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Anja Cain

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This story is about Anja Cain, who grew up in West Berlin. Her parents were resistance fighters against the Berlin Wall, leading to their hardship and her mother's capture. Anja then met her husband through mutual friends and they moved to the United States with their children, even though this was sometimes a difficult adjustment for Anja.

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0:03:14

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Please contact Immigration History Research Center staff for permissions not covered by this Creative Commons license.

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My mother’s name is Anja Cain, formerly Anja Schelten. She was born in Berlin, Germany on March 13th, 1966. Her parents are Uwe Schelten and Regina Schelten born January 24th 1941 and July 17th 1939. She grew up in West Berlin during the time of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War. When I asked her how it was living in West Germany she said it felt very sheltered and safe. She described seeing American soldiers on her way to school and walking around the city. She never felt uncomfortable and it was just accepted as the way it was.

My mother’s parents have a very interesting story. They grew up post-WWII in what was East Berlin. My grandfather became a doctor and my grandmother started university which brought them to the west. Their families, however, were still in East Germany; one of their friends, Arin, was trying to free his girlfriend from the East. He began an organization building tunnels under the Berlin Wall. Because of my grandparents’ connection to the East, and their desire to help their friend, they became involved in the organization. Obviously, this was illegal, and during one of their **exhibitions** my grandmother was caught. When I asked my mom how she got caught, my mom said that someone messed up and left the door open. My grandmother went to jail for a year and a half in East Germany until the West German Government bought her out and freed her back to the West. This is when, at some point in July 1965, my grandparents married and started their family. I say “at some point” because they literally don’t know themselves. As expected, when I asked my mom if my grandparents have ever talked about their experience, she said no. They never talked about it other than to mention how bad the food in jail was or small things like that. The only time I heard them talk about it was when my grandpa told me I should be thankful about all the butter I could put on my bread. He said he had to savor the butter till the very last bite so that there was enough to taste.

When I asked my mom about her expectations about America she said she thought what everyone thought: fast food, crime, shootings. Her first trip to America was to New York, she said she was scared the whole time. Her next trip was to the South where she ended up due to her friendship with my father's sister. At the time, my father’s sister played in a band with my mother, and they became good friends. When she came back to visit my aunt’s family, she met my father. Perhaps my favorite part of the interview was when I asked my mom if she liked my dad immediately. She said, “no not really”. My parents had their first child in 1993 and then another in 1995. In 2000, I was born and four months later, we moved to America. In 2002, my little brother Julius was born. My mother found it easy to raise children in America. She remarked on the reverence for children we have, nothing like what it was in Germany. In America, people were happy to watch a baby as their child took violin lessons from my mother, whereas in Germany that would be unheard of. She said it felt easy moving to America because she already had a family to move to, mainly my father’s parents. She didn’t think she would have ever moved here if it weren’t for my father. My mother loves her life here, but she does often feel like she doesn’t fit in. No matter what, she says, she always stands out for reasons she can’t really understand, and that has been hard for her.