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Our guest on 18.05.2008

Edeltraut Hertel, from Midwife to Documentary Star


As a child, Edeltraut Hertel dreamed about Africa. It was a long way from Meerane, Saxony to Africa –more so as a citizen of former German Democratic Republic. The midwife from Saxony made it to Africa, though, where she began training midwives in Tanzania. She later returned home to find that her home country –the GDR- no longer existed. Director Douglas Wolfsperger has made a documentary about Edeltraut Hertel’s colorful and exciting life.

"Edeltraut Hertel is a woman who faced many difficulties during her life. I prefer to make films about people who have lived a less conventional life." Director Wolfsperger commenting on the ‘leading actor’ and subject of his documentary, "The Long Way to the Light."

Edeltraut Hertel was born near Halle in 1952. From 1966 to 1970, she studied nursing, and medicine in Berlin –in the former GDR. In reality, she didn’t want to be a midwife, but rather a doctor. Her childhood dreams were of Africa, and she even named a doll after the continent. To spend time in a foreign country at that time required you to become a member of the Socialist Unity Party – the governing communists - and she was not willing to do so.

Her only chance: to take a course certifying her as a midwife in 1987/88. Midwives were sought at that time for participation in foreign assistance programs. In 1989, she finally made it to Tanzania, departing the GDR just before the wall fell. She trained midwives there until 1997.

Even though Ms. Hertel had ample time while in Tanzania to register the changes that Germany had undergone with the fall of the wall, the cultural shock of returning to a unified Germany was greater than the shock she experienced when she arrived in Africa years before. Upon returning to Saxony she perceived that her former country and its people had changed. Her countrymen had replaced concern and compassion for others with selfishness.

To counter the strong individualism of western society –which she regards as a negative development- she has turned to charity. Strongly influenced by Christian teachings, Edeltraut Hertel chooses action over words, and constantly offers her services in crisis regions from Macedonia to Sudan.

Today, Edeltraut Hertel lives in Glauchau, Saxony, where she runs a midwife practice with two colleagues.

Host Peter Craven speaks with Edeltraut Hertel about her experiences as a mid-wife in Tanzania and Germany, the pros and cons of development assistance, Germany’s declining birth rate, and the persistence sensitivities between east and west Germans.

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