was eager to shed my citizenship after living in the GDR for ten years – albeit unsuccessfully. In 1968, I was a fervent supporter of the Czechoslovakian reform movement, which I advocated for even as a soldier in the National People’s Army. After the sealing of the final act of the CSCE Accord of Helsinki I applied for relocation to West Germany in 1975, only to have my request be denied. After that, I displayed my rejection of the SED’s dictatorship publicly, leading to my arrest in 1976. After a year in prison I was allowed to leave the GDR. In West Berlin, I became actively involved in raising awareness about conditions in the GDR, participating, for instance, as a speaker at the Bahro Congress and publishing an article on Nazis in East German prisons. I travelled to Poland as special correspondent for the newspaper Die Welt in 1981 to report on the Solidarnocz movement. My books largely address the past in the GDR and in Poland as well as the strained relationship between Poles and Jews.

Languages: English, Polish, Russian

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