Oxford-area resident Antje Arnold visited the Oxford Public Library's Children's Library on March 28 to share some of her memories of growing up in East Germany.
Arnold was 11 years old when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, so many of her childhood memories are drawn from a past that is very different what today's children experience growing up with a reunited Germany.
"It's a world nowadays you can only find in a museum," Arnold said. "It wasn't a perfect time period, but it wasn't horrible."
Arnold lived in Strasburg, a small town of about 2,500 located between Berlin and Poland.
Arnold remembers her childhood as a happy one. She attended school, where she and all her classmates were members of the Pioneers, an organization similar to Scouting. The children did service projects and fundraisers for their classrooms. "I was the treasurer, and I loved every minute of it," she said.
Holidays are a big part of Arnold's childhood memories. Her family followed all of the long-standing German traditions, celebrating Christmas and Easter in great style, but with no mention of religion or the origin of those holidays. "We celebrated all the holidays. It was very much focused on family and friends. We had everything but the church," she said. "There were plenty of churches, but people were not seen in them. There was no church growing up and no religion."
She noted that the absence of any religion was probably one of the biggest differences between life in East Germany and life in West Germany.
When she goes back to visit Berlin today, Arnold hears comments about how dark the wall in East Berlin used to look compared to West Berlin. She explained that one reason for that was the lack of advertisements such as neon signs, posters and billboards. All the graffiti was on the western side of the wall. "If you take all the glitz and glamor away, it wouldn't look very cheerful," she said.
Some of the other differences in the communist country included the long wait for automobiles. Arnold said that it would take 16 to 20 years from applying for a car until one was received. That meant that public transportation and bicycles were relied upon. People who did have cars had to wait an hour wait for gasoline, Arnold recalled. "We had a lot of people drive motorcycles," she noted.
When she was 19 years old, Arnold came to America, with plans for her life when she returned home. That changed when she married and started a life in this country.
Now, as she looks back on her childhood, Arnold wants to be sure her children, Kylee and Joshua, know what her early life was like. To help share her experiences, Arnold has written a book for young adult readers titled "The Girl Behind the Wall." It is told from a child's perspective without political opinions.
"It was never intended to be a public book. It was putting stories on paper for my kids. I wanted to create something like a reference," Arnold said.
As she wrote, her stories came together into a book that tells the story of a time that is gone. "I wouldn't trade my childhood for anything in the world," she added. "I had a lot of fun."