"Like Life and Death": an Iowan's Escape from East Berlin

Dec 1, 2014

Hannah Trebec grew up in East Berlin. At 20, the Berlin Wall came down and she was faced with a choice: to stay or to flee.

"It's like life and death. The gray area of East Germany--I'd compare it to pretty much death. And then the lights in Berlin--it's like living, being normal."

For Trebec, the difference between East and West Berlin was literally life and death. In her teens, she says she often contemplated suicide as the only escape from a life determined entirely by the government.

"I saw my parents, I saw my family, I saw everyone lived restricted. We were like puppets of the government. And I wanted a future, I wanted to travel, I wanted to become what I wanted to become. [...] But I didn't see it forthcoming at all."

Her saving grace came from Western radiowaves. One day in her early teens, Trebec accidentally stumbled across American Top 40 while scanning the radio.

"[It] actually changed my life, because with his talk, I kind of put myself into a different world. Everything was zoomed out. I closed the doors, closed the windows and had my own little island with Casey Kasem. [...] It took me away from contemplating suicide. I just saw a different world."

On this episode of River to River, Ben Kieffer speaks with with Trebec  about life in Germany, the fall of the wall and her life in Iowa.