A daughter's death spurs fears about East Germans

September 29, 1990|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Sun Staff Correspondent

BROME, West Germany -- On a shelf behind Marga Busch's bar stands a super-cool Coke can sporting sunglasses and headphones. It is made of soft plastic, and Mrs. Busch likes to show customers how the can dances when the music plays.

"The East Germans buy this stuff up," she said, laughing. "It's just the kind of kitsch they go for."

A moment later, Marga Busch is talking about all the other things East Germans buy, such as West German cars. And how fast they drive.

Then Mrs. Busch's robust laughter disappears. Suddenly and completely it turns to grief.

For it was an East German Trabant, packed with six people, that killed her daughter, Katya, in a head-on collision a week before Christmas. Katya would have been 24 years old.

The driver of the other car presumably could just as easily have been a West German. But somehow, the fact that the people in the other car were East Germans has made the East German people as a whole -- and unification with them -- unbearable for Marga Busch.

"We never took a vacation. We always worked for our children. And that's what we're missing now. We lost our future," she said, tears on her cheeks.

Since then, Mrs. Busch has had to tend bar to packed houses of WestGermans treating couples from over the border to all-you-can-drink nights at the Bromer Stuben.

"I kept thinking, people from the border town where those people in the Trabi were from, they're also here," she said.

Laughing to keep business up while mourning inside, Mrs. Busch is a kind of lightning rod for the scattered resentments West Germans have accumulated for East Germans these last months.

The catalog of complaints about East Germans includes everything from their polluting cars to their provincialism and plain clothing. Since monetary union July 1, as the truly astronomical cost of unification becomes known, West Germans have also begun grumbling about the likely tax increase and inflation they will face after the December elections.

Here in Brome, the discontent stems most often from the East Germans' tendency to upset the town's tranquillity.

"It's not because my daughter died, though it's true that if the [Berlin] Wall never opened, my daughter would still be alive," Mrs. Busch said, then added with some bitterness: "Some people say they should make the wall 100 meters higher and 20 meters deeper."

Katya was killed instantly, after the Trabant tried to pass a car near the crest of a hill and moved into the lane of oncoming traffic, where shewas driving.

The case would appear to have been clearly the fault of the East German driver, but instead, it was swept up in the local politics of the moment. The mayor was running for the state parliament, and the mood here in December was one of pity for the newcomers from the East.

West German police launched an inquiry to see whether Katya Busch was responsible for her own death and those of two East Germans who died in the Trabant.

The mayor put an ad in the local paper asking for donations for the East Germans after the accident.

"There wasn't a word about my daughter," Mrs. Busch said. "None of the people came to ask how we were doing."

The family was not doing well at all then.

Katya had bought two dresses for her parents' silver wedding anniversary and was waiting for her father to come out of the hospital, where he was having routine surgery, to help her choose one.

They are still hanging in her bedroom, which remains untouched.

Mr. Busch was released from the hospital the day Katya died, and -- not knowing yet of her death -- he came straight to the bar. He learned she was dead from friends who had gathered there, '' all coming toward him with grim faces.

Katya's brother, Sasha, a sailor, was close to his older sister; they had both been adopted. She would always see to his welfare before her own.

Wrapped in his own pain, Sasha shouted at his parents: "Don't you understand? I'm all alone in the world now."

Crazy in her own grief, Mrs. Busch said to Sasha once, "Why did it have to be her? It could have been you in the car." She saw the shock and hurt in his face instantly. "I told him I didn't mean it that way, and I didn't," she said quietly; but again, the tears returned.

The investigation eventually cleared Katya, but it produced an awkward aftermath for her family. "Now, people are so ashamed. They can't even look us in the eye," she said.

Throughout her lengthy description of the accident and its effects on her family and the town of Brome, Mrs. Busch keeps returning to the fact that the Trabant had been loaded with six people.

She does not say so, but a flimsy Trabant with one or two passengers, crashing head-on into a West German auto, probably would have been flicked off the road like an insect. But the weight of all the passengers inside may have given the tiny car the force to kill Katya.

Mrs. Busch claims to have disliked the East Germans long before the fences were removed along the nearby border this year.

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