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Germany...where the rooms were bugged!

Updated: Jun 7, 2021



I was in Berlin in 1981 on a month-long cultural exchange programme between All India Radio (AIR) and Radio Berlin of German Democratic Republic (GDR). This part of Germany was called East Germany and was under the communist regime.


I was allotted a single-room apartment with kitchen and a weekly allowance just enough for survival. A translator, Janet Selby, was allocated to me, which made my movement easy. I was advised not to drink tap water as the water was sourced from a river which was highly contaminated. I could drink mineral water, but it was costly. On the contrary, wine and beer were much cheaper than mineral water. So, this poor fellow, me, had to survive on wine and beer for the entire period of stay.


On my first day at Radio Berlin, a group of officials met me to decide the content of my month-long programme. I briefed them about the nature of my job, reporting assignments covered, and the major bulletins prepared by me. I shared copies of scripts with them, which I had written for AIR programmes. They seemed to be a little uneasy and decided to take an hour break to discuss the matter with their higher officials. They felt that my programme needed to be restructured, as I was highly qualified and experienced in the field.


My translator said this has never happened before. I was amused. The officials were back in an hour and said that Berlin Radio is open to make changes in the programme. I was asked to give my preferences, to be accommodated in the programme schedule. I was quite surprised and indicated happily that I would love to travel across the GDR and provide content to both Radio Berlin and AIl India Radio. My suggestion was approved and I visited several parts of the country covering news in East Germany.


Once I was discussing the merits and demerits of communist regime of GDR with my translator in my apartment (provided by Radio Berlin). She cautioned me by showing me a symbol to be quiet and as we walked out of my apartment, she informed me that my apartment was bugged. This incident made me realize that the personal liberties of common man were highly compromised under the communist ruling. I wrote several scripts for Radio Berlin, gave voice casts, and made interviews which were regularly broadcasted.


I also received some remuneration for this work. I even remember an incident where my shoe got ripped while walking towards Alexanderplatz metro station near my flat. I enquired from my translator, Janet Selby, for the possibility of getting the shoe repaired. She replied to me that no one gets anything repaired here, which really shocked me. I had to buy a new pair of shoes, which was equal to my weekly remuneration from Radio Berlin. We went to a shoe shop nearby and checked my shoe size, and found that my foot was really small as per the European shoe size chart. Finally, we found a suitable pair of shoes from the children’s section, where prizes were 50% less and I could save a lot of money.


I still wonder why communism and socialism did not succeed, even though they offered equality, shelter for all, and three meals a day to every family. I visited few families where a worker had larger accommodation as he had a bigger family, whereas his boss with smaller family had smaller accommodation. Still, in a Communist regime, you lose your liberty and your voice is muffled. Karl Marx, who propounded communism, was certain that America would be the first country to embrace communism. How wrong he was!


At the end of World War II and after a period of allied occupation, two new German states were formed, East Germany and West Germany. The country was reunified in 1990. Berlin wall was demolished and a new Germany was formed. Today, Germany is a developed nation with a strong economy.



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