Prologue My name is Ariane. It is not an uncommon or especially peculiar name. What is unusual is that I already had a name before a stranger made a mistake and gave me a new one. Moreover, the circumstances under which I received it were more than peculiar. Perhaps the severe times or frail and fallible human nature that were responsible for causing my name change were an indication of how extraordinarily unpredictable my own life would be. But I must start from the beginning. When I was born, our country was at war. German troops had already advanced deep into the Soviet Union, and the Führer had declared war on the United States. Still, life in the little, quaint town, in which I was born, continued as it did. It was a beautiful place. The surrounding large pine forest and the Havel river, which wraps its arms around it, gave it a special beauty and character. But soon peace was shattered even here. Before the madness of war came to an end, most of our town was totally destroyed. Without warning, we came under heavy attack. B-17 and B-24 bombers were circling over our heads day and night. Artillery shells exploded and planes unloaded their cargo. When the nightly drone, the anti-aircraft defense, and the frenzy of war finally came to an end, ninety percent of our town’s center, and nearly eighty percent of the rest of town, lay in rubble. Hundreds of people died, and the survivors were faced with having to put their fractured lives together again. Perhaps it was a small price to pay for the actions of the Führer and for the millions of people who were persecuted or suffered a horrible death. When the war was over and the sirens in our town stopped screaming, the inner and outer world of surviving citizens had become like a barren and rocky moonscape. Fear, loss, hunger, and stress took a toll on their spirits and bodies. Husbands, sons and brothers were either missing or dead. Homes lay in ruins, while food and other goods needed for survival was scarce. Few people were willing to discuss the cause of the Second World War. Most wanted to forget the past and bore their new circumstances in silence. Shame hung over them. They made the best of the wretched squalor that they found themselves in. The country was defeated and was in ruins. The women in our town had no strength left to tear down the ghostlike ruins that stared back at them at every turn of the way or rid the streets of rubble. The task seemed daunting, overwhelming. Few men were left to assist in the clean-up effort. And even then, everything needed to be cleared by hand because tools and machines were unavailable. People were overwhelmed and found it difficult to believe that our little town had experienced such fury of war. In fact, the town was one of the hardest hit places in all of Germany. When I was much younger, I asked my uncle Emil, “Why did other countries hate us so and want to kill us. Did we do something bad?” “Yes, my little one,” he answered. “We did. You might not fully understand what I will tell you. But here is a simple explanation of what happened: The cause for World War II can be found not only in politics but in ordinary people who willingly bestowed power onto one man. They allowed him to use it as he saw fit. After World War I, when Germany's economy collapsed and our country felt the effect of hyperinflation, the Führer promised to give all citizens a better life. Communist agitation was ever present, and unemployment was high. Most everyone trusted Hitler to restore traditional values and save our country from forces that threatened to destroy it. People looked on him as a savior. They believed that he would cure the ills of our nation. His charisma simply hypnotized the masses. It made them blind to the price they would have to pay before the spell was broken. When his quest to make us a great nation finally went beyond the limits of sanity, and when he entered into the dark side of Nationalism, he had already taken us on a course that was irreversible. By then, people felt powerless. They simply responded by pulling shades over their eyes in shame and helplessness. “Let this be our lesson, little one,” my uncle said. “Look at us now. The conditions of our country have not improved after the war. Only the names of the leaders have changed. I fear that we are, once again, doomed to endure new hardships. In order to survive in our spirits and keep our hearts pure, my little one, we must remember to rise above the new ideologies and the lies that are thrown at us once again. We must remember the better part of ourselves. We must place our faith in something higher and infallible. We must remember who we are in our soul.” I was very young, then, when my uncle told me this. Yet, his words made an impact on me. I wanted to believe that there was something better and permanent than what I had seen of life so far. I needed to know who I was, needed to discover that inner part of myself of which my uncle spoke. I needed something hold on to in all the confusion and the uncertainty that surrounded us. Was there a purpose in living a life of chaos? Why was I thrown into such a life? My mother called her brother an idealist. She believed in nothing that she could not see or touch. And what she saw was nothing but devastation all around us. Perhaps that was the reason why she was always so miserable. Life had no meaning for her any longer. She doubted that anything would ever be easy again. She claimed that there was nothing good left in people, especially not in those who were sitting in power over us in our German Republic of East Germany, the GDR. We had jumped from the fire into the frying pan, where we were left to roast in the dribble of false promises. We, once again, became victims and fell into the hands of the wrong side. She was weary, tired of it all. Most times, she hated her life and wanted to give up. At other times, she pretended that life was a party. However, having a child to care for curtailed her freedom. And she resented that. She kept telling me that she had given up too much already. The war had taken away not only her possessions but also someone she loved. Not only that. The war was responsible for losing her birth name. However, she was not alone in that. I, too, lost my original name and received a new one after the documents, which were proof of who we were at birth, became buried under the rubble of what once had been our house. Several blocks from our home stood city hall. An incendiary bomb landed on it shortly before the end of the war, causing the wing that contained our birth records to go up in smoke. My mother joined the lines of tired and emaciated looking survivors who showed up with the required petitions in hand to be reissued replacement identification papers. Oma, my grandmother, had joined us to vouch for our identies and declare that we were, indeed, the persons listed on the petition. I remember clinging to my grandmother's hand, feeling happy to see her again. We lost all contact with one another the previous year after she joined a group of people who fled before the advancing Russian army could capture our town. She came looking for us. Unable to find us, she went ahead and left. When the war was over, she took the first running train to East Germany from West Berlin, where she had ended up and found us with the help of friends. That day at city hall, the faces of the people in line reflected hardship and trauma. Many showed resignation, ready to accept their lot until they were strong enough to rise above the present conditions. Everyone knew that living in a Russian occupied zone would not be easy.