…the decision to apply for the Fulbright teaching exchange had been mine. And like the few really monumental decisions in my life, it was impulsive. I was the gut instinct member of our marital duet. Just run with it! And that is how I reacted the day when Frank brought home the letter of invitation handed him by his department chair…my mongrel spirit had been triggered. I imagined us there already. To be invited to live in a communist country! Actually invited behind the Wall: die Mauer. ‘Go for it, Frank!’ I didn’t even consider the complications of a move that was literally from one world to another. I was in the moment, let’s run! You. Me. Eric. Run!-Celeste Barber, Ghosts of East Berlin
This episode of Radio GDR, the East Germany podcast, lives up to Paul Harvey’s famous expression, “and now you know the rest of the story.” In episode 24, Shane Whaley interviewed Eric Friedman who, as a 10-year old boy in 1988, accompanied his mother Celeste Barber, a teacher in the English Department at Santa Barbara City College in California, and stepfather Frank McConnell on a Fulbright grant-sponsored tour as an English teacher at Humboldt University in East Berlin. Eric and Celeste co-authored the book Ghosts of East Berlin, a must-read personal account of their time behind the Berlin Wall. In this episode, you’ll learn how Celeste and her family ended up in East Berlin, how she met her dear friend Adelheid, who lived with a view of the wall from her apartment, and how the family coped with living in what Celeste calls “No Mans Land.” While she experienced challenges and even some scary moments with the Stasi, the GDR’s secret police, Celeste nonetheless had some very human moments via her friend Adelheid, Frank’s students and even a Russian woman on the street car. Not everything behind the Berlin Wall was as gray as expected.
Read more about Celeste and Eric’s journey in East Berlin in East Berlin Through 10-Year-Old Eyes. Also, see the incredible photos Celeste and Eric generously provided below with select captions. My favorite is the last one, a plainclothes Stasi officer glaring with snarled lips at the family as they snapped his picture – truly the embodiment of the dark underbelly of the police state. I look forward to sharing my interview with Adelheid soon!
I’d like to dedicate this episode to my mother, Judith Marie. Just like Celeste, my mom made me read and pushed me to do new and incredible things. I learned languages and traveled the world thanks to her encouragement.
“Men are what their mothers made them.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson