Rika Cossey

My lived experience of the German reunification in 1989

I don’t remember very much of the actual events but a feeling stuck with me: we were one.

I was six years old when the East German regime started to grumble. At the time, my family and I lived in one of the bigger cities in Eastern Germany. Because my mum worked in one of the key organisations that would contribute to the German reunification, I was involved early as well. I have the clearest memories of going to demonstrations. It was dark most of the time and cold – typical autumn weather. And I was given a candle, a real candle.

I remember that there were always people smiling and slogans being called: “Wir sind das Volk” – We are the people. I think I said it, too without realising what it means. But there was always something going on while we walked. And I remember the wax running down onto my hand. I didn’t wear gloves and it took a few marches before I got a paper cover for my hand.

I roughly remember where we walked but other than my parents, I don’t remember any of the other people there. But I was never scared. It was just something we did then. My little brother and I with our waxy hands and our candles among people calling: “Wir sind das Volk.”

Today, I still get reminded of the feeling of hot wax on my skin and I don’t mind it. On the contrary, I connect it to that feeling of being together with others. It’s nice.

Now that I’m at the age my parents were at back then, I know how risky it really was to be out on the street. I don’t recall seeing police officers around (they were somewhere but I don’t remember having anything to do with them). The atmosphere was relaxed. We just all went for a walk, it seemed. But, in fact, it’s a miracle that the regime refrained from shutting us down.

I am immensely grateful for the events of those weeks in the late summer and autumn of 1989 in East Germany. As a little girl, I didn’t understand it at the time but I know today that I would not be the same people I am today without those events. I carried a candle while others took the risk of demonstrating against a notorious regime.

I’m also grateful to the political leaders at the time for not attacking us demonstrators. They allowed it to happen and had the dignity to follow what the people on the streets wanted: unity.

Of course, there is more to this story but as a six year old I didn’t see that. I felt the sense of unity, of calling in unison, and of walking together. I thought it was normal.

A few days after the wall fell, we, too, sat in our car to get to West Germany. There were long lines of cars on the motorway and I don’t think we moved very quickly at all. Once in the West, I remember lots of cars giving light signals and honking. I felt welcomed. It was nice.

I don’t remember the town we went to but I do remember getting a little wallet. It was green, I think, with Snoopy on it. I kept it for a long time. It was the first thing my parents bought for me with the new money.

Recalling all these events 34 years after they happened still makes me cry tears of relief. My candle, my waxy hands, and I were part of history. The peaceful revolution of 1989 is part of my history and affects my life even today. I am so thankful for all the clear-mindedness that came through on all sides. It was a miracle I owe my life and my adventures to. And hot candle wax will forever remain a symbol of hope for me.

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