Recently I have been talking with my father about visiting the places where my grandfather grew up and where our family takes its name from, which now lie in Poland. Even though it’s now almost 30 years since visiting for West Germans became possible, we never did. We’re planning on making a trip next year and I plan to write a longer piece about the experience and the wider context when we return back. But it also had me thinking back to my own experiences of spending a lot of weekends and holidays as a child with my mother’s parents who lived right on the border between West and East Germany. I was only 6 when Germany was reunified, but I still have some memories from before that which now in hindsight seem hilariously absurd. One local oddity I would find hard to belief if I hadn’t been there myself.
Behind my grandparents’ house was a road that led down the hill and disappeared into the trees of the swamp. In the middle of the swamp, the road ended at the overgrown remains of a ramp. A ramp that once led up to a bridge that no longer existed. Across a small river that marked the border of the no man’s land beyond the edge of the Western World.
And beside that ramp at the end of a road that leads nowhere, there was a lone small inn run by an old couple, the last two remaining people of a village that had once stood on the other bank. The locals from the village, who occasionally came by for a drink, called it the Russian Embassy. Since the barkeep was a Russian soldier who rather fled into exile than facing the punishment for having allowed himself to be captured alive by the Germans.
I still remember going down that road with my grandfather and getting icecream. And being told to never, under any circumstances, swim to the other shore, because the patrols were under order to shot anyone trying to escape from East Germany and you could sometimes hear mines going off in the woods across the river.
It’s just wonderfully absurd.
And I’ve heard there is a new bridge now.