Sixty-nine years after her mother Hanna successfully escaped from East Germany into West Germany, Nina Willner has written a biography/history of four generations of their family. This is the personal, touching, and informative story of their lives. It documents the impact on this family and others caused by the fences, barbed wire, and walls dividing Berlin and Germany. Cold War events affecting the family, Europe, and the world revisits the fear, danger, and potential risk of a nuclear war present at that time.
While Nina Willner describes her families’ story as being similar to those of many families in East Germany, there are some very unique elements of this family that bring an understanding of the time and risks to members of the family. In the family are teachers, soldiers, and a world class bicyclist. The majority of the family spent their lives in a world of repression with little freedom. They survived two world wars and the Cold War. The strength of this family and their ability to survive was established by grandparents of Nina, Oma and Opa. Nina Willner recounts the events in their lives on both sides of the Iron Curtain in somewhat chronological order for those “forty autumns” as well as their efforts at reconnection following the fall of the Berlin Wall. While this multi-generational family story may not be significant in the big picture of the world politics, it is what allowed them to live and maintain the hope of coming back together. By presenting the overlapping stories of the family in a simple and direct way, she brings to life the emotions and difficulties of living in this time of a divided world. One negative that this reviewer has for the printed copy is the decision to use deckle edges, which make it impossible to flip through the pages to find a photograph or a particular paragraph quickly.
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