Former East German Residents Tell Their Stories

By NTD Newsroom

A former East German resident recalls her story of always wanting to become an explorer. But her dreams were crushed after she completed her biology degree. She applied for research assignments abroad but was rejected on all of them.

Seventy-one-year-old Carmen Rohrbach risked everything to get get out from behind the Iron Curtain. Escaping communist East Germany seemed to be the only option for her to pursue her dreams, so she hatched a plan to paddle to Denmark.

In 1974, she and a friend set off from a campsite by the East German coast. They ended up sinking their rubber dinghy to avoid detection by searchlights. With no boat, they swam for a night and day.

On the second night, they were picked up by an East German warship in international waters. Rohrbach was sentenced to 32 months in prison for trying to flee.

“When I tried to flee, I thought I was a traitor. I felt like a traitor but I knew that I had to do it for myself,” Rohrbach said.

“But when I was in prison, I thought, ‘No, it was worth risking my life due to this regime,” she added.

Rohrbach is happy to have grown up in communist East Germany, because now she has a much greater appreciation for democracy and freedom.

Thomas Drescher is another former communist East German resident who tried to escape. Raised in the East, he knew he did not want to spend the rest of his life behind the Iron Curtain.

Along with a friend, he cycled up to the Berlin Wall, and with a ladder tried to climb over it. He was caught by the border guards and spent nine months in jail.

“If you lose your freedom, you notice it,” Drescher said. “If you have freedom, you quickly get used to it. That’s what I learned.”

Drescher was released from prison 16 days before the fall of the Wall. He said he never had regretted his decision.

Reporting by NTD News