In 1989, I was twelve years old, and from my perspective everything on the other side of the Wall was somehow cooler. My home town (Forst/Lausitz) was so far to the east in the GDR that we could get the Polish stations much better on our TV than ARD and ZDF. Still, the reception was good enough so that now and then we could watch “Alf,” “The Flintstones,” and “The Fall Guy.”
Suddenly, all of this was within reach, because there was a hole in the Wall. And since we couldn’t be sure that the hole wouldn’t be closed again soon, my mother and I took the train to Berlin as soon as we could. Back then, many people obviously had the same idea — so the train was bursting at the seams.
Our initial destination was East Berlin, where a friend of our family had an apartment in the Prenzlauer Berg district. Back then, the neighborhood was still full of many ruined buildings. However, you could watch MTV shows on TV. This was even better than “Alf”! That was the first time I heard Sinead O’Connor sing “Nothing compares 2U.” Even more impressive was my first contact with “Yo! MTV Raps.”
But the absolute highlight came on the following day in Berlin-Schöneberg: 100 deutschmarks welcome money! According to Wikipedia, in just the first three weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Federal Republic of Germany paid out welcome money to 18 million visitors. Because everyone received a “Hunni,” that added up to 1.8 billion deutschmarks.
A large part of this money must have been invested in Monchhichi dolls (a monkey-hedgehog hybrid) and double tape-deck cassette recorders. Those, at least, were the two products that most of my friends proudly brought home from their shopping tours with the welcome money. I was not one of them. I bought something that was more timeless:
I can still see it before me today, lying on a shelf in Woolworth’s: a pitch-black skateboard with neon-pink wheels. On the upper surface there was a white shark; beneath were a couple of zombies in a cemetery. The label was “Thriller.” Nothing could be better!
Back then my home town had hardly any smooth streets that would have been suitable for skateboarding. Cobblestones were the standard road surface in the GDR. However, in the first place it didn’t matter to me, and in the second place, in my home town we at least had a racetrack for bikes with a fairly cool sharp curve. With a bit of imagination, you could regard it as a half-pipe.
Today the skateboard stands in our basement. It’s a fairly battered veteran, but it bears its wounds with pride. And it still works. Even my children have rolled along the street on it a few times — here and now in Baden-Württemberg. Maybe one day it will be a family heirloom. In any case, 30 years on I can say that my welcome money was a damn good investment.