An opportunity to continue her college studies abroad gave Lemont resident Penny Eifrig a front-row seat to history in the making.
It was 1989 and she had plans to travel to East Germany to continue her studies at the University of Erfurt. She was going to finish her honor’s thesis on German Kulturnation, the concept of a country’s sense of community built on culture, traditions and language.
A chance encounter with high school German teacher John Mutzeck changed everything. He suggested she apply for a work and study program in Gottingen, in West Germany but near the East-West border.
“So I stayed and spent the fall of 1989 going back and forth between the East and West,” she said.
Her thesis became “1989: Diary of a Revolution, from East to West Germany,” available today, just in time for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Eifrig said she considers herself lucky and often thinks about being a witness to history.
“When I look back at the experience, I feel like it was a movie or something,” she said. “For me it was a complete adventure, I thrived and loved my time there.”
Thanks to an academic program between East Germany and the U.S. (what Eifrig called a “propaganda tour”), she was able to travel throughout a divided Germany after paying entry fees and providing documentation of her “official” accommodation, often a campground.
At one point, she said her parents didn’t hear from her for three months due to the challenges in sending correspondence.
“It was a different age,” she said.
The circumstances were perfect for her to understand what was about to happen with the Berlin Wall.