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Germany relives communist era as woman's fight for children is filmed

By Tony Paterson in Berlin

Jutta Fleck will never forget the day when East German police separated her from her two young daughters because she had committed the crime of trying to flee the communist state for the West.

It was the summer of 1982 and she had been picked up by Romanian police while trying to escape to Yugoslavia over the Danube with her children, aged 11 and nine. They were handed over to the East Germans and flown back to East Berlin three days later. Police boarded the plane and separated mother and children immediately.

This week, more than nine million television viewers in reunited Germany have been watching a two-part dramatisation of Ms Fleck's fight for her daughters. The Woman at Checkpoint Charlie, starring Veronica Ferres, has been timed to coincide with today's 17th anniversary of reunification.

"It was the worst day in my life," Ms Fleck, now 59, recalled on German television as she fought back tears: "Through the porthole of the plane, I could just see them waving at me and mouthing, 'we will stick with you'. We never said goodbye properly – they were just driven away." The re-enactment of her story has prompted specialists on the former East Germany to join with rights activists, politicians and former Communist Party members for what many concede is a long-overdue reappraisal of communist rule and the West's response to it. "The millions of viewers suggest that, after 17 years of reunification, Germany's collective soul is ready for the mass media to deal with this subject," said Der Tagesspiegel.

Ms Fleck was not to see her children again for six years. Her daughters, Claudia and Beate, were put in a state-run children's home. She spent three years in the notorious Hoheneck womens' prison after being convicted of "trying to flee the GDR".

After being freed with the help of the West German government in the mid-Eighties, Ms Fleck spent almost three years campaigning ceaselessly for her daughters to be allowed to join her in the West. Most of her time was spent standing on the Western side of the Berlin Wall at the Allied crossing point known as Checkpoint Charlie. She wore a sign hanging round her neck that read: "I want my children back".

She was finally reunited with her children in 1988 – but only after obtaining an audience with the Pope, pleading with the West German foreign minister, and disrupting Chancellor Helmut Kohl's speech on the 25th anniversary of the building of the Wall in 1986.

The Woman at Checkpoint Charlie closely follows the Oscar-winning film The Lives of Others, which was the first post-unification production to deal directly with East Germany's Stasi secret police. Germany's television industry is planning more dramas that take a serious look eastwards.

Irish Independent


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