In that land there were no advertisements, because it had no wares. It only sold two kinds of chocolate, both tasting horrible according to my parents. I don't remember the taste of that chocolate.
I do remember how our notebooks looked, though: a greyish dark green, a very rough cover, no pictures, no different colours; the same booklet for all ten school years.
To this day my mother lowers her voice when they talk about political topics, a habit created from a lifetime of fear of the wires picking up such dangerous conversation.
I was a child when the Iron Curtain fell. I remember my father taking me to the big monday demonstrations that took place in all major cities of our little country, and my trousers getting splattered with candle wax that my mother then had to iron out again, every single week that autumn.
I remember the first time he drove with us through the checkpoints into West Berlin to go grocery shopping. (Once the wall was open my father would drive the long way over to Berlin every single week to buy groceries because he refused to buy and eat anything from that old, ugly system anymore.)
I had never been in such a big store before. It had bananas and kiwis and oranges as if it was normal. I had never before in my life eaten a kiwi; bananas and oranges at most once in a year.
I remember looking at rows upon rows upon rows of different brands of cornflakes in that huge store - I had never eaten cornflakes before and had no idea what that even was.
One summer day when my mother and I were on our way back home she spotted many people standing in line in front of a store. After she had found out what they sold she put me at the end of the line and said to me: "Talea, they're selling cherries. I will hurry home and get some money, and you will wait here in the line until I'm back, ok?" I waited obediently. I didn't have a sense of time but like every soul in that country I knew how to wait.
Back then the rule was: If you see a waiting queue you get in line first and ask what is being sold second. It might even be bananas (though cherries were amazing enough!), and wouldn't it be a pity if they sold out before it was finally your turn? (Yes, I remember that, too. But in this case we were lucky and got delicious sweet black cherries after a long, long wait that became more endurable once my mother had finally returned to me.)
But that was Berlin, a city big enough to have such special sales once in a while. When we later lived in a small town everything was way more rationed; I don't remember any special sales. I remember rough skinned, grey-green booklets to write in, and the weird political marches we school children had to participate in on May 1st.
In the summer after the Iron Curtain fell we drove to West Germany. Apparently we had family living there that I would get to know now.
It was a weird experience - there was colour everywhere. Everything glowed with advertisements; I didn't know where to look to keep my eyes safe from that much agressive glowing.
Everything was beautiful, too. Lovely even streets without any cobblestone at all. Clean streets, clean houses; flowers and colours, and everything was neat, tidy and prettier than in any picture book I had ever seen.
When we returned to our part of the country it was not its shabbyness and its grey houses I noticed most stongly, but it was the sudden return of a noise I had never before consciously heard: The highways clattered. [Image: Horrible Highways]
After having driven for a week on silent, modern streets without any holes and not anymore built from slabs of concrete like ours, it was utterly strange to suddenly begin to hear our car clatter again as we skipped from cement plate to cement plate: rattle, rattle, rattle.
Slowly our country changed. The school system changed first - at least from my pretty limited point of view back then.
Later new streets were build. Shiny, increadibly pretty cars could be bought - instantly, actually. Nobody had to wait for 15 years anymore before they could finally buy the car they had applied for, and be happy if it actually came in the colour they had ordered it in.
Berlin has changed so much. When I return there today everything looks wrong: Pretty playgrounds. Modern streets. Buildings made from gleaming glass and steel. A multicultural city. (It still smells the same way it also smelled in my childhood, though.)
Sometimes I recognise a corner, and the Fernsehturm still looks the same.
I was a child in a country made from shadow and dust.
Sometimes I am surprised to find myself in a world that back then even the Science Fiction novels could not imagine.
And sometimes I am surprised at all the greyness I remember. Really, was it really like this? But it was, wiretappings and all.