In a sense, the East German story is not my story. We did not have any loved ones behind the Berlin Wall. But that story of lives and families interrupted is a universal story, the fallout of war that continues long after peace treaties are signed. My mother was born in Stuttgart, Germany in 1933. Her sister married an American serviceman after World War II and moved to the U.S. My mother followed years later, planning to work for 2 years as an au pair in New York City, and ending up staying a lifetime, falling in love first with the country and much later my father.
My family had survived the war pretty much intact. They were not casualties in the traditional sense, but my grandparents lost both of their daughters not to the war, but because of the war, because of the forces of change. The major players in history, the presidents and potentates get the spotlight, and the people go about quietly picking up the pieces. And when a conflict ends, the consequences affect generations. I have always been fascinated by questions of identity, what makes a person who they are, their language, the patch of earth they’re born on, the foods they eat, the songs they sing? And since my very first trip to Germany as a child I’ve known that homesickness that gets passed down, of always having one foot on a different continent. And as I’ve studied German over the years and taught it in college, it added another dimension, the conflict of loving the heritage and being horrified by the history. Home Sweet Stranger was a chance to delve into subjects like collective guilt, personal responsibility, justice and the lack of it. To see how conflicts don’t end, they ripple out into other conflicts, and how they affect lives ... and loves.