Past…Present…Future…and Mike Fröhnel….

This guest post is the next in the TEDx series by Bethany Morton-Rhye.

There are, no doubt, 50 bazillion thoughts, quotations, words of wisdom, theories, books, songs, poems and websites dealing with “Past, Present, and Future.”  I “Googled” these three words and got “About 123,000,000 results in (0.02 seconds).”  If you Google “Mike Fröhnel,” you will, at present, meet someone new.  If I could invite a speaker to the TEDxSpartanburg Event: Together Creating a New Vision, on September 10, 2011 at The Showroom, it would be Mike…. Let me introduce him…

Mike Fröhnel

“Mike Fröhnel was born in 1965 in Schwerin, Germany. Because of a sewn-on badge on his jacket he was detained by the East German Police, beaten and condemned to six months in the notorious youth prison “Bright Future” in Halle. Already in 1974 he designed pamphlets against the Berlin Wall by himself and therefore spent eleven months in the remand prison in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen. More years of imprisonment followed. But he prevailed all the time in jail. One of the things he enjoyed very much, and still does is “Olsen Banden.” Therefore; it was a great moment in his life, when he met Ove Sprogø A.K.A Egon Olsen in real life, in a bus! When he was set free on 30th November 1989, he did not know that in the meantime the Wall was fallen….”

My past, present and future with Mike…I “met” Mike on June 3, 2003 at Hohenschönhausen Prison in the former “East Berlin,” Germany.  In my “past life” I was a high school German teacher from 1997 – 2003.  Summers “off”? Not exactly.  Each of my six summers off, I was a Group Leader for “The Experiment in International Living,” a facet of “World Learning,”, based out of Brattleboro, VT.  I “lead” high school students on cross-cultural exchange programs:  3 summers in Belize, 2 in Australia and my final to Germany and the Czech Republic.  This is when I met Mike.

Flashback to Berlin, June 2003… The fearless Group Leader (me) and my 15 teenagers from all over the United States had on the itinerary for the day to visit and tour the Hohenschönhausen prison in the former “East Berlin.”  I did not plan the visit, our itinerary was planned by the Experiment in International Living and my role was to “facilitate the educational experience” of the “experimenters” (the teenagers).  The “educational experience” that I got that day is one of the most epic experiences of my life.  We toured the prison.  Mike was our tour guide.  We listened to the stories of the past.  Mike was the story teller: His past….

What I experienced in that “present,” I happened to write down… This week, I dug around in my “past” and found the travel journal that I kept that summer.  The picture posted on this blog is of my actual journal entry along with a bottle cap.  Random?  No.  A dear friend opened a beer for me last weekend and underneath the cap is written “Write your Future.”  Through sharing my past with you, I hope to write a better future for myself and hope that it influences you to write your positive future too.  I will share excerpts of what I wrote in my journal on the evening of June 6, 2003 after listening to Mike: My past…

“I want to write him a letter – let him know how his story and his strength and his pain and his humanity are indescribable.  I looked intensely into his beautiful blue eyes and I just wanted to show him love and peace and respect and to let him know that I will share his story with my friends and family and children so they will know that what happen to him is unjust, inhumane – evil.  As I be-bopped through my teenage years putting posters of Duran Duran on my walls, worrying about lavender eye shadow, learning to drive, drinking, growing, changing, in the most affluent of situations, Mike was in a hell just because he was born in the EAST.  If we all work in our own communities to fight injustice and to lift and empower people, then we can make a difference – One friendship at a time.  Don’t carry the world on your shoulders – wear your heart on your sleeve.

The Kennedy exhibit was touching too – random thought – I’m just trying to get my mind around all this.  Information overload.

Mike was trying to combat the injustice of the DDR – When the Wall came down in 1989, he was suddenly released from prison.  He went back to Berlin, not knowing what had happened.  He did not believe the people who told him that the Wall was down.  He went to the Wall and was able to walk through to the ‘West’.  He asked someone ‘Am I in West Berlin’ – the answer, ‘yes’.  He fainted – it was too much to take.  I can’t imagine the memories inside his head – the pain – the evil – In my own small way I would like to contribute a new memory – a joy – positive energy – compassion – respect – friendship – peace and love.  As he said ‘nie wieder’ (never again)….” – end of entry

Flash forward to Spartanburg, SC, August 18, 2011.  The “present”:

My memory of the last thing Mike said, I did not write in my journal.  It is with me, I can hear it in my head.  One of the kids asked him why he is able to be so at peace with what happened to him.  The essence of his answer was that he can’t change the “past,” but he can own the “present,” and be a positive force for the “future.”  In his “present” he said that he will tolerate no act of injustice, big or small, against anyone for any reason: race, skin color, religion, sexual orientation, political views etc… When he sees injustice in the world, he fights back using peace, love, and compassion as his weapons.

This is one of the most important lessons of my “past.” I carry it at every “present” moment.  I want to positively impact the “future”; my own, yours, Mike’s, and people I don’t even know.

Mike, I’m sharing your story, just like I wanted to, and I thank you.

So, looking to the future… The speakers at the TEDxSpartanburg Event on September 10, 2011 at The Showroom will, no doubt, share ideas and experiences that will impact us if we are open to it. We never know how what we learn from our experiences will shape our life, or the lives of others.


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