Resilience, Human Rights and Rejecting the Status Quo with Pauline Schmidt

As senior media manager, Pauline plays a pivotal role at Save the Children Germany and the Human Rights Film Festival, Berlin. A dedicated human rights activist and feminist, Pauline’s not just smart, she’s wise. We learned so much about the history of Germany’s East / West divide through her family’s all-too-common story of heartbreak and resilience.

Escaping East Germany with her mother when she was still in her belly, Pauline’s personal experiences fueled her passion to help refugees. At an age when most of us are trying to figure out what to do with our lives, Pauline co-founded Jugend Rettet, a network of young people who rescued refugees stranded in the Mediterranean. They purchased their own ship and saved more than 14,000 people in one year.

Pauline is a force to be reckoned with. She challenges expectations and rules, and has very little time for the status quo. But that energy and drive is tempered by the kindness and compassion, instilled in her from a young age through her family’s own complex past. You’re going to love this conversation. It is the perfect example of the connection and expanded perspective that happens when we get real and vulnerable.

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Chelsea Brown: Welcome to season two of the Millie podcast. I can't wait for you to meet the inspirational and fascinating women of 2022. First up Pauline Schmidt. As senior media manager, Pauline plays a pivotal role at save the children, Germany and the human rights film festival Berlin.

Pauline Schmidt: My whole family, after the second world war, they made the decision to settle in east Germany. It was a system that more and more drifted into fear of neighbours reporting neighbours for little things, like bringing a nice bottle of wine from the west to the east, which was already considered not socialist,

Chelsea: A dedicated human rights activist and feminist, Pauline's not just smart, she's wise.

Pauline: When I was sitting in front of him, I didn't feel him so much like a father, but more like somebody that is more or less my age. My father was helping people to escape, organizing these little balloons that they used to fly over the borders. At some point there were 17 people watching for him. For him it was marry her or jail.

Chelsea: Wow. I learned so much about the history of Germany's east, west divide through her family's all too common story of heartbreak and resilience.

Pauline: The story gets even darker because then my mother found out that she was pregnant with me. It happens that babies are being taken away, it was a thing happening quite often. Heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking, and it is something that happened to a lot of other people too.

Chelsea: At an age, when most of us are still trying to figure out what to do with our lives, Pauline co-founded Jugend Rettet, a network of young people who rescued refugees stranded in the Mediterranean. They purchased their own ship and saved more than 14,000 people in one year.

Pauline: When you hear little stories and little pieces, it makes you understand the human component of things, how people can participate and things that from the outside are very, I would say evil. You know, and very, very antisocial to each other.

Chelsea: Pauline is a force to be reckoned with she challenges, expectations, and rules, and has very little time for the status quo. But that energy and drive is tempered by kindness and compassion instilled in her from a young age, through her family's own complex past.

Pauline: What she taught me about vulnerability and it being a strength, not a weakness. I think it's the most beautiful thing that somebody ever has taught me.

Chelsea: You are going to love this conversation. It is the perfect example of connection and expanded perspective that happens when we get real and vulnerable. I am so grateful that Pauline shared her story with us. I'm just so excited to be in Berlin and to connect with you in know, and our other podcast guests. We're so excited and it's just been a whirlwind being here. This is my first time in Berlin in general.

Pauline: Oh my goodness. Yeah. Overwhelming. Right.

Chelsea: It is, you know, it's taken me a few days to find my footing, but I’m happy.

Pauline: Where are you? Are you located now?

Chelsea: I was in Kreuzberg. Now I'm in Mitte.

Pauline: And it's quite a difference already, right? I mean, Mitte some people say it's a little bit preppy, you know? Kreuzberg is a little bit like when people imagine how Berlin would look like, I think they imagine Kreuzberg. Because it’s artsy, a lot of graffiti, a lot of people just being on the street, hanging out with their friends. Mitte is more like if you meet your friends, you go to a restaurant or another nicer place, so to say. I think the charming thing about Kreuzberg is it is opening up a lot, you know? I mean, because when you live in Berlin and I'm here for almost round, about 12 years, you start circling around the city because I think you have heard about the huge discussion of the rent going up so high.

They go up super quickly no matter what kind of housing, where you are located. And I think politics, they are reacting to this a little bit too slow. And so the running egg of living in Berlin is that you move all the time. And at some point you have lived basically everywhere. I was two times in different flats in Neukölln. I was in three different flats in Alt-Hohenschönhausen, I was in Schöneberg. Now I'm in Schöneiche. I mean, for me, my personal goal is to keep a flat for two years.

Chelsea: Yeah. Actually didn't know the extent of that. Wow.

Pauline: It’s quite alarming. Looking at Europe in general,  Berlin is an interesting city for a lot of people and comparing it to other capitals, it’s still quite okay considering the prices.If you compare Rome and Berlin, for example, I mean, in Rome as a grownup, sometimes you still have to live in a shared flat because you could never afford your own flat and then very quickly when you maybe get, or you meet a boyfriend or a girlfriend, you move in together, it's almost impossible to afford a flood on your own. And the problem that we are facing in Berlin, if you look a little bit in east Germany, the salaries are pretty low, but the prices are high for rent. So something is not working out here at the moment.

Chelsea: And actually to talk a bit about your story, you came from east Germany, your mom actually sought refuge in west Germany.

Pauline: Yeah. That is true.

Chelsea: Can you tell us a bit about what that was like and a bit about your mom's story?

Pauline: Yeah, I think I'm still trying to find a way of speaking about the topic. It's not territory that we have yet found a language for. My whole family, basically, comes from Eastern Europe and after the second world war, they made the decision to settle in east Germany, which very quickly became the GDR, as we know. And, they followed this idea in the beginning of it being kind of anti-fashion state, a state that is focusing on community that is focusing on equal rights for men and women. It was very usual that, women were full time employed there, that they were engineers, that they had very high positions. When in compared to Germany, back in the days, we still had this very traditional image of women staying at home in the fifties and being the little homemaker.

So quite different and my mother was a teacher back in the GDR completely different system. She was ready with her studies when she was 16, basically then they had to do some additional stuff in a boarding school that was specified, welcome to the German accent, for people who will become teachers. Then very, very early, I would say in comparison how it is done today when she was 19 or 20, she was already full-time employed as a teacher. She had her own class, she was teaching the kids, every subject basically it was also done like that. And for quite some time she was okay there the GDR was in the beginning running quite well but the system in itself was radicalizing itself. They were building up this internal police, that we today called the Stasi, it was a system that more and more drifted into fear of watching neighbours, reporting neighbours for little things that they might on paper did wrong.

Like, bringing a nice bottle of wine from the west to the east, which was already considered, not socialist, enjoying these little, pleasures. It started becoming more and more radical. At some point it was not allowed to basically listen to Western music, which is quite interesting because my mom she was young in the, in the sixties, in the seventies. She completely missed on the hippie movement, she never experienced Jimmy Hendrick's music or stuff that, that young people back in the days were enjoying. So something that we still are having in Germany is that we are basically having two completely different collective memories. You know, people from the east, they have another kind of music that they listened to, there were specific movies produced for the GDR by the GDR or the Soviet union back in the days. I think this is still something that we are facing today, this collective memory and this collective also pop culture that is so different, but that also forms you as a person and, and brings you up with your own kind of identity.

But back to my mother's story, she met my father at some point and my father was, let's say not so happy with the system. And, he didn't want to stay in the GDR first of all. And second of all, he was actively helping people to escape from the GDR. He was organizing some, maybe read about, these little balloons that they used to fly over the borders. And, that was one thing.

Another thing is that he had contacts to Munich, because some relatives of him were living there and they were in the American army, which already made him suspicious. I was earlier talking about the system becoming very paranoid and the second you had connections to Western structures, you were starting to become monitored, especially when it is the military connection. So things that he did it, which was also being a DJ back in the time and playing Western music, helping people to escape and so on, they became a target of the Stasi and they were starting to monitor them, starting to make these, everybody knows that these Stasi files and starting to report Starting to read the letters, in some situations, my mother was pretty sure that there were people in the house, like things in the house were located at different, spots than before.

Was very weird or a door was not, completely shut when it was shut when they left the homes. The strongest time of being monitored was shortly before I was born. I'm born in 85 so it started becoming pretty intense in 1980, I would say. And then it went on until I was born getting stronger and stronger at the same time, because this story is not only about my mother. It's also about my mother's parents who were also in the beginning, extremely iffy about this system, especially, my grandmother who was born in Poland, her parents were communist back in the days. So it made, it made a fit for her to go to the GDR. In a way, not to say that this is a good system to follow, but it was her way of perceiving the establishment of the GDR as something positive as something that could really make people equal and give everybody the same chances to study to get a nice life, basically, because she grew up in a farm and the family was pretty poor.

So that was something that was logical for her. The two of them, met where it was also born. My, grandfather and her became married pretty quick. And, originally, they had two children, my mother and my uncle, and here it becomes pretty tricky. My family has the inside joke of us having very bad luck with the GDR, because for whatever reason, we touched all of the topics that were not good to touch back in the days. So there was a rule in the GDR that, only one kid per family can study. And my, mother was the older one with the better grades. So she was allowed to study to become a teacher. My uncle on the other hand was not so interested in studying and also he would've not been allowed.

He became very engaged in sports. And that was something that, as you might know, was also a thing in the GDR that they were pushing very strong to be part of the Olympics, to have young people being connected to the system of the GDR, through sports. You know, through community, through working out, together, being in this sport, its camps and so it on. Why do you think that was why specifically sports? Well, I think it was something that gave the GDR a lot of prestige, a lot of outside visibility, being in the Olympics, it always creates a good image, I would say and press coverage. And, if you are being honest, it was also a good tool for propaganda. You know, look at our young people, they are so happy, they are so well trained.

They are following this idea of community and sticking together. I mean, sports in many ways and very often was used for propaganda. And to be a little bit harsh here, the GDR didn't have many other things to paint a positive picture. They didn't have a lot of trade going on that they could, you used to say, look, we are producing this beautiful wine. They don't have, they didn't have a lot of different, I think it is called, national branding and I think this was their way of national branding and it was fitting in the way that they wanted to be perceived. So long story short, my uncle was in one of these programs. Basically he was getting very public as a spokesperson also for the GDR and something that they did back then.

And that is also part of, ongoing research in this country because we still don't know the extent of how this happened is that they were giving these very young people, are stuff that I would call doping today. They sold it as vitamins, energy enhancers, and so on. And you have to imagine that we are talking about the seventies, eighties, and about a very closed community, a very closed country already. So nobody was expecting something like doping, today it is part of the Olympics that you get a doping test that this is something that is being talked about. But I would say these were more naive times, right? If this makes sense to you. And so, he started to become a little bit sick because he was a high performer. He was very ambitious on being on the Olympic team for 1984 but on the other hand, the products that they were giving to him, they made him perform very strongly, very shortly. And then he was collapsing and in between practices, he was starting to become more and more sick basically. And that was what I was trying to say about the other part of my family. Of course, my grandparents noticed that something was going on with their son, he was very young also. This was when he was 16, 17, 18, and he was a very strong person, very, very caring, very giving, very present with his family. But when he was home, he was basically starting to sleep and being so exhausted, more exhausted than a young person should be, even if he's a high performing athlete. And that made my grandfather very suspicious. And as I said in the beginning, my grandfather was very connected to the system in the beginning, first of all, believing in it.

And second of all, being quite successful in it, my grandmother, who is coming from a very poor family, she was a head secretary at an industrial company. And my grandfather was part of the airplane program of the GDR. So he had some connections to hire places. He was just an engineer, but he knew people. So he was starting to do some research on what is happening there with young people. And at some point he found out that it was not a very good thing, that they were giving him. My uncle became very sick and at some point he died. That was when he was 19 years old, it was an absolutely tragic for my family. As you can imagine, tragic for my mother who was already being spent on, you know, so this very happy experience in the beginning starting to become unbelievably dark.

They, of course, because of the death, my uncle, as a family were unbelievably angry and unbelievably outraged, but we are already talking about a time where you were not able to believe exactly, you could not say this system is not what I want to support anymore is naive. I was still under the impression of the second world war and never repeating this cruelty because that is a direct, there's a direct connection of these two things happening. So basically they off the wrong people. You know, with the wrong questions, at the very wrong time. And then my grandparents, my father and my mother became unemployed. They got kicked out from their former very well established lives. And as you can imagine, the story gets even darker at some point. because then my mother found out that she was pregnant with me.

Which was first, I mean, because it was shortly after my uncle died and, for my family, it was, and I'm quoting them here, it was like a glimpse of her, then life goes on. My grandfather always used to say to me, when your mother told us that you were pregnant, we felt like we are going to be for again, you know, there is maybe some mending happening and a baby, as we know, it always brings a lot of work, but it brings a lot of happiness. So they were happy. But on the other hand, it was already quite known that, when you are in the opposition, it happens that babies are being taken away. It was a thing happening quite often. Back in the days that they did situations like, a mother from the opposition comes in pregnant, into a hospital and then they tell the mother that the baby died.

And they take, they took the babies to people who work very much inside the system to raise them as foster kids. I mean, as I said, it's quite publicly known, but back in, it was a very bad rumour because the mothers, they could never even visit the supposed to be stillborn child. They were just gone. And so this was a very bad fear of my mother. The second they realized the four of them, my mother, my grandparents on my mother's side, my father that I was on my way. And in nine months, they would have to deal with basically a situation of a baby being in all of this mess, they started becoming active and very afraid because on one hand you could have still lived your life there.

My mother was working in something that you would call today, this place where you buy your little shampoo, your soap and so on. She was person responsible for restoring the shelves, which for a teacher is a very sad job, but it would've worked out somehow. And they started trying to get help from relatives of my grandmother, her siblings, because when my grandmother was born, back in the days in Poland,  she had siblings that were not going to the newly formed GDR, but that were going directly to west Germany. So they were starting to reach out to them by letters, or by give little notes to people that they were hoping to get over the border at some point. And I still have these letters, I should have brought them here.

My grandfather was also very desperately, writing messages to the United Nations because in some situations they were interfering, and trying to get people from the opposition out, retrospectively, the historical joke is that these letters, they never went through. It was absolutely not possible to get any document out there at this point. We are talking, 1984 basically. They had to make a very, very hard decision, basically, my mother decided to leave the country alone with me because the policy was that they never let people out as a family. You know, it would've been never possible for both of my parents with a little child being in the opposition, getting a permit to, for example, visit a relative in west Germany because they knew people wouldn't come back. And, so they did, they did the following thing.

At some point, it was possible for my grandfather to get, let's say, a coded letter to the brother of my grandmother, Bernie is his name and ask him for a fake birthday invitation. He received the letter and he understood what was needed from his side.

Chelsea: I’m very happy about that.

Pauline: And then, him and his wife invited me, still being in the belly of my mother, and my mother to a family reunion birthday. And, for whatever reason, we still don't understand why, because following the rules, it was not completely transparent. My mother got the permit to go there and to visit them for the birthday. I have to go one step back, because before she did that, she gave birth to me more or less parallel. They got the coded letter out for the fake birthday invitation.

So, she gave birth to me under a different name, in a hospital nearby basically and then very quickly, after my birth, under a false name, she was taking a train completely alone with just a bag my size. I still have the document that when she registered, because in west Germany, German's love bureaucracy, for whatever reason. They counted what she had in her bag. When she arrived in west Germany with me being a newborn, she had I think, four diapers, I think three little dresses to change me, because on paper she was going to be away for two days. So that was what was exactly fitting the story to say. And then basically, I think she had two readymade sandwiches and that was it, you know?

Chelsea: Wow.

Pauline: Then she arrived being, I think she was 28, with a newborn where you had to become, registered, for the lack of a better word, as a refugee basically.

Chelsea: Yeah. And you lived there for 13 years, I think. Is that right?

Pauline: We lived there for quite some time without my father because we, I mean, the GDR was still present. We still had some time to undergo because it broke together in 1989. So at the moment we are talking 1985. My mother arrived there with, no certification of her former employment, with a little document that said that she was allowed to stay for 48 hours, then she had to go back and I think with a passport for her, but not for me in this registration center in Güsten, which back in the days, was called the gate to the west.

It was a place where a lot of people were arriving. A lot of people from the Soviet Union, a lot of people from, I’m not sure how to translate it but Jewish people who were allowed to come into west Germany in Germany, refugees. We were in this complex of all of these people from different back home, somewhere from the east. And like my mother, was sharing her room with a very nice family from Poland, a very nice Jewish couple, I think from Ukrainia and with me. That was the status quo. And then we stayed there, I think for a year because of the lack of documents and then at some point we got a little flat by the state that we were able to move in.

My mother was able to register for my grandparents, for her parents, to come over as a family reunion. It was basically possible for her to do it for them, but it was not possible legally for her to do it for my father, because they were not officially connected. She never filed in his name, in any birth certificate to not endanger him in any way. Then when my grandparents arrived, because the rule was that people who had filed for family reunion and their life was already destroyed there. So they didn't care anymore to leave anything behind, they have to be reunited after I think latest six months. When my grandparents arrived, I think everything got a lot easier for my mother. You know, my grandmother helped greatly with raising me. My grandfather was very highly educated man so he was valuable, for the west and he got a good position pretty quickly. So, things were getting a little bit lighter after my grandfather found a good job. They could move in better-ish apartment together. But when I'm saying better-ish, I'm talking better-ish for somebody who just escaped a very bad country, baby steps in a way. There they lived, till I was around 12, something like this, then they moved in a smaller skyscraper. And that basically, speaks a little bit for their spirit because, what I find interesting about them is that they were never giving up, you know?

It’s beautiful, within my life span, the three of them beautifully made it quite okay. My mother was super determined to become a teacher again. Her certificates were not approved in west Germany, so she studied again, working very strongly on the side because all of the social systems that are now in place, back in the days, they were not something like a kindergarten that is open from seven in the morning till four, where you could bring your baby and you could go almost full time to work. So my grandmother did one for the team basically and they decided together that my grandfather is going to be an engineer again. My mother is going to study to fulfill her wish of being a teacher again. And my grandmother basically raised me, which it's really beautiful. I'm very proud of them. This is a very traumatic experience that they were facing of a state that was suddenly attacking them, monitoring them, prosecuting them in a way and then living in harsh conditions in the west for very long.

Also not being part of society anymore because their life embrace was in the middle of society and in the middle of middle class structures, like being a teacher and living in pretty bad neighbourhoods. I would say for a mother being on paper alone as a woman with the baby was not a very nice experience, I would say. But in the end, what I want to say is this is a very turbulent story, but I think it's a story about resilience. In a way, it's a story about resilience and it's a story that is very connected to the story of this country, now unified country, what they experienced. It's something that a lot of people in the GDR experienced. It's a unique story.

Chelsea: What was it like being reunited with your father?

Pauline: It was, very emotionally challenging for me. And I will tell you why it was, my father faced a lot of pressure there, political pressure because we were already being spied on and it was absolutely clear, but not documented officially that I was his child. That my mother was his girlfriend, they were dating for years. I mean, it was very obvious that there was a connection. And when you are a person that is connected to people who made, I will say the German word and then tried to translate it, that made an Ize Uck, like a request to leave the GDR. He got an ultimate ado, by the Stasi, they knew what was going on and that he was connected to three people that left. And as I already have told you, he had connections to the US military and the GDR was very interested in that for obvious reasons, of course. And so, they said to him that he has to marry another woman, that was a Stasi spy, to make him take her to these military relatives. So, they were officially married and they got approval every time they wanted to go to Munich, to these, these relatives of his.

Chelsea: Your mother must have been heartbroken.

Pauline: Yeah, my mother took it very bad. He told her that it was not a real marriage and that it was obviously something on paper. They met once in a natural state and he told her the whole story,

Chelsea: Heartbreaking.

Pauline: It is heartbreaking, yeah, it is heartbreaking. And it is, I have to say that too, something that happened to a lot of other people too. I mean, it's not unique and that is what makes it so outrageous, you know, unspeakable. Unspeakable and not so long ago, this is still lived history. We are still having, agencies, for example, in Berlin, in east Germany who are trying to connect these, former babies that were taken away with their birth parents. This is still happening, and we are still facing the consequences of this era in this time. Personally, yes, my mother was heartbroken and she couldn't see it in a way of him being under pressure, him being there alone and him being very afraid because they said, you either married this woman and let her do reports. He was never doing it himself, but of course she was doing reports to other assets of theirs for him. It was marry her or jail. Then he said, okay, I marry her on paper. We don't live together. But from time to time, I have to do these horrible things to my own family, my mother could wouldn't accept that. Which I can understand from the point of view of being a woman. Basically she said, this is such a big betrayal, why didn't you try to escape in what way ever, or you should have stuck to us no matter what, because little Paula is there and you are her father. And so long story short, I, mainly grew up without him.

I reached out to him proactively in my twenties because it was always weird for me. I have a lot of things in my character, a lot of things visually that don't fit to the family members. I know like I'm super blonde or blondish, and my mother has super dark brown hair, like the rest of my family in west Germany, so to say. So there was a visual gap between them and me and also there was some kind of character traits maybe that I couldn't connect so much with them. Not in a negative way, but in a way of: this is weird, these are interests that I have that I cannot explain are, I don't know, maybe a way of looking at life that was a little bit different. From time to time, my mother was saying to me, yeah, you are a little bit like your father, you don't want to follow rules so much and that was something that I was interested in.

And so I met him. It was weird because I was a grownup and he was a grownup and we were, sitting in a cafe and we talked a lot about these things and what we mainly talked about. And I was not originally so interested in that, but I could feel how it was still haunting him, which was the time when he was alone before the system, fell down. And, what I realized is that he was not able to disconnect emotionally from this time. It was still so present in his everyday life, you know? He was mainly talking about that when I was interested in him and his daily life right now and what he's doing for a living. Just to know him, just small talk, but small talk, that is important when you have this connection, when your father and daughter. For him, the past was still extremely present. That is my biggest impression of him. He showed me his, Stasi files and at some point, there were 17 people watching him and it was very close friends. It was a guy that he was playing football with that he knew for 20 years, stuff like that.

Chelsea: But it's possible his friend didn't have a choice.

Pauline: You always have a choice.

Chelsea: Absolutely, but from what you've shared with us, the pressures are so high.

Pauline: Absolutely and I couldn't agree more. I mean, I have the huge benefit of watching these things from a distance and this is what I also told him. I told him exactly what you just said. You were also under pressure. The system was being a paranoid system where basically everybody was reporting everyone to whoever, there were almost no private citizens anymore. At some point, I don't know the numbers, but there were so many people who were reporting on the Stasi. I mean, there were not so many important people within the GDR, it was getting absurd. At some point, the system was running crazy with spying on each other. I told him exactly what you said, I'm pretty sure he didn't have a choice. Did he maybe have a family? Did they maybe make pressure on him because look at your own story and what happened to you?

What happened to us and how quickly they can turn something that is not even as major as what you did, which was organizing escapes against you? You know, they could take something like, as I said earlier in the beginning, a bottle of wine against you. They knew how to create this psychological pressure of making you do things you didn't want. He understood that and he agreed, but I think the trauma is still very present in him. I would say like maybe once a year, once every two years we'll meet. We were not able to establish a father daughter relationship which, surprisingly, is okay for me because what I always said is that I had a father, which was my grandfather. Like I made be in a very weird way, had two moms and one dad already doing everything for me. And I was never lacking acuteness and emotional support and coziness. I had that luckily, but at the same time, sadly, that place was a little bit filled by my grandfather. So it was not too bad for me, it was just something that I was thinking about a lot. And that I'm still thinking on a lot when I was sitting in front of him, I didn't feel him so much like a father, but more like somebody that is more or less my age. And I found myself in the position of thinking, oh man, this is so sad, you need to maybe seek some help or you, well what you mainly need is closure. Because, these things, they were plus 30 years ago and if you are still and forever reliving them, you are not living the nice life that you could have right now. Basically because we are the very fortunate ones in central Europe and in a beautiful city, even visually beautiful. That is what I thought maybe.

Chelsea: Why do you think sharing stories like these and sharing similar stories, maybe in the Berlin Film Festival, the Human Rights Film Festival and to Save the Children. Why do you think sharing these stories are so important?

Pauline: Because it makes you understand history and it makes you understand the human component of things happening. When it comes to the Human Rights Film Festival, it's a documentary festival. So it is mainly what I did right now, which is picking little pieces of history, little pieces of major events, personalizing them. And by that telling the story, and I think this is what makes us understand history a little bit better because we are all able to read a history book, we are all able to learn the dates by heart. But when you read a story, just to go one time back into the GDR, if you read the story of the GDR, it leaves you a little bit with confusion. It leaves you with the confusion of why did people stay there before the border closed? Why did people want to follow a system like this? Because they were not making any secret of it being kind of socialist or trying to be a socialist state.

It leaves you with the question when you only read about it, of why were people participating in the Stasi parades, but when you hear little stories and little pieces, personalized of people reporting, because they were afraid for their kids, they were afraid for their resources, it makes you understand how people can participate and things that from the outside are very, I would say, evil and very, very antisocial to each other. And this is the same thing with the festival.

Basically we are having movies from all around the world when it comes to the program that we are showing for safety children. Of course we are focusing on the stories of children and the beautiful thing about documentaries is that they are the main protagonists of these stories. And in many cases of our movies, they are even part of producing the pictures that we are showing. One movie that stuck with me the most is Shadow Games. It's about a young group of boys, we are talking underaged, some of them being nine years old, some of them being 12 years old, being on the run for years, the majority of them comes from Afghanistan. They will send them away so they don't have to participate in Taliban structures. So at some point the families realized, we are having a male child, this can get very problematic. They should say seek safety wherever but not in Afghanistan. And so these boys, they were followed by documentary film team and the movie also shows sceneries of their own, handy cameras, you know?

It's a movie that hurts you a little bit by watching it, I mean, basically all of our movies too. It's hard topics, but this one stuck with me a lot because you see children playing with a hangy camera somewhere on the balcony, sending a watch WhatsApp text message to his aunt in Afghanistan and just doing something funny with a stick or playing basically it's absurd. It's absurd because they should be in school and they should be with a grownup, taking care of them that makes sure that they go to football training or meet a friend or whatever.

And so this movie shows a lot of these scenes of them also sleeping alone, this group of boys, that is the main part of this movie they met on in the run. They started sticking together to be more safe and they make jokes about themselves. You know, one of them wears glasses and of course the glasses break during this long travel or escape. And then they had to find a way to fix the glasses and they were filming it and making fun of it. It was a thing for several days calling him, I think the broken glass guys or something like this because they're children. And, yeah, so this stuck with me a lot. And I think when you read the German news, especially, I think you have followed the news of, the so-called refugee crisis in 2015 in Europe. People were painting these in many cases, also children as intruders and as a danger because in many cases, the gender was reported, but I think we are making a feminist mistake here because the reason we got so many young males, also young underaged males is because women on the run and I have to say this very bluntly, they rarely survive.

So, of course families send the boys, not the girls. I don't think I know cases of a group of girls walking and I mean, patriarchal structures, they work in both ways, they hurt the boys in the way of being the first target of the Taliban, but they also, in some way, in a very weird way, they benefit them because they have the higher chance of arriving. I think these stories need to be told to make them human.

Chelsea: Yeah, I absolutely agree. To round out our conversation, who would you say inspires you?

Pauline: Oh, that is a very hard question because it changes. I would say, I have a lot of females that I look up to and that I find very inspiring in the way of, what kind of change they made in society. As a young woman, I think like many people who work in human rights, or woman rights, I was a huge admirer of Simone de Beauvoir and her boldness of just studying in a time where it was not usual for woman to study and determining her own life living a lesbian relationship, or I would say even a bisexual relationship because she was also dating Sartre. So that was also very, I mean, that was very inspiring for me because it was so she was never apologizing, it was just her being her and the rest, it doesn't matter. In a time where it was almost unbelievable to do something like this, but there are so many others, like when we are talking about, people presently still being alive, I would say Eva Illouz who is an Israeli sociologist, she's writing about modern life and modern relationships from her research point of view.

And how it is possible or impossible for heterosexual relationships to work out in a society where we are not completely having free choice of who we are taking as a partner as women, for example, that would be a complete that would be a podcast on its own. But I can highly recommend the books to your listeners. I think they're also available in English. She's a very publicly known intellectual, sometimes she comes for readings to Berlin. I met her once, it was a strong fan girl moment because I was absolutely blown and when we are talking about, so I would say that is a research part that I admire. Simone de Beauvoir is a woman that shaped me while me shaping myself. When it comes to empowerment and when it comes to how I want to act in society and how I want to feed myself and other people, I would say it's Brené Brown, you know her?

Chelsea: Yes, she’s very famous back in Canada. We love her.

Pauline: Everybody knows her. I mean, she's amazing, amazing. I have all of her books and I listen to her podcast and what she taught me about vulnerability and being a strength, not a weakness, I think it's the most beautiful thing that somebody ever has taught me.

Chelsea: Isn't that beautiful? It is beautiful.

Pauline: Yeah because in a way, if you look at my upbringing, I was taught the opposite being strong having to face obstacles, but going through it. Of course having a nice outcome, but I think the vulnerability part in my family, it came a little bit too short for obvious reasons. It resonated with me so deeply that we need vulnerability for connection, that we need vulnerability, also the vulnerability that I'm sharing right now and sharing my story and it has shaped me deeply. I hope she will publish more. I'm very much looking forward to it. Brené if you can hear me, please call me. I love you.

Chelsea: Oh my gosh. Thank you so much. You never know what conversation you're going to have when you meet someone and meeting you for the first time, so good to meet you. So lovely to meet you. You don't know where the conversation's gonna go and I'm so thankful for where this conversation went and for the story that you shared, it was so beautiful. Heartbreaking. Educational. Thank you.

Pauline: I have to thank you because you know, maybe it's so not so publicly known in Canada and I think it beautiful that we can share stories from different countries from different eras and get deeper about understanding for each other, you know?

Chelsea: Absolutely, thank you so much. Thank you for joining us for this incredible and intimate conversation with Pauline Schmidt. It's inspired me to share more openly and learn more about my past and our shared past follow Pauline on Instagram and learn more about the work she's passion it Join us next time for a conversation with the award-winning Syrian children's book, illustrator and writer, Nadine Kaadan. If you enjoyed listening to this podcast, please hit subscribe, share with your friends and visit us at

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