If you were given free money to spend in the free world for the first time in your life, what would you buy?

9th November 2019 marked 30 years since the night in 1989 when the Berlin wall fell. For many living in the East, the first steps into a free world were accompanied by a free gift of begrüßungsgeld -welcome money- which was typically 100DM (approx 80 euro) offered to each GDR citizen by the West German government to spend in the West.
With journalist Malcolm Jack, I travelled through Germany and beyond to produce a series portraits and interviews with several former East German citizens who received this donation. We discovered what they bought with their begrüßungsgeld - some still have the items- and learned of their experiences from such a significant period in recent history.

“This pen changed my life” - Tasso, Meerane

Graffiti artist Tasso attributes the Edding 850 pen he purchased on that first crossing west with being the beginning of his career as an artist. Never before had he seen ‘tags’ sprawled across walls and buildings so he found a shop that sold the thick nib marker which he then used to express his creativity back in the East

“Maybe buying the dishwasher changed my life more than the fall of the Berlin Wall?” - Silke Richter, Berlin

Young mum of three Silke Richter spent her families collected money (approx 500DM) on a dishwasher which lasted until three years ago

“We went to a peep show… we felt like little boys” - Detlef Steimer, Leipzig

Leipzig based TV exec Detlef picked up his Welcome Money and spent it whilst on a work trip to Hamburg. He and a friend visited the infamous Reeperbahn yet he swears the peep show was as raunchy as it got

“Depeche Mode were very popular here in East Germany, probably because they were out of reach… like a God” - The Granzow Family, Thuringia

Childhood sweethearts and Depeche Mode mega fans, Claudia and Ronny Granzow have spent years recreating Depeche Mode music videos with their two sons. They’ve toured the world to see them in concert- something they couldn’t have done had the wall not fallen. Naturally their begrüßungsgeld was spent on Depeche Mode cassettes

“When you saw a queue in front of a record store in East Berlin you just joined it” - Igor Hartmann, Berlin

Music fan Igor was just 20 when the wall came down. He purchased some records including this Nina Hagen record which he still owns today and a Bruce Springsteen album. Those in East Berlin were fortunate enough to pick up western radio signals so could tape popular songs from the radio

“Money can’t buy time” - Conny Guenther with son Christian

Having watched the border on an almost daily basis from her office overlooking Checkpoint Charlie, translator Conny Guenther chose the famous crossing point to visit the west for the first time with her son Christian. They bought some lego for Christian and a radio for their kitchen

“Money is no welcome” - Dr Gabriele Hahn, Dresden

Dr Gabriele Hahn is a specialist in Paediatric radiology, a career which has excelled further since reunification. She didn’t buy much with her money-just small things for her children

“When I saw the Barbie on the shelf, you know, that was it. I don’t remember any other toy in that shop”- Susan Penquitt, Taucha

For the then 8 year old Susan Penquitt, crossing the border was a family event, piling into their car in the middle of the night. With her share of the money, she bought a classic token of Western culture- a Barbie doll which her 8 year old daughter Nora now plays with

“The remote control car was the worst thing I’ve ever bought in my life”- Albrecht Feske, Dresden

Not every purchase was money well spent. A young Albrecht excitedly bought a remote control car only to discover on the way home that it only turns in one direction. His mum kept it in the attic even though it was discarded by Albrecht almost immediately

“The spectacle frames made me feel like a new person” - Heike Noack, Glasgow

Now settled in Scotland, Heike talks of picking up some exciting, fashionable glasses frames with the money she received. Having previously worn the standard issue GDR frames, taking the new ones back East caused quite a stir