This book is a personal and openhearted account of Signe Adams's spiritual and physical journey through life and how a serious cancer illness became a turning point. This is a story of hope that provides insight into how it is possible to move forward after such a serious setback with new values and priorities and another way of looking at life. When you learn to listen, to be aware, and to summon the courage to take responsibility for yourself, there is hope. Such hope is a gift for the body and soul - your life!
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.61(d)|
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Footprints - Walk With Me
By Signe Adams
Balboa PressCopyright © 2016 Signe Adams
All rights reserved.
Background and Berlin
I am an exercise in irony. On the one hand, I am the product of a secure childhood, the eldest of three siblings, and confident in the assurance that my stable parents (my father a fish exporter and my mother a housewife until she turned forty) were there for me to call and come home to in Esbjerg no matter what misadventures, big or small, might befall, from failed love affairs to ethical dilemmas. I was lucky in my choice of parents.
On the other hand, I have always experienced myself as somehow different from others, something of an outsider - and this existential loneliness became more pronounced as I entered adolescence.
One aspect of this dissonance, and another irony, was my tendency toward silence. Reflecting back on my younger years, I was probably extremely observant and aware of others; at any rate, I was described as "very quiet ... never says anything." This declaration inevitably invokes skeptical amusement across the spectrum of friends, family, and acquaintances from my more recent life - and I don't blame them!
That early silence cost me. My chronic sore throats spoke up for my silent pain. Had I known then what I know now about the physical ramifications of emotional repression, I would have expressed my feelings. I would have learned to say, "No!" rather than having my boundaries violated. And violated again. And again.
My education was neither what I had originally planned nor was it restricted to conventional definitions. Growing up working "in fish" at my father's business every summer, I developed an understanding of how widely diverse people and their backgrounds can be. I followed up this early experience with the completion of my high school language exams, a full-year Niels Brock business course from Aarhus, more life experience as a pub waitress in Esbjerg and England, and finally legal secretarial training.
I had intended to study psychology and archaeology - these were my true interests. But I decided to take a year or two to travel and applied for a job as a correspondent for the Foreign Ministry. I wanted to see some parts of the world and especially to go to the United States. I never did study psychology and archaeology. My career with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which took me traveling all over the world (five times stationed abroad), lasted twenty-two years.
In 1978, I encountered another personal irony. When I took my first posting to Berlin, East Germany, I suffered from serious homesickness, which would prove to be an ongoing challenge for many years. The irony is that, while big changes are difficult for me, I can't stand it when things become too static. It's a confounding dilemma.
Being in East Germany was an incredible and eye-opening experience.
Having spent my entire early life in Denmark, I found it hard to comprehend that an ideology could rob people of freedom - personal freedom, freedom of speech - in a country just a few kilometers from my own childhood home. It was difficult to take in.
I also had a hard time accepting that my life as a diplomat was so different. Driving through Checkpoint Charlie from East to West, I was driving through a gate into another world, and the contrast between these two worlds was severe for me. Another irony: I felt best in the East. There were too many Mercedes, too many mink coats, and too much food in West Berlin. It was a showcase of the West, and there was too much of everything. The difference was too great and made me feel ill.
Although I was more comfortable in the East, I seem to have seen it all in a dull monochrome. When I returned in 2012, I was surprised to see how green the city was. There were the beautiful linden trees on Unter den Linden where the Embassy had been. The trees had been there when I was there; I just don't remember them. I realized then how gray my experience had been.
We went about our business as if in a bubble because we were not to have anything to do with the East Germans, and neither should they have anything to do with us. But at least I could understand what was happening around me and what people were talking about. I didn't feel quite as isolated as I did many years later in Moscow, where, unfortunately, I never mastered the language.
Those with whom we did have contact were obviously employed by the Stasi, the East German security police. Our housekeepers, our chauffeurs - in fact, every local Embassy employee, including, of course, the secretaries (it was necessary to have locally employed secretaries if we were to have any hope of getting through to the East German authorities, so it was seen as normal and acceptable), was employed by the Stasi. We knew that they spied on us and reported our doings, and they knew that we knew. Odd as it was, this was our version of normal conditions.
We also knew that there were microphones in our apartments and houses in the diplomatic ghettos in which we resided. We joked that the houses consisted of 50 percent concrete and 50 percent cables and microphones. The situation also resulted in some amusing situations.
My apartment on Leipziger Strasse was under surveillance enhanced by microphones. Our telephones were tapped, and all telephone conversations were recorded on tape. I shared a phone line with a colleague in the same block of apartments, and of course I could not call out when she was on the line.
We installed a direct line between the two apartments so that each of us would know if the other was on the line. By the same means, we could determine if there was a problem with the surveillance tape having run out. This happened quite often, and when the Stasi's recording tape was not working, neither were our telephones. No tape - no outgoing calls.
Fortunately, we discovered an effective solution. If we stood in the living room and spoke to the "secret" microphones, a Stasi employee would immediately react to what we said.
Our situation was similar to the 2006 German film Other People's Lives (originally Das Leben der Anderen), in which a cynical Stasi agent finds himself transformed by human compassion. In that film, as in our lives, many people were employed to check up on many other people, with the positive aspects (if one chose to look for them) including a total lack of unemployment and the capability to immediately reach the authorities.
An example of this extremely efficient access to authorities involved a visit from my mother.
The preparation for her trip had been a tedious affair involving myriad forms to satisfy the East German Embassy in Copenhagen. All of this had been accomplished, my mother had obtained her visa, and I had been looking forward to calling her to wish her a good trip. But I could not get through. I contacted the coworker with whom I shared the line. She was not using it. I came to the conclusion that there were problems with the surveillance tape, and after more frustrating attempts to get through, I lost all patience.
I stood in the living room and projected in loud and clear German that I wanted to call home to my mother, that they knew she was due to come the following day, and that it was important to get through. The reaction was quick - too quick for efficiency, it would seem. When I managed to get a line out, I found myself listening to the taped recording of a conversation I had had with my mother some days before. They had reversed the recording device.
This did nothing to improve their standing with me.
I told the living room, in no uncertain terms, that I was now going to take a bath and that I expected a new tape in place by the time I was finished so that I could get through to Denmark. They replaced the tape, and after my bath, I called my mother. And never, before or since, have I ever encountered such a prompt response from any authority or phone company.
Another odd surveillance by-product involved my car's right headlight. When said headlight suddenly stopped working, I drove from East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie (being closest to my apartment, this was my habitual crossing) to a mechanic in West Berlin, who listened to me and then told me that my problem was almost certainly a microphone. I'm quite certain that I looked as nonplussed as I was. This was a new one on me! Ironically enough, he was completely correct. Apparently when a surveillance microphone had been installed in my car, the right headlight had been damaged.
Frustrated, I went back and had some words with my living room. I announced loudly and clearly that this was simply not acceptable. I requested that they make sure that the lights - and anything else, for that matter - worked whenever they went to install a new microphone in my car. This was received in silence, and I had no further microphone-related automotive malfunctions.
Another important protocol involved informing the microphones that one was taking a sick day, rather than simply calling in. This did not usually present a problem, but on one occasion, as I lay in bed with a high fever, I was grateful that I had set the safety chain. Someone attempted to come in. Had they entered, it would have been an awkward situation. We all knew that the Stasi regularly came into our homes to search for anything that might compromise us, and they knew we knew - but a direct confrontation never seemed in order.
On another occasion, I had doubled back to my apartment after forgetting something. When I inserted my key. I could not turn it, and someone jammed the lock and looked out at me through the peephole from my apartment. My apartment. My peephole. My wit's end.
Oh, well. Again, no confrontation was in order.
So I spoke to my door. I announced that I was now going for a fifteen-minute walk, after which I expected to be able to reenter my own apartment. And fifteen minutes later, I did exactly that.
As a general rule, we always had to be on guard to any personal overtures. It was common practice for operatives to offer drugged drinks that would loosen tongues and capture confidential information. There were even cases of East Germans posing as West Germans and romancing or even marrying foreigners, investing years of ruse toward ultimately extracting secrets. This subject has been broadly written about, so I need not go into further detail, beyond remarking on the care that we had to take.
At first I had assumed that, working as an administrator, I would be of no interest to these seekers of information, but I learned that it was precisely the administrators who were most interesting, due to our access to codes and confidential documents that we handled. Fortunately, I was on my guard, so I never fell victim. And as a final precaution, I always kept all of my personal papers with me in a purse that resembled a small suitcase. As precautions went, this was a heavy one (we also kept some of our personal papers locked up at the Embassy), but it proved to be effective.
When my parents and siblings came to visit me to celebrate my father's fiftieth birthday, they had all of their papers in order, and I had warned them not to carry anything in writing to which the authorities might take exception. They did not share my diplomatic immunity, despite having an officially authorized invitation from the Embassy, and they had to drive through a border-crossing checkpoint near Lübeck. I had heard stories of harassment and delays of people attempting to enter East Germany. So they had no newspapers, no magazines, and nothing else that could upset anyone.
There was one person who was upset.
I had warned my father to keep on the main route to Berlin, just the highway directly from the checkpoint to the city, with no detours whatsoever. But my father needed gas. And he thought that he could fill up in East Germany (I had even told him that the quality of the gas in the East was inferior.) As a foreigner, he was not allowed to drive around freely, but in his search for fuel, he had to leave the main route and go down a secondary road to the gas station. He drove calmly. He drove carefully.
The owner there was not so calm, nor did he find my father careful. He was visibly nervous and upset, as he was not allowed to serve foreigners. He urged my father to return to the main road immediately. My father did - but only after filling the tank.
We had some lovely days in Berlin.
My father (who, sadly, is no longer with us) had a great interest in all forms of classical music. Being a frequent patron of the State Opera, I was aware of how difficult it could be to get tickets there, so I was very happy that I managed to get very good seats there for all five of us to Richard Strauss's opera Der Rosenkavalier. As usual, it was an amazing experience.
My father also loved zoological gardens, and I took the family to visit the zoological gardens in Berlin, East Germany, and in West Berlin, close to Kurfurstendam.
There was an overwhelming difference between the two gardens, and it was this difference that I had wanted my family to experience. We started in East Germany. The animals looked very scruffy, and it was obvious that they didn't get enough to eat, and what they got wasn't the right food. I wanted to treat my family to sausages and a soft drink in both the gardens, so we joined the long line in front of a sausage stand. We stood there for a long, long time. Suddenly, the line came to a complete standstill. I walked around to the front to find out what was happening, and it turned out that they had run out of cooked sausages, so we would have to wait until a new lot had been prepared.
My family had wondered what was going on, and I had asked about the delay, but the East Germans had just stood and waited without asking any questions. This gave us quite a bit of food for thought. When we eventually got our sausages, they were no gourmet delight, but we managed to eat some anyway. Things went much better in West Berlin where the zoological gardens were a far more gratifying experience. The healthy animals had lots of room, and upon reflection, a big delicious Frankfurter sausage is really nothing to sneeze at.
My father was puzzled by the sense he got that everyone in the East stared at us. After all, we seemed to him to be dressed in much the same manner. In fact, there was a superficial resemblance. But when I had him look a bit closer at the quality of the East Germans' clothing, he realized that their "leather jackets" were not leather at all - nor were their boots. And so as we were happily walking around snug and warm, they were freezing miserably in their cheap imitation gear and generally poor-quality clothing.
Of course the clothing was representative of the general state of affairs; obtaining virtually any day-to-day item could be difficult. Things taken for granted by us - cleaning materials, soap, deodorant, paint, nails, toilet paper - were not taken for granted. Big-ticket items were an even larger challenge. Cars, refrigerators, washing machines, and the like had to be signed up for, and the wait for even a chance of getting one could be years.
Of course by the same token there was no unemployment, rents were low, and what was available in the stores was generally affordable, so in a sense no one was really poor. In many ways, the East Germans were better off then than they are today when they experience life as (and are regarded as) second-class citizens in a new Germany in which life is not so easy.
But for all of the relative ease, there was a lack of personal freedom. And there was a lack of freedom of expression. And this lack of freedom was the core problem.
Another painful aspect of this existence was a system mandate to inform on one's acquaintances, neighbors, friends, and even family members should they step over any line of proper conduct. The result was a society made of mistrust and insecurity. (There are unfortunate parallels in modern Danish society involving some aspects of public sector expectations of informing on peers, but of course this is a different discussion altogether.)
My family's visit afforded many opportunities to see different places of interest and experience the contrast between East and West, but they never felt particularly comfortable when I was driving them back and forth through Checkpoint Charlie with the soldiers pointing their machine guns at us. It wasn't a particularly comfortable situation, but I had gotten used to it. In fact, being so close, I frequently walked across, which saved me having to wait in line, and I experienced no problems, as the soldiers eventually got to know me very well. I just waved, and they acknowledged me with a little nod whenever I either walked or drove through.
Excerpted from Footprints - Walk With Me by Signe Adams. Copyright © 2016 Signe Adams. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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