What Was Life Like Behind the Iron Curtain? A Review of the Book “The Girl Behind the Wall”

Updated on October 9, 2018
Rock_nj profile image

I enjoy writing about topics of history, especially ones concerning more recent historical events.

In a highly-regarded book she wrote and published called “The Girl Behind The Wall,” Antje Arnold captured her perception of what life was like growing up behind the Iron Curtain in communist East Germany during the 1970s and 1980s. The Iron Curtain was a term used by the United States and its European allies during the Cold War with the Soviet Union to describe the countries in Eastern Europe that were under control of the Soviet Union from the end of World War II until 1989 when the Soviet Union collapsed. These countries generally followed the Soviet Union's communist form of government, including limiting the free movement of their citizens beyond their boundaries. This confinement became known as the Iron Curtain; a border that kept Eastern Europeans from moving freely to the west.

Growing up just thirty-five miles or so from Berlin, the section of the Iron Curtain that Antje was closest to was the infamous Berlin Wall, which separated non-communist West Germany's West Berlin from communist East Germany's East Berlin. The Berlin Wall was not simply a wall; it was a militarized zone in which the East German government had authorized its border guards to take lethal action against anyone trying to cross illegally from East Germany into West Germany.

Her Grandmother's Garden Was a Place Full of Wonder and Adventure

Some of Antje's fondest memories of growing up in East Germany were spending time at her grandmother's house that had a large yard to explore and play in.
Some of Antje's fondest memories of growing up in East Germany were spending time at her grandmother's house that had a large yard to explore and play in. | Source

A First-Hand Account of Growing up in Communist East Germany

Antje's book provides a first-hand account of what she experienced growing up in Communist East Germany. As a young girl, she did not have an awareness of the existence of the Berlin Wall or an understanding about the concept of an Iron Curtain that kept her fellow citizens from freely leaving her country to other countries with different political and economic systems. This book is not written as a critique of living in a communist country. It is a glimpse into a young girl's perception of what life was like in communist East Germany before the Berlin Wall was taken down and the Iron Curtain collapsed. One of the interesting things I found about this book is that it challenged some of the stereotypes that I had about life in a communist country such as East Germany.

Antje at a Young Age Reading a Magazine

With a mind that was constantly racing  at a very young age, Antje was fascinated with any magazine or book she could get her hands on.
With a mind that was constantly racing at a very young age, Antje was fascinated with any magazine or book she could get her hands on. | Source

This Book Will Challenge Some of Your Notions About Life Behind the Iron Curtain

Many people that grew up in non-communist countries during the Cold War were curious about what life was actually like for citizens of the countries behind the Iron Curtain, myself included. The problem was that without a free flow of information from Eastern European communist countries, it was very difficult to obtain an understanding of the life of ordinary citizens in those foreign countries.

Official sources could not be trusted since they were often contaminated with government propaganda. The most reliable sources were from defectors that left communist countries. However, most of these accounts were from an adult's perspective with all the biases and opinions obtained during adulthood. In contrast, Antje provides a refreshing glimpse of what life was like in a communist country from the perspective of an innocent girl who was extremely curious and adventuresome, and enjoyed everything life had to offer her.

This book will challenge some of your preconceived notions about what life was like for citizens of the Soviet block of countries, such as East Germany. It is not meant to promote any political ideology over another one, but rather to provide a historical perspective of what daily life was like for a child in East Germany. The reality of life may not square with what you believe it was like. I certainly had some of my beliefs challenged regarding private property ownership and freedom of religion in formerly communist countries. On the other hand, Antje confirms many of the perceptions that people living outside the communist world had about life in communist countries, for example, the lack of consumer choices and long lines at supermarkets to obtain the necessities of life.

A Colorful Portrayal of Life in Communist East Germany

I do not want to give away any of the details regarding this fascinating and entertaining autobiography. However, I will say that life is portrayed to be brighter in the former Soviet Block countries than many in the west were led to believe it was. There was certainly no lack of celebrations to brighten up children's lives.

Antje acknowledges that her autobiography is from a young person's perspective, and due to her age, she was not aware of the infringement on human rights that communist countries in the Soviet era were known to engage in, such as denying political freedom and restricting the freedom to leave their country at will. Life was surely harder in a number of ways than those who grew up in the western world at that time and were accustomed to easy access to everyday creature comforts. However, she conveys a sense of both self-reliance and community that is sometimes lacking in the current era in many societies.

The Girl Behind The Wall is a quick read that any student of history will find both fascinating and entertaining. Antje has done the world a service by providing this historical autobiography of her life as a young girl in East Germany. She currently lives in the State of Pennsylvanian in the United States and is working on a second book that depicts her life in later years, including the historic times during and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and German reunification.

Antje at a Young Age While Living in East Germany

A photo of Antje around the time in her life described in "The Girl Behind the Wall."
A photo of Antje around the time in her life described in "The Girl Behind the Wall." | Source

A Recent Photo of Antje

Antje reflecting on her early life in East Germany as she reads her autobiography.
Antje reflecting on her early life in East Germany as she reads her autobiography. | Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 John Coviello


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      • Rock_nj profile imageAUTHOR

        John Coviello 

        20 months ago from New Jersey

        Mary and Rochelle - Thanks for your input. I found "The Girl Behind The Wall" to be an interesting read. I have always liked real-life stories, especially ones that cover topics that are not well covered.

      • Rock_nj profile imageAUTHOR

        John Coviello 

        20 months ago from New Jersey

        Thanks Doris. I'm glad you liked my book review. She wrote it from the perspective of a naive child, so she doesn't cover the dark side of growing up in a communist country, besides the obvious ones, such as shortages of goods and long lines for basic foodstuffs. It is refreshing to read a book on this topic from the perspective of a child who didn't know any better.

        I found out that the author, Antje, is writing a second book from where this book ends. She may delve into some heavier observations in her new book, but it will take place after the Berlin wall fell.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        20 months ago from Ontario, Canada

        You made me want to read this book. I have not heard of this book before. Most of the books I have read are lives of adults behind the Iron Curtain. This one has a fresh perspective, that of a child so I am looking forward to reading this.

      • MizBejabbers profile image

        Doris James MizBejabbers 

        20 months ago from Beautiful South

        John, I certainly find your book review interesting. I would liked for you to have included a few details (without giving away the story, of course). I visited the Soviet Union over the 1990s New Year's holidays, including 1989 Christmas and would like to be able to compare my experiences. I did find these people to be happy, although they lived their lives very cautiously. Your photos turned out very well. In all, I enjoyed your review.

      • Rochelle Frank profile image

        Rochelle Frank 

        20 months ago from California Gold Country

        I'm going to loo for this book. My husband's German family were war refugees, chased out by the advancing Russian front. They could have been easily trapped behind the Iron Curtain, but with great hardship managed to get to the West and eventually came to the US.


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