From a Communist Jail to Freedom in Fredericksburg
By Bettina Meier
For many people who had been trapped in East Germany, unification brought freedom. Lutz Henschel was one of them. The East Berliner tried twice to escape communism before he ended up in Texas.
Henschel runs a German bakery in Fredericksburg, in the Hill Country. Every morning he brews coffee and bakes German bread and cakes for locals and tourists. His Berliner streusels — a kind of Danish pastry — are from a recipe he perfected in his bakery in East Berlin, when he lived behind the Berlin Wall.
“Everything was controlled by the government,” Henschel said. “They told you what to think, what to say, and I couldn’t go just to Berlin West or Paris. It was just a dream. That’s why I decided to escape to Berlin West.”
Although he had two good running bakeries and plenty of money, he couldn’t buy anything with it. People lined up for bananas and coffee. And he always had to watch what he said, because he said there were spies; one wrong word and he could end up in jail.
Henschel tried to sneak across the border into West Germany by hiking through a less-populated wooded area where the wall seemed less guarded:
“I was scared, I was scared,” he said. “Hopefully you’re going to make it. And I even didn’t get close to the border. Some border control caught me.”
Henschel was in prison for four months. He was in a cell with a murderer and a government spy trying to gather evidence against him. In those days, he says, the punishment for trying to leave East Germany was worse than the punishment for murder.
“No daylight,” he said. “No name anymore. You had a number, 1, 2. If you got mail, they read out the mail to you. If some of your relatives tried to encourage you, they skipped that part.”
Henschel was luckier than many political prisoners in East Germany, who languished for years in dark prison cells. After four months in prison and a lot of pressure from West German politicians. Henschel was part of a group of prisoners “sold” to West Germany.
It was common practice then for the East German government to barter inmates for money to help its troubled economy. It got $40,000 for Henschel, who started a bakery in West Berlin.
Two years later the Berlin Wall came down. And Henschel headed even farther west, to Fredricksburg, for a vacation. He decided to stay. Here, he says, he feels right at home, not just politically but also with the wide open spaces that give him a sense of freedom and space like nothing he ever had in East Germany.