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XIX: Time Machine

Shortly after the wall crumbles I turn 12. My friends and I collect tiny graffiti stained chunks of concrete. Pebbles of our past, we hope will increase in value. Everyone travels West. A few never return. Bananas magically appear in grocery stores. Eager shoppers, weary from a lifetime consumption of apples and cabbage, snatch them up. The ice cream cart is open daily now, offering more than one flavor. There are rumors at school about being able to drop Russian class. It sounds too good to be true.

Our history teacher is fumbling through a new set of lessons. We will get a different textbook next year. My old one is already in the trash. Classmates chew gum, watch MTV and listen to New Kids on the Block. We buy walkmans and fashion earmuffs and feel cooler than we ever imagined possible.

My parents decide I am old enough to travel west on my own. After all, my father left home at age twelve and mother travelled solo to Hungary around the same age. Both feats repeatedly slip into any conversation calling for greater self sufficiency. I am on board with increased independence. I’ll visit a pen pal I’ve exchanged letters with for a couple months. She lives in Hanover, a couple hours northwest of Leipzig. Her family belongs to our church (denomination). This means they are decent folks we can trust.

My parents insist I attend my friend’s school while visiting. They are sure I would love it. I’ve never loved stepping into rooms full of strangers but it’s hard to explain that to extroverts. Of course I’ll visit her class and participate, happily. My friend’s family are gracious hosts who live in a much nicer apartment than ours. Their car is shiny and very fast although you can hardly hear the engine while it’s running.

For breakfast my friend opens a colorful cardboard box. Kellogg’s Smacks. I’ve never eaten commercial cereal before. Milk drenched tiny pebbles swim to the surface but remain crunchy. Amazing. I can’t believe this counts for breakfast. We eat several bowls, then pack our lunch. The West has cool packages for practically everything. No wonder their refrigerator and trash appear oversized.

My friend’s school is ground level with bright and spacious classrooms that almost look playful. Students sit sort of facing each other at sturdy tables forming a large U-shape around the classroom. The chairs are comfortable and don’t bear stickers declaring “Owned by the people.” Back home nearly all school looks the same: four story rectangles in plain concrete with tilt windows, vinyl floors and recently vanishing communist insignia.

My friend’s teacher is friendly and welcomes me as part of the class. Today we’re reading a chapter book in English, outloud. I am sweating my turn, silently wishing for the hundredth time that someone had taught me English instead of Russian. The teacher assigns me the easiest sentence. I read it perfectly, then breathe. Will I ever catch up?

My eyes scan the classroom. There are shelves with books and other educational material. Slick backpacks with sewn-in reflectors hang along one wall. Students wear street-shoes which seems like a good idea because twice last year my shoes were stolen and I had to walk home in my school slippers.

I covet my desk neighbors pencil box and wish I had stickers of my name and an equally slick  pen. Clearly the West is ahead. In everything. I feel as though I’ve stepped into a time machine.

It’s almost time to return home. Capitalism corrupts people, my teacher used to say. I don’t feel ruined. I feel inspired.time-853746_1920

This is part XIX of “Behind the Wall & Under the Steeple”, a collection of personal essays about growing up Christian in former East Germany. Some of you think these stories are worth telling. If you are among them, subscribe to my blog or bookmark this page. If you are receiving this post by email, any reply goes straight to my inbox.  Thanks for reading! 

6 Replies

  1. Heather

    Your writing and recollections are inspiring, Astrid!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Inspiring like capitalism . Thanks friend!

  2. Tara

    Ooooh! This filled out nicely! 🙂 🙂 Good work friend!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks!! This was fun to write too… not a super strong point here but good storytelling practice nevertheless. Thx for sharing my writing process.

  3. Excellent! Excellent! Thanks for sharing this Astrid. VERY well written. and I’m missing you.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks! Miss u too. When do you return?

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