Balloon: Freedom and fate in the GDR

The following was taken from a letter to a fellow writer, with whom I spoke extensively about the research for my new book Alterity that will touch on events of WWII and the impact of the GDR system on the society of East Germany. Sounds complex but it’s rather fascinating to understand how, on one hand, resistant the human mind is to change, while on the other we want to break out of all personal and political chains. We also spoke about the film Balloon that idealised the spectacular escape of an East German family across the border in 1979.

Freedom. Flying is freedom. And air is the element where we can roam freely, and sometimes anything anchored to the ground holds us back. I haven’t been in a hot air balloon yet but I did recognise the song in the intro from the film, and even the hall where the children sang looked very familiar. They must have built something quite similar across East Germany. I wondered if it is usually the younger generation, and families with children, who have a greater longing to be free. After all the older generation has settled, has accepted their fate almost predicted for the end of their life. Then I remembered your words on poverty, and how we in the West perceive fate as something that can be changed, while in the East fate is something quite accepted. Perhaps we are born with a certain set of parameters for fate, and manipulate these elements as well as we can to gain greater freedom.

Balloon was an interesting film, but I am fully aware that my perception of it is so very different from yours and other people’s. I know a lot of the places which were on their list to buy fabrics from, the furniture and even some of the plants looked terribly familiar. Yet to me, all this is also a memory. Not an immediate recollection but almost a memory through my parents, like a genetic memory. The same kind of recollection I have of WWII, through my grandparents.

I cannot claim that I know the GDR very well, but I grew up with the immediate results in the 90s, and even as a young child I could instinctively foresee how very much the community spirit would change. You are right, in theory the concept of communism sounds fascinating, and it might work if people were not so power hungry and ruthless.

I have wondered for a long time if it is truly wise to enforce a certain set of governing style – similar to creating a synthetic language. We all need some rules – guidelines to live by – yet the common sense person does not need a law to understand they should not kill someone, or take something that doesn’t belong to them. Law always felt to me more of a guide, which I followed because common sense dictates it – yes, isn’t it interesting to see to what extent social conventions also influenced our common sense?

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