From behind the Iron Curtain

When Steffi August is troubled, she seeks the wise counsel of a mountain.

“Mauao is so powerful,” says Steffi, who claims a deep spiritual connection with the 232 metre high extinct volcano. “I always tell the mountain: ‘I love you, I trust you and I need an answer for this or that’.”

Steffi confronts life’s issues while running up the four wheel drive track to the summit. And, generally, by the time she’s completed another two ascents back-to-back and is running 3km around Mauao cooling down, she has an answer to her problem.

“And the mountain is always there and happy to listen.”

It’s both relaxation and therapy for the 51-year-old of Bayfair resident, who is also a corporate motivational speaker, an author, a masseuse and a mystery shopper who drives a 12 metre, eight-wheel furniture removal truck in her spare time. After she has a run up the Mount three times most mornings.

“One morning at six o’clock it was still dark. On the left side of the mountain there was a full moon and a cruise ship was coming in. Down the other side of the mountain there was a beautiful sunrise. All this happening at once. Beautiful. Wow!”

And when she’s having a dark or difficult moment she remembers that day. “It gives you energy and power. The Mount should be compulsory for everyone. We would all be better off for it.”

Steffi says we need to be very grateful for what we have and not angst about what we don’t have. “This morning there was suffocating traffic driving over the bridge. But then you see the Mount and the sea – aahhhh! Thank you universe. I am so lucky and happy I live here. We have everything.”

She is the German ‘Energizer’ – flat out and forever. Terminally bubbly and positive and full of can-do. And all this despite her roots.

Steffi emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, the oppression of the communist enclave of East Berlin, the Soviet-occupied sector of the city during the Cold War. Her early life was minimalist, structured and controlled.

“We had free healthcare, education and jobs.” Stefi always has a positive spin. “We were happy because we didn’t know anything else.”

“School was six days a week from 7am. We had to walk in 20 [degrees Celsius] below. So I love a New Zealand winter. However, they did supply us with a hot lunch every day and we all graduated into jobs.”

And sometimes, just sometimes they could buy bananas. And on a Friday afternoon she would queue at the butcher shop on the off chance she would score a Sunday roast. “The next time you are in a Tauranga butcher or vegie shop please look at the fantastic variety that is available year-round. I appreciate that.”

What they didn’t have was the vote, they didn’t have freedom of speech and they couldn’t visit West Berlin. About 138 people died, shot and killed by border patrols, as they tried to escape over the Berlin Wall.

What they did have was the much-hated Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, commonly known as the Stasi, the secret police, “the sword and shield” of the East German communist regime. It rigidly and ruthlessly oppressed using fear and bullets.

“Friends tried to flee across the wall. She was shot. Both ended up in prison.” When Steffi and her then husband applied for visas to go to Hungary they came under secret surveillance from the Stasi.

“As soon as the Stasi discovered we wanted out they made it difficult for us. We lost our jobs and they bugged our home and car and went through our flat when we were out.” Her family was targeted too. They hounded her brother to deter him from leaving too. He tried to commit suicide and now lives in a special home for brain damaged people. Steffi is sad but pragmatic.

“If you are not happy with something, whatever it is, change it. But you have to be ready for the consequences, otherwise you won’t have the strength to follow through. Change is a process not an event.”

The Stasi had files on six million people and it had files on Steffi August of Bayfair. “I was a nobody but they still wanted to make life difficult.” The Stasi even had sweat and body odour samples.

“But some New Zealanders do not appreciate what we have. We have privilege, we have jobs, homes and holidays. We have good food and a good country and we have to open our eyes. And we are stressing about the little things. But they are nothing at all. Enjoy life.”

It was the communists who unwittingly set Steffi up as a truck driver. She got her HT licence in East Germany because it was easier than getting a car licence. She believes everything has a purpose and 32 years later she would meet, fall in love and marry a Tauranga furniture removalist.

“He said: ‘Sexy, his name for me, get your licence and you can drive this thing’. It was complicated transferring the licence but all I had to do was sit the theory again. I got 100 per cent and a bunch of red roses from Fred.” And Fred got a sidekick.

“If you want to do something then just do it. Trust yourself, I wanted it and I did it.”

“We show up at a job and people look right past me and want to know where the other workers is. I can do exactly what the boys do. Except no-one packs my lunch or cooks my breakfast.”

That’s because Steffi is probably on lap one, two or three up Mauao.

“Everything has a reason, sooner or later you will find out?”  

Her effervescence is infectious. The corporates appreciate it.

“I was asked to speak to a Sport Bay of Plenty breakfast. I told people about my life and my philosophy and then the phone started ringing. I gave 35 speeches that year. Now I’m commissioned by companies to talk to their employees.”

She holds a masters from the ‘university of positivity and happiness’.

And the quotes flow. “Passion is the key to chasing our dreams” and: “Keep smiling, be happy” and “A nice smile and a good laugh is the best medicine”. And a triple assault on Mauao to cap it off.

And there’s a book due. ‘That’s it, I am out of here’ is the title. Fifteen women tell of the life-changing decisions they have made.

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