Growing Up Behind The Berlin Wall



Ines (pronounced Enis) Kuperberg moved to the United States with her husband, Harry, one year ago. For a woman who grew up behind the Berlin Wall in East Germany, Payson has been quite a change.

"What do I like most about America? I like that the people are very friendly and open, not like Germany," Kuperberg said. "You come to the United States and take these (buses) to go from one terminal to another terminal and everybody will talk to you, engage you in conversation. In Germany you would sit in your seat for one hour and not talk to anyone."


Ines Kuperberg

When the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, splitting East and West Berlin, many families were separated.

"My father had a brother and a sister living in West Germany," Kuperberg said. "He was only allowed to visit them on special events, like when they turned 50 or 55. He could not just go for holidays. Only he could go, he couldn't take us."

Kuperberg described growing up in East Germany as good.

"We had enough to eat. All the people had a job -- not that they were really productive, but there was no unemployment. My mother was a nurse and my father was a locksmith."

The grocery stores or "konsume" were all over East Germany, but the government ran them.

"Everything was cheap, but we didn't have many choices. We had oranges for Christmas, but you had to wait in a queue for a long time -- an hour to get one bag," Kuperberg said.

"If you wanted to go shopping for clothes, you had to get up really early in the morning. You had to travel a lot to find different pieces. Jeans were difficult to get. There were normal pants, but no jeans because (they were) a symbol of capitalism."

Russian was the second language she learned in school, and English the third.

At the time Kuperberg finished school at 16, she had to apply for the profession she wanted to have for the rest of her life.

She first applied to be a secretary, but "somebody else's daughter got the job."

She did an internship in a pre-school and liked it. She was lucky, because another student from her school was also chosen. Usually, only one from a class was selected.

Then, on the ninth of November in 1989, the Wall fell.

Kuperberg was just 18 years old.

She had two or three years to go in college, but the certainty of having a job disappeared.

"Nobody told me ‘OK, you go to Leipzig or to Berlin to such-and-such preschool, and this is where you will work for the next 40 years,'" Kuperberg said.

On the flip side, she didn't feel ready to be a teacher and didn't know for certain that was the job she wanted to make her life's career.

Upon completion of her education in 1991, she had to make a decision. There were no jobs for kindergarten teachers.

She said, "The whole society had changed. We turned from socialism to capitalism, and people didn't know what was going to happen in the future, so they stopped having babies."

In 1992 she started working as a waitress to get the money to return to school for a degree in social work.

She became reacquainted with a friend from school. The "travel bug" and freedom had bitten both women. On their long summer breaks they traveled to India, South Africa, Israel, Australia, New Zealand and Asia.

"People were partying in front of the bar and I was behind it serving them to get the money (to travel)," Kuperberg said.

"I've been to almost every continent."

In 1999, she met her husband, Harry, on a trip to Scotland.

They stayed in contact, and she met him in San Francisco for the millennium. He came to Germany the following summer, and Kuperberg said, "I fell in love. Until then, I was not in love. I thought, ‘he's a crazy American' -- and he is crazy," she laughed.

He proposed in Christopher Creek on a trip to visit his parents. They were married in 2003 in Germany.

Harry missed his pizza and his hamburgers and football and family, and Ines agreed to leave her family in Germany and move to the States.

The only things she has found that she doesn't like about America are rude cell phone users, and waste.

"I told my husband, they probably made a law that you must talk on a mobile phone while you drive," she said.

She thinks all the little plastic bags are a waste -- from students getting little bags of potato chips from the cafeteria at lunch to plastic supermarket bags. "You buy one onion and you get a plastic bag," said Kuperberg, who carries her own canvas bags when she grocery shops.


Name: Ines Kuperberg

Occupation: I am qualified to work as a social worker and preschool teacher, but I work as an instructional assistant.

Employer: Payson High School FACS Department

Age: 34

Birthplace: Torgau, Germany

Family: Husband Harry; mother and father-in-law Ann and Lou Kuperberg in Tucson; parents, sister and four nephews in Germany.

Personal motto: Learning by doing -- if you want to learn something, you have to do it -- and accept the consequences.

Inspiration: My mother who is a nurse and is always there to help people.

Greatest feat: Leaving my family and friends and coming to live in a new country, the United States, and learning a new language and culture.

Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Taking pictures; lately, sewing.

Three words that describe me best are: Adventurous, optimistic and honest.

I don't want to brag, but ... I have a special gift working with children.

The person in history I'd most like to meet is: My grandfather -- he walked from Romania to Germany, beside the horse carriage his family was traveling in.

Luxury defined: A loving husband, a healthy family, a little house with a garden and enough money to see my family overseas.

Dream vacation spot: San Augustiuillo, Mexico.

Why Payson? The climate -- cool mountain air, not so far from my in-laws and it has a small-town atmosphere just like home in Germany. There are very special people who made it easier for me to start and feel at home in a short time.

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