Leaving the Country at Fourteen

Accompanied by two employees of the secret police, Dagmar Böttcher, at the age of 14, traveled by train from Halle an der Saale to East Berlin on December 12, 1985. After a long period of separation, she was to meet her mother who had been imprisoned in East Germany for several months. After her mother’s release from prison had been paid for by the West, she lived as a citizen of West Germany in West Berlin. Dagmar Böttcher could hardly wait to see her mother again. The moment finally came at about 1 p.m. Her mother, marked by her time in prison, approached her at the Alexanderplatz S-Bahn station. She was very happy since the reunion also meant that she would be able to leave with her mother and move to West Berlin.

Dagmar Böttcher was born on October 12, 1970 in Halle an der Saale. After her parents divorced she lived with her mother. Even as a young girl Dagmar Böttcher had little interest in the state-organized recreational activities offered in East Germany, for example, through the school or by the youth group Freien Deutschen Jugend (FDJ). She preferred spending her afternoons with her friend or at her grandmother’s. Dagmar Böttcher was 12 years old when her mother remarried. That was when they first considered leaving East Germany. The Böttchers attempted to escape through the Harz Mountains at the inner-German border. They were discovered by border guards, but were able to talk their way out of the situation and avoid being arrested. They returned to Halle but were not willing to give up their dream of beginning a new life in West Germany. In 1984, Dagmar’s parents submitted an application to the Division of Internal Affairs of the District Council on behalf of the family to leave the country. With their application the state-controlled mechanisms were set into action: repressive measures and sanctions were taken against the family. First, the identity cards of the parents of Dagmar Böttcher were taken away. They were given a substitute ID, called a PM-12, which strongly restricted their freedom to travel, even within East Germany. Her parents had to repeatedly appear for a “talk” at the Division of Internal Affairs, where interrogation-like discussions were used to try to dissuade them from their plans. Moreover, the family was under constant observation by the agents of the secret police, who were posted in front of the Böttcher’s house every day. The Böttchers also suspected that they were being spied on inside their home. An atmosphere of mistrust set in, leading them to carefully consider who they could trust. A short time later the step-father was arrested by the secret police for allegedly attempting to flee the republic. Dagmar’s mother was dismissed from her job at the National Solidarity Organization because her application to leave the country made her no longer suitable. She received rejections from every new job she applied for. Since state aid for unemployment did not exist in East Germany, the 13 year old and her mother became destitute. They moved in with her grandparents, under very crowded conditions, and lived off the elderly couple’s retirement money.

One day in May 1985, her mother did not return from visiting her husband in the Naumburg prison. Another six weeks passed before Dagmar Böttcher learned that her mother had also been imprisoned. Her grandmother took care of her during this difficult period of separation. Dagmar Böttcher also received support from the Church. In particular the pastor of a Protestant congregation in Halle stood by her and even visited her mother in prison.

Dagmar Böttcher was by then in the eighth grade at the Poly-technical Upper School in Halle. The “Jugendweihe,” a youth initiation ceremony, was supposed to take place at the end of the school year, during which the young people were expected to pledge themselves to Socialism and to the East German state. The fourteen year old knew for certain that she did not want to make this pledge. After she spoke with her teacher and director, her decision was accepted.

In the fall of 1985 Dagmar Böttcher learned that the release of her parents from the East German prison had been paid for by West Germany and that they were now in West Berlin waiting for their daughter to be allowed to leave. To join her parents, the 14 year old had to submit an application to leave and remain firm when the employees of the Division of Internal Affairs tried to convince her to stay. But Dagmar Böttcher’s wish to finally be reunited with her parents was strong. She confidently resisted all the efforts made to get her to change her mind.

A period of uncertainty followed before Dagmar Böttcher received a letter informing her that she would be brought to East Berlin on December 12, 1985. The secret police agents handed her over to her mother at Alexanderplatz in East Berlin. They rode together to Friedrichstrasse where mother and daughter went through the checkpoint to West Berlin. Dagmar Böttcher describes this as one of the happiest moments in her life. She was finally reunited with her mother, and what’s more, in West Berlin.

Lydia Dollmann

Dagmar Böttcher

Dagmar Böttcher, photo: Lydia Dollmann, Berlin Wall Memorial

An identity confirmation issued by the GDR for Dagmar Böttcher’s immigration

An identity confirmation issued by the GDR for Dagmar Böttcher’s immigration


Immigration application to the Division of Internal Affairs

Dagmar Böttcher speaking about her immigration to West Berlin

From an interview on August 31, and September 9, 2010, Berlin Wall Memorial (in German)