Sunday, 8 November 2009

Namibia and the fall of the Berlin Wall - a German-African odyssey

The Berlin Wall came down 20 years ago, on November 9, 1989. Back then I was living in Los Angeles. I was only 15, but I could feel I was missing out on something really big. It was a historic moment in my country and I was at the other end of the world. My friends wrote to me about celebrating in the market place in Bonn. Within days, my high school history teacher in LA was proudly showing classes bits of concrete from the Berlin Wall that she received by express post. Funny to think that even in such a short space of time remnants of the Wall were being distributed around the world.

20 years later German media are in a frenzy about the day that changed European history. Strangely, I can't get excited about it. Of course I grasp the historic significance, but I never got excited about anniversaries, the much loved pegs for journalists to go overboard pondering history, to come up with endless specials or to seek bizarre angles and stories no one else has dreamt up.

So, you might say: what does that have to do with Namibia? Well not much, except that I too was asked earlier this year to research a strange African connection to the former East Germany.

Namibia was a former German colony and after WWI was occupied by South Africa for almost 70 years. For decades, the freedom fighters of the SWAPO – the South West Africa People’s Organization – fought for independence and lived with their families in refugee camps in neighbouring Zambia and Angola.

But in the 70s and 80s, the SWAPO sent several hundred children to East Germany (known as the GDR in English and DDR in German) for education and training. They hoped that after independence Namibia would need a new, educated elite. These kids became known as the "East German Kids". The Central Committee of the GDR supported the project - after all it was the height of the Cold War and freedom fighters across the African continent were encouraged to embrace communism and turn their back on capitalism.


The book pictured above is by one of these GDR-kids, Nambian author Lucia Engombe. At the age of seven she was catapulted from a refugee camp in Zambia to a secluded castle in East Germany. She then spent 11 years in this strange GDR microcosm thinking she would grow up to become one of the future elite of Namibia.

But then the Wall came down and her life suddenly changed once more. Along with hundreds of other Namibian teenagers, Lucia was packed onto a plane sent back home. A country that she no longer knew.

Lucia's account of her remarkable childhood and life in East Germany is entitled "Child Nr. 95“.

Back in May I met Lucia in Windhoek and spoke to her about her German-African odyssey. Below you'll find excerpts from her book and the interview - in German, sorry to all the English speakers!

Lucia Engombe: Child Nr 95 by Aventures

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