subtitled video | 24 min


19 year old Bärbel wants to flee communist Eastern Germany.
Her family has contacted a group of rogue US soldiers who help refugees cross the border at famous Checkpoint Charlie.
But then, everything goes wrong.
The soldiers leave Bärbel behind in East Berlin, where she has to go into hiding.
At the same time Stasi agents have already been dispatched to find her.
More than 40 years later Bärbel’s son, the journalist Till Ottlitz, tells the story of his mother’s botched escape.
This is episode one of a six-part podcast series.

Produced by

Till Ottlitz 


11 thoughts on “4 DAYS OF FEAR – Till Ottlitz – BAYERISCHER RUNDFUNK – Germany


    Four Days of Fear is a personal story charting a young woman’s attempt to escape from East Germany.
    The emotional storytelling owes its tension and depth to the fact that the narrator is the protagonist’s son who is piecing together his family history for the first time.
    The listener is taken on the journey as mother and son revisit the locations where the key events took place – these scenes putting you straight into the heart of the story.
    Elegantly told, the strength of the piece also lies in how this personal story gives a historical, political and sociological insight into life in the GDR during this period.

  2. We appreciated the rhythm and the podcast-like storytelling, that made us curious. We have been well guided through the story by the narrator. Maybe there have been a bit too many announcements or explanations in this first episode. Concerning the recording of places and atmospheres, we think, that there could have been more different sounds and a more carefully recorded soundscape to give a strong image of the locations in Berlin.

  3. We appreciated the rhythm and the podcast-like storytelling of the program. We have been very well guided through the story by the narrator and the dramaturgy made us curious. Maybe there have been a bit too many announcements and explanations for the this first episode. Concerning the sound: We would have loved more and better recordings of the soundscape , to get stronger acoustical images of the locations in Berlin.

    1. Dear Elisabeth, dear Eva, thanks for the feedback. You are absolutely right about the sound recordings in Berlin – I should have gone back to the locations to record ambient sounds in addition to the interviews with my mother…

      I also understand your comment about “too much information”. We at BR find that this a recurring problem in serial storytelling – especially in the first episode of al longer series.

      We actually had multiple edit sessions with several first time listeners from our team giving feedback (a technique we stole from US podcast makers ;-)… So all the background information that is given here was at one point or another in the editing process requested by a listener who felt they wouldn’t have understood the story otherwise. It’s very interesting that the end product can sometimes feel like “too much information”. That seems to be an unfortunate byproduct of this editing technique which in other aspects works very well for us and which we find indespensable when crafting complex storylines…

  4. Hi everyone. What I have liked most in this first podcast episode is that Till leaves a space for listener and we perceive his personal story as a story of whole generation. Good use of radio (recordings, interviews, narration, music) I wish to hear it all podcast.

  5. Hello Till!

    Many thanks to you and your mother for that story. Personally, the highlight of this piece is when your mother reflects on not having a child in those circumstances, which says more than any historical fact. A sad moment – not everyone would get it, but it’s better to know her reasons. And yes – the programme is told in an elegant way, as Sarah says, and in a likeable tone. Making a first-person family story often seems to be an easy task, as a journalist knows all the right questions, and those that are better not to be asked – resulting in something artificial sometimes. But it’s not the case here, thank you!

    1. Dear Vladimir, thanks so much for your feedback… Yes, that was one very emotional moment in the series. There is also some weeping later on – both my mother and I are “built close to the water” as we say in Germany – meaning, we cry easily. And when we met the family who sheltered her – a complete stranger to them and at considerable personal risk – again after more than three decades there was no holding back the tears 😉 But crying aside, it is true that since the fall of the Berlin wall a whole generation has grown up in Germany that has no memory of the GDR whatsoever. So to help this young generation understand the emotional toll that a regime like the GDR took on its citizens and how it limited their life choices, hopes and dreams – that was a big factor in deciding to tell this story.

  6. Hello Till,
    being someone who was born in Germany after 1990, I appreciate the clear, matter-of-fact tone of the informational statements made by you over the course of this episode. Even though the sentences about the Berlin Wall and how it used to seperate the city are common knowledge to me, it helped to establish the scene in which the story is told. In other words: I did not feel like it is overloaded with information. Another point I want to highlight is the elegant movement between different timelines,for example when you incorporated your mother’s text message and a few minutes later you talk about what happened back in 1973 without breaking the continuity. The tone of your mother’s voice and also how she describes what she felt at certain moments is really captivating and creates images, make the story come to life. I look forward to listen to the other episodes as well!

  7. Hallo Till, thank you for telling this incredible story. I liked the personal tone and frank approach, one quickly establishes a personal connection to the narrator and emphatizes with you and your mother. At the same time, I must say that I did find the storytelling a bit transpicuous. The obvious cliffhangers, how the music was used for certain effects – maybe a bit too close to NPR’s “This American Life” construction manual? Maybe there’s more potential to find your personal way of telling these stories? Without the writers rooms and less feedback, which will always point you to the common denominator? Maybe it’s a personal choice, but I like to be challenged a bit when listening to podcasts and your feature feels as if it was dragging a bit (listened to it at 1,5 speed and it still worked well). But again, congratulations on the journey you have accomplished with this program and your chuzpe in trying new ways of storytelling.

  8. Dear Till,
    Thank you and your mother for the courage to share the (hi)story of your own family with us.
    It’s always good to remember the past, especially when the situations described in your podcast are, unfortunately, still happening around the world today.
    First episode of the series captured my attention immediately. The way it’s being narrated, is perfectly structured. The amount of the information is, in my opinion, just fine. It’s usually the purpose of the first episode in the series to introduce the audience the historical and social context to make sure, every listener (even the one who missed a few history classes) understands it.
    I also appreciated the staged situations in the background and the choice of the song. These aspects make the story thrilling and attractive for the younger generation.

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