“Wise, humane and informative”
Martin Dey, Service Manager, Dundee Social Work Department writes:
Over the last two evenings I sat down and read “Border Crossings“. I thought it was a marvellous, wise, humane and informative story. By letting the story unfold in the way it did, it allowed the Scottish story to lead and then the East German experience to shine through, insightfully and powerfully. Well done to you for going there as a 22 year old and for capturing the context so well. I have now loaned my copy to a German lady at work (who visited DDR in a school trip in 1976) and I will let you know what she thinks. Apart from anything else it made me hope that when Mikhail Gorbachev dies he gets a fraction of the respect shown to Nelson Mandela. Mandela was undoubtedly the more personally inspiring figure and more important for black/white relations but whether he fully intended it or not, Gorbachev saved the entire world. Setting in motion the relatively bloodless end of Communist Europe and saving our children from dreams (nightmares) of mushroom clouds. “Border Crossings” explains a lot through the eyes of ordinary people.
“Overcoming borders and differences”
In agreement with previous reviewers, I would much recommend this readable little book as a small but significant insight into East Germany over several decades. Being (West) German myself and having travelled to East Germany in the late 1980s I recognised many of the little every day difficulties encountered by the East German people but also by the travellers. In this book (unlike so many others) German viewpoints are given in their original German as well as translated into English. It makes the language difficulties and the humour and hospitality that bridged these difficulties so much clearer. The use of the many quotations also adds to the way the whole book reads almost like an objective report on recent historical events without being dry or boring.
The main insight that stood out for me was the opportunity of religion as a possible bridge. When I myself travelled as part of a very liberal (and not very religious) West German youth group we had scheduled meetings with East German party-line following young people and there was no common ground at all despite us speaking the same language. Without labouring the point Vivien Martin shows that saying the same prayers does not require speaking the same language. Especially at an age when when much of the press stresses political and religious differences as close to insurmountable it is good to be reminded that we are all human and on the whole wish to overcome differences and to understand each other. This book gives many good examples – it does not preach nor is an all encompassing history. Vivien Martin simply tells the story as it was from the viewpoint of a small group of people, which is very refreshing.
“This book is very special”
David Pattie in Morrison Memorial Quarterly (Winter 2005) writes:
Border Crossings is a most interesting work occupying an almost unique place. It is, as the author prefaces her work, “A celebration of twenty-six years of Scottish-German friendship.” The book charts the journeys of a group of young people from the Scottish Congregational Union who took the bold step of forging personal and church links with a Free Church denomination (BfeG) in the German Democratic Republic (DDR). All this during the height of the Cold War era.
Today we cannot really appreciate how radical and difficult a thing they had chosen to do. Here frontiers were closed. The governments of respective lands estranged. Travel was actively discouraged by the UK authorities and simply banned by those in the DDR.
The extensive travel difficulties overcome, the book unfolds the tale of deep friendship and warm Christian fellowship. The writer, quoting extensively from other participants, shares with the reader the sense of menace, fear and oppression that was prevalent in East Germany at that time. Her insights are truly Orwellian, and so quite sobering. In contrast are accounts of later visits when communism was dying, the Berlin Wall falling, and the people of the East were finally reunited with their countrymen from the West. The sense of liberation and joy flows from the pages.
The latter part of the book offers an analysis of a united Germany and offers valuable insights and new understandings. Throughout the thread of Christian friendship is woven.
This book is very special. The atmosphere is gripping and sensitive. Further, it is accessible – many of the people (from Scotland) worship still in our churches and can take us further on that journey. Personally, I wonder if it is time to introduce another generation of young Scottish Christians to their counterparts in the former East Germany.
“Window on a closed country”
This is a gripping and insightful book. The author was one of a group of people who went into East Germany when the Cold War was still very chilly. Their visit was not popular with the authorities in East Germany – understandable, as they were going to stay in the homes of ordinary people, and would see what the country was really like – but also with the authorities in the UK – were they scared the evil reds would turn out to be ordinary people too?
Being young people without much money, they have an arduous time even getting there, and when they arrive they experience the life of East Germany from the inside. Their hosts, from a mainstream Church, are brave people who put up with low-level persecution because they do not endorse the state. We shouldn’t forget it was the churches who played an important part later on in giving thousands of people space and focus for peaceful protest in the last years of the regime.
They are able to travel around a little bit and meet quite a lot of ordinary East Germans – people just like you and me. There are some sensitive insights into life in a walled country, and a particularly poignant part where they are leaving to go back to the West – just a ride on the subway, but a trip that people who life there can’t take. They are prisoners in their own land.
But the interesting thing is that the story doesn’t stop there – we get little glimpses of the East German group over the next twenty years, as they grow older and become part of the West. The friendships formed then persist despite everything, and we see the friends meeting again in the new Germany.
It’s not a very long book, but a fascinating read.
“An act of great bravery”
Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it can sometimes be hard to remember just how frightening it was to live through the Cold War. Not only was it an act of faith for a group of young Scottish Christians – including the author – to cross the wall, but also an act of great bravery; especially when you learn that they were monitored before, during, and after their visit, not only by the East Germans but also by their own British Government.
Border Crossings is a fascinating recollection of those times. But the book doesn’t just focus on the past. It brings the reader through the fall of the wall and into the present; how those friendships created all those years ago endured as a nation unified and recreated itself. Interesting, too, to gain insight on the fall of communism from the East German POV rather than our more familiar western one.
Border Crossings is a great read by first time author Vivien Martin. Her writing is assured, informative and entertaining and I look forward to reading more from her. This is a story that deserves a large audience – and is a film crying out to be made.
“Engaging and insightful”
Alison Martin (Digital Editor)
Excellent book. Well written and very engaging throughout, even for those with less knowledge of the situation in Germany at the time. The book provides an insight into the lives of people living in conditions so different from the UK, and it’s really interesting to follow them as they become part of a unified Germany.
Valentine Renehan (Author the Ayesha Trilogy)
Beautifully written true story of a group of rather brave young people determined to make their way behind the iron curtain in 1978, and their return for some of them to revisit the friends they had made after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. Absolute must read!
I know the Author and greatly appreciate her book.