Berlin: A new book offers a fresh, youthful and personal twist on Germany’s turbulent decades-long division by the Berlin Wall, with true stories depicted through comic illustrations.
Five first-hand accounts by Berliners whose lives were shaped and marked by communist East Germany’s decision to divide itself off from the West in 1961 are told in the comic book entitled Berlin - Divided City.
Targeting youngsters, the book aims to paint a vivid picture of the daily reality of life in Berlin, spliced in two for 28 years by the authoritarian regime of the German Democratic Republic (GDR).
It includes Ursula Malchow who, together with her husband, worked at the Lazarus hospital, just a stone’s throw from the Berlin Wall on the western side when the detested barrier was thrown up.
The couple helplessly witnessed several bids to escape East Berlin which, in some cases, ended up at the clinic’s accident and emergency department and, in one instance, in death.
Ernst Mundt, 41, was felled before their eyes when an East German border guard fired shots as he desperately tried to span the Wall on September 4, 1962 in a bid to join his mother.
Only his cap made it into the West.
“Everything that is recounted in the book is true,” Ursula Malchow, now aged 75 and still living very close to the hospital, said, visibly moved, during the book’s presentation.
Young illustrators Thomas Henseler and Susanne Buddenberg unveiled the publication recently at the Memorial to the Berlin Wall.
“We wanted to tell personal stories, located in authentic places, and by working like historians,” Henseler told AFP.
For a year, the two authors painstakingly worked through witness accounts, photographs, films, maps, history books and archives to ensure their comic book stuck closely to the historical facts.
“It was important for us that the actors are still living and that the places still exist,” Henseler added.
From their lengthy research they selected five experiences that dated from 1961 to 1989 that covered a number of situations linked to the Wall, Buddenberg said.
The comic illustrations also depict Detlef Matthes’ story. As a young East German, he was so intrigued by the Western, and forbidden, part of his city that he flouted the ban to photograph the Wall and its surroundings.
His curiosity cost him six weeks in jail.
And the Holzapfel family also features, telling the story of their daring escape from East Berlin via the roof of a ministry building by sliding along a rope held by relatives on the other side of the Wall.
“Young people are not always aware of this past, albeit recent,” Henseler said.
According to a study conducted by the Free University in Berlin and published at the end of June, just one third of 7,500 youngsters aged 14 to 16 questioned qualified the GDR as a dictatorship.