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Die Frau vom Checkpoint Charlie
Die Frau vom Checkpoint Charlie (English: The Woman of Checkpoint Charlie) is a movie in two parts about a woman who manages to escape to the west from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), but is separated from her children. She spent six years trying to get the East German government to allow her daughters to join her in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). It is based on a true story. It was first shown on French-German television station ARTE on 28 September 2007.
The woman’s name was Jutta Fleck. In the movie she is called Sara Bender. She is played by the actress Veronica Ferres. Her children were called Claudia and Beate. In the movie they are called Silvia and Sabine (or “Bine” – pronounce “BEE-ne” - for short).
In 1982 Sara Bender is living with her two daughters Silvia (11) und Sabine (9) in Erfurt in the GDR (East Germany). Their mother said some things that criticized the government of their country. In a communist country like the GDR it was a bad thing to be critical of the government. Because of what their mother said, her children were treated badly at school.
Sara wants to marry Peter Koch, whom she knows at work. A wedding is arranged. Sara’s father lives in Helmstedt in the West Germany. He travels to his daughter’s wedding, but on the way he has an accident on the motorway and is seriously injured. The wedding is postponed. Sara wants to visit her father in hospital in West Germany, but the government of the GDR do not allow her to go because of the critical things she had said. Her father dies. Sara still keeps asking for permission to leave her country, but she is not allowed, and things are made difficult for her at work.
She tries to escape from the GDR with her two daughters. They manage to get to Romania, and they want to go to Yugoslavia, but they are caught by the East German secret police (Stasi). The Stasi knew they were going to try to escape because they had put secret microphones in Sara’s flat so that they could hear everything that was said. Sara and the children are brought back to East Berlin. At the airport the children are separated from their mother. They are taken to a children’s home in Dresden. Sara is locked up in a police cell. Her friend Peter, whom she had wanted to marry, turns out to be on the side of the Stasi. He works against her. Sara is sentenced to three years in prison.
After two years in prison Sara is let out, thanks to the West German government who paid the GDR to free her and let her come to the West. She is still not allowed to see her two daughters who had been sent to live with a foster family who were loyal to the communist government. Sara is tricked into signing papers which actually mean that she no longer has any rights to see her daughters.
Sara cannot bear to be in the West without her daughters. She immediately starts to beg the GDR to let her daughters join her, but nothing happens. Even the West German government does not help her, because, for political reasons, they do not want to make bad relationships with the GDR in East Berlin.
Sara thinks the only way she can make anyone take any notice of her is to get publicity. She gets help from a journalist and photographer Richard Panter. She stands at Checkpoint Charlie, the place in the middle of Berlin, where foreigners could cross over from one side of the divided city to the other. She wears a big placard which says: “Give my children back to me!”. Richard takes photographs and gets newspapers all over the world to print them. The GDR government does not like this at all. They send agents to threaten her. She is even attacked and wounded in the street, and told that next time she will be killed if she carries on her campaign. Even the FRG (West German) ask her to stop her campaign, because it is bad for international relations.
However, Sara does not stop. She manages to contact her children by smuggling letters and messages on cassettes. The girls are really cheered up and think they will soon be able to join their mother in the West. But no permission is given.
Sara travels to a conference in Helsinki where she wants to speak to Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the West German Minister for Foreign Affairs (the movie is slightly different here to what really happened). She is given a lift in a car by men who say they are taking her to Genscher, but they are Stasi agents who take her to a forest to murder her, but she manages to escape.
Her two daughters are told that their mother has been killed in a car crash, but this is a lie. The children happen to see their mother demonstrating on a television news report. They realize she is still alive. Her foster parents find a recording on a cassette on which the girls have criticized the GDR government. They are harshly punished.
In the end their foster mother feels sorry for them and helps to persuade the GDR government to let the children go. They are reunited with their mother in West Berlin.
- Horst Schneider: Gruselstory Checkpoint Charlie, Verlag Wiljo Heinen, Böklund 2008, ISBN 978-3-939828-22-8