The Fall of the Wall
I hate to sound like the
grouchy Grinch. Radio and TV here in
It is well-nigh impossible
to be nasty about that strange event in 1989 when a seemingly random remark by
an East German big shot opened the gates to a mass rush by East Berliners to
Without a doubt, the great
event permitted happy reunions of many families and opened the way for East
Germans to visit no longer only
But as a socialist American, one of a handful who lived on the eastern side of the Wall, who tries to analyze history, I find it impossible to banish certain heretic recollections and doubts. For moments of mass euphoria, wonderful as they are for those involved, do not always explain history. And for me too many issues and questions remain unexplained or simply unasked.
Why does no one recall that
Why is it never mentioned that the GDR, though certainly undergoing an economic crisis, was in less of a crisis than all of Germany today, and that until its very end it had no unemployment, no homelessness, free medical care, child care, education and a sufficiently stable standard of living?
Why is it forgotten that many of its travel restrictions had been considerably eased in the two previous years, so that not only pensioners, who were always able to visit West Germany, but 1-2 million GDR citizens had been able to visit West Germany in 1987-1989? Young people wanted desperately to travel, it is true; but their chances of being able to were gradually improving.
Sadly, there was a
widespread stuffy, intolerant atmosphere in the GDR, traceable to the
limitations of its aged leadership, to bad traditions inherited from (or in
part imposed) by the
Many have done very well since thanks to their status as Federal German citizens. Certainly all consumer goods and travel possibilities are available. The leaden speeches and dull media articles are gone and forgotten, though replaced by endless new platitudes and deadening commercials.
And for freedoms won there have been freedoms lost. In the GDR, according to one bon-mot, you were wise not to criticize Honecker and other government or party big shots. But you could say whatever you wanted against your foreman, manager, or factory director. Now, it was learned, this had been reversed. People were fired for rejecting unpaid overtime, for asking what a colleague earned, for simply being suspected of eating a company-owned roll or forgetting to turn in a 13 cent coupon. Beggars, the homeless, patrons of free food outlets, people with untreated tooth gaps – all unknown in GDR days – are now taken for granted. So are towns with closed factories and a population of pensioners, with most young people off somewhere far away hunting jobs.
Another factor was
important to historians: the GDR had been founded with certain basic
principles, above all, as a bulwark against fascism. It was led almost
exclusively by anti-Nazis, replete with anti-fascist books, films, theater,
even the names of streets, schools and youth clubs. This was in extreme
contrast with a West German establishment whose military brass and diplomatic
corps, academia, police, courts and even its government up to the peak were
riddled with former Nazis, not a few of them frightful criminals. In 1961
when the Wall was built they were still in leadership to a remarkable degree.
When the Wall came down in 1989 most old Nazis were retired or dead, but the
giant concerns, trusts and banks which built up Hitler and made billions from
his war – and hundreds of thousands of slave laborers – were for the most part
still powerful. When the Wall went down they swarmed back to
Yes, the euphoria of the
common people who always suffer from the deeds of the big shots was
understandable. But today, in
But isn’t a note of worry audible in their declamations? The latest crisis, by no means healed, is making some people ponder a bit. More and more even spite the media and pronouncements and vote for a party which calls for re-thinking, sometimes even for socialism. Not the same as in the GDR with its many weaknesses, but a state no longer ruled by the Monopoly men in their skyscrapers. Perhaps the ingenious domino ceremonies and slightly soggy fireworks, in their constant insistence on “Our answers are the only answers,” reflect these very worries.