Die Birken is a story about WWII survivors living in East Berlin. Some had lived in Germany all their lives, but others were refugees from Eastern Europe. At the end of the war, Eastern European countries had expulsed most of their Germans citizens many of whom had been living in those countries for generations. With no place to go, this ethnic cleansing forced 14 million refugees to walk to the defeated Germany, the only country that couldn’t turn them away.
On top of the destroyed housing and infrastructure, lack of food and fuel, and the influx of refugees, East Berliners also had to transition to another totalitarian regime. Communism had replaced Naziism. The characters in Die Birken had few choices: resist, escape, or try to build a community which would preserve their integrity without getting caught. Some tried all three while repairing their bombed out apartment building called The Birches.