From your point of view, who embodies action for peace and how?
On the night of the 12th to the 13th of August 1961, the construction of the Berlin Wall began. It was the new beginning of the separation of East andWest Berlin, a delicate and effective plan for the GDR (German Democratic Republic) to keep the East Berliners from escaping to the West. The Eastern side of the wall was controlled by the Soviets who seemed to make up strict and ongoing rules which allowed for little freedom and peace in society. The Western side however, was occupied by the Americans, French and the British and people were free to accomplish many more things without worrying about the fact that they could end up in jail or that someone was constantly watching their every move. Since, watching Western television or listening to Western radio was forbidden for the East Germans, they didn’t have any resources to understand what was going on. In school, teachers influenced the students to think that what was going on was a good thing and that the communists were the good people. For 28 years,Germanywas separated and many families and friends were unable to contact each other. Night and day, hundreds of soldiers were guarding the wall and making sure that no one was escaping to the West, and if anybody tried to, the guards were free to pull the trigger.
My father, Holger Bismann is a true East German. He was born there on the 2nd of May 1961, and grew up with the presence of the wall. During his childhood he knew nothing more except for the fact that he was East German and that communism was a good thing. People influenced his generation to follow the soviets and respect their leaders. It wasn’t until later in his youth that he began to understand the actual situation his country was in and that he began to wonder about the outside world. Since the East Germans didn’t have the liberty to travel much, his curiosity grew and he soon became thirsty for traveling and meeting new people. I have always known my father as an inspiring man who loves to travel. It has always been essential for him to meet new people, get to know different cultures and explore new landscapes. It is just as essential for him as the need for food and water.
Because of his need to travel, my father had acknowledged the idea of escaping to the West for a very long time, ever since the beginning of his studies in 1984. He wanted to be a free man. After he met my mother in 1986, his world completely changed. My mother was a monitor at a summer camp inEast Germany. She was originally French, and had taken some French kids and orphans who didn’t have the money to travel, to spend their vacation abroad. In order to be able to finance his trips during the summer break from University, my father worked at that exact kids camp, as a lifeguard or sport’s animator. It was quite unusual that kids fromWestern Europecame to visit the Eastern side, so there were constantly people making sure that the Germans didn’t get too close. It was after the camp that he and his best friend, Klaus, began to plot their escape to the West. At first they were planning to jump over the wall using a trampoline. As sports students, they were asked every year to participate in a big sports festival. It was so that the government could show the world how powerful and great communism was. The show was presented by hundreds of athletes and was based merely on acrobatics. Their aim was to jump onto a mini trampoline, do a somersault in the air, while jumping over a three meter high ring and then landing onto your feet. He and his best friends, Klaus, practiced their plan for months, jumping off the trampoline thousands of times. Since they had great sports facilities in their University, they spent many nights a week in the gym practicing. Their plan failed when Klaus’s girlfriend asked if she could join them. For three years they had practiced jumping three meters into the air, and since she had arrived at last minute, there was no way she was physically ready. Because of this inconvenience, they were forced to change their plans. Instead they made the decision to travel by foot. They decided to cross the East German border throughCzechRepublicand from there toHungaryand intoYugoslavia. They had to be careful though, sinceHungaryhad made an agreement withGermanythat they too were free to pull the trigger on any one trying to escape. During the years of them planning their escape, only he and Klaus knew. In order to not get caught and to not put their family and friends in danger, no one was allowed to be aware of what they were about to do. They were escaping for liberty, but weren’t able to say good bye to friends and family.
Finally the days arrived. After he graduated in 1988, just before they escaped, they had organized a secret farewell party. Nobody except for him and maybe another one or two people knew about them leaving, so for everybody there it was just a normal party with a normal rock band. My father couldn’t be sure he was ever going to see his friends again. In the end, Klaus’s girlfriend decided not to come, so their change of plans had been for nothing; nevertheless they decided to stick with their current and new plan. Together, on the 8th or 9th of August 1988, they took the train toBudapestand from there until theYugoslaviaborder they rode their bikes. They had decided to leave during the night, a night in which there was no moon. They did this so that they could hide themselves to the maximum and not get caught by the guards. They acted like tourists on their bikes, with their tent. That evening after having camped, they hid their bikes and bags in the bushes, 10 km away from the border. All they had then was a compass and a map, and with that they needed to escape. The map that they had bought inBudapesthad been falsified without them knowing. It was a map written upside down, so in order to get to their destination they needed to look at it in a mirror. Once it started getting dark they came across a swamp. The water came up to their necks, so they decided to part ways and meet each other back at the end.
My father was caught first out of the both of them. He got caught at 2am while trying to get out of the swamp and find his way to the border. For him, his dream was over. He was standing opposite of a young 18 year old guard pointing an AK-47 at him. The young guard was just as scared as my father was, since rumor had it that any person who was trying to escape was either a criminal and or extremely dangerous. From there he was taken to the Hungarian prison, in which he spent a couple of days, until being transported to theBerlinjail. Klaus was caught a couple of minutes later. The next day, Klaus was taken back to the swamp with the police for an investigation. It was there that he realized that they had on been 10 meters away from the Hungarian/Yugoslavia border. Klaus was taken directly to the Hungarian jail as well. Prison wasn’t a luxury in any way. For 15 months they lived in a small space, without any privacy or toilets. They were forced to share everything. While in prison, he was able to meet people, mostly criminals. People who had never had a great life. A life without security, or freedom. In court, both of them were sentenced for 18 months of jail. After 15 months though, on the 9th of November 1989, was the day that the wall came down. On that day, all the prisoners who had been put to jail for escaping were able go out into the open world again. They were free, and communism came to an end. Families were reunited and friends saw each other again. My parents were able to come together again, and live the life they wanted to live in the first place.
My father embodied peace with the fact that he didn’t give up and fought for liberty. He risked his life and was ready to die for his country. He was ready to go to prison, and to have no freedom at all for a long time, if he didn’t succeed, but to then be freed and taken straight into the West. He was loyal friend, since he never left his best friend behind, and when things got difficult, they always stuck together. My father had planned his whole life out in way that he could be in peace with himself. Now he works for a company calledPatagonia. It is a company that is environmentally friendly, and influences many different brands to do the same. Because of his past and his present, many people including I, are inspired by him. After he came out of jail and moved toFrancewith my mother he became the Olympic trainer for the French Luge team; he worked with mentally ill children; he worked for influential companies, and now he is fighting against Cancer. He is an inspiration to me and my family and he always will be. Peace isn’t only the fact that there is no war, but it is also feeling good with yourself and the world you are surrounded by. His whole life was constructed by that, and still is today. He fought for peace his whole life and is still fighting for it today.