When North Korea sent some 357 men over to the former East Germany in the 1950s to train them, the two countries also unexpectedly set in motion some of the most dramatic and bittersweet stories of forbidden love that I’ve ever encountered.
For example, consider the case of Renata Hong, who waited for 47 years before reuniting with her husband in North Korea:
Renate returned to Germany on Tuesday after a 12-day reunion with her long-lost husband in North Korea – a highly unusual episode given the Communist government’s policy of keeping most of its people without mail or telephone links to the rest of the world, not to mention the Internet.
Traveling with Renate were their two sons. Peter Hyon Zol was 10 months old, and Renate was pregnant with Uwe, when the family broke up in the vortex of the Cold War.
Renate Kleinle and Hong Ok Geun met in 1955, when they attended the same freshman chemistry class at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, East Germany. Hong was a humorous exchange student from North Korea, then East Germany’s Communist ally.
They fell in love. Because both governments frowned on marriages between North Korean students and East Germans, the couple married in 1960 in a rural town where the local authorities were unaware of the national government’s policy. There were no guests.
The couple’s happy time lasted only one year, however. In 1961, the Pyongyang government recalled all 350 of its students in East Germany, a measure believed prompted by a few North Korean students’ defections to the West. Hong was given 48 hours to pack.
Holding 10-month-old Peter, Renate bid a tearful farewell to Hong at the Jena train station.
I’m tearing up just imagining that scene for myself.
Well, German filmmaker Sung-Hyung Cho stumbled upon Renate’s love story and it inspired her to discover more of these couples, ultimately leading to a new documentary film released in June 2015 titled “Verliebt, Verlobt, Verloren” (“Loved, Engaged, Lost”). Here’s the trailer on Youtube for the documentary film, presented in German (folks in China, you’ll need a VPN to view it):
I’ve also discovered an excellent interview with Sung-Hyung Cho about the film. Here’s a snippet:
DW: What was the idea behind the film?
Sung-Hyung Cho: The story of Renate Hong was very popular in South Korea. In 2006, her story became the talk of the town after a South Korean historian – who had conducted some research in Jena about the relationship between North Korea and East Germany – met Renate Hong by chance.
She narrated her story, and he propagated it on the Internet. The response was overwhelming. The Koreans were blown away by the sad but beautiful love story.
Most Koreans, myself included, know the story. Moreover, I was greatly interested in knowing and better understanding former East Germany. I also wanted to know more about North Korea, even if only indirectly.
Have you ever heard about this fascinating chapter of AMWF history between Germany and North Korea? And, for those of you who have seen the film, what did you think of it?
P.S.: Thanks to Ruth of the wonderful blog China Elevator Stories for tipping me off to this!