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15 years ago today

by PeWi Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 06:15:37 AM EST

This short diary is meant as a reminder of reunificationday in Germany. I personally cannot remember, where I was that day, as it really was a political act. But I do remember some funny stories about 1989.

One of my relatives, had escaped the GDR with his motorbike and via the CSSR in late October 1989. We were told to expect him in at some point during a particular day and had prepared the house.

When the doorbell rang, I ran to the door to open it, only to be surprised to see his uncle and aunt standing right there, asking to see him.
They were "Linien treu" and had taken it upon themselves to make the journey and bring "the lost son" back home.

I brought them to the livingroom, where we were having a civilised cup of coffee and some cake. Afterall they were our relatives too, even if their appearance was a little surprising. Later that day, they returned empty handed, we had managed to keep their nephew away from them.

He still lives in my hometown.

On their way back, they traveled with another of my relatives from the GDR, who had been on a lecture tour in the West and visited us on his last couple of days. He entered the GDR half an hour before Schrabowski said: "Reisen nach dem westlichen Ausland können ab sofort ohne Vorliegen jeglicher Gründe..."
There grammar has always been atrocious.

So tell us your renuification story. Any memorable ones?

I was in the United States watching TV, dancing and jumping around like crazy in front of the TV about the images I saw and crying in disbelief. Berlin was my hometown from age 18 to 30. I just couldn't believe it and I never regretted more not be able to experience these times in Berlin in persona and "live". I had left Berlin and Germany for good in 1980.

It took a couple of years til I could visit Berlin again for just a very short time. I tried to explore the region, where the wall used to be. I got lost, then I was lost and haven't stopped to feel lost since.

When I heard about the Ossi - Wessi conflicts, my heart sunk deep and I was very disappointed, about the Wessis that is - I thought they were arrogant, spoiled and stupid. My memories of being a student and later working mom in West Berlin were closely intertwined with Berlin being a gated island.

Actually, you felt a bit enclosed, but West Berlin at that time was kind of home and cozy, like a prison cell in which you could make your little corners feel like home and in which the prison's security personel became your friends.  

My memories of Germany are all pre-reunification. I have lost connection to what Germany is now. I also have difficulties to understand the way Germans of my age are thinking these days. I have a hard time to get exited about German politics. Being challenged to understand US politics is all I can handle.

I am trying hard to have an opinion about how the current new German government will be put together. At my times Schroeder was a show-off, noisy young student, which I didn't take serious then, and, as it turns out now, Merkel studied the same subject area I did, incidentically, she East of the Wall and I West of the Wall. I have no feeling, if Schroeder really did "grow up" and if Merkel "isn't" an opportunist.
I have no gut's feelings about the PDS. It's not enough to read about them once in a while. I would always need to see and hear them speaking in context of daily German politics. I call this lack of informed gut's feelings about local home politics the "collateral damage" you encounter when you emigrate.

I tend to believe Schroeder grew up and Merkel happens to have ended up with the CDU almost by accident. Both are no strong ideologists and I think that's good. Actually I think they could get along, if they wanted to. And I can't take most of the economic problems the Germans talk about too serious. In other words, I am completely unqualified to comment on Germany and I won't bother you any further with my chatting along here.

by mimi on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 04:09:04 PM EST
Like you I have no idea what I was doing fifteen years ago today - going to classes I presume. I do remember the day the wall fell, sitting in my dorm room as a person from down the hall came in yelling to go join him watching the TV. It was incredible. I'd been following the steady disintegration of the Soviet empire with a mixture of elation and fear, perhaps best symbolized by June 4 1989 when Poland held its first (semi) free elections and the Chinese mowed down the demonstrators at Tiananmen. The former was incredible, just a year earlier it would have been inconceivable, yet by the time the wall fell Poland had had an anti-communist government for a couple months. On the other hand Honecker had praised the Chinese actions and I was worried he would do the same thing (he actually did want to but others in the SED elite overruled him). A couple months later I made my way into a free East Bloc for the first time, driving from Geneva through Czechoslovakia to Poland. The CS border had always been a nightmare, now suddenly it was completely different. No harassment, no taking away newspaper wrapped items to replace the wrapping with Rude Pravo or some other rag, no banners extolling eternal love for the Soviet Union... As we drove we tried to puzzle out the Slovak radio reports on what was going on in Romania.

The true miracle of the end of communism in Eastern Europe was how little violence accompanied it. Romania, a bit in the Soviet Union, but that's it. Amazing.  That is Gorbachev's true contribution. He made it clear that the USSR would not only not participate in supressing opposition, but wouldn't even rhetorically support it.  Like all colonial empires the Soviet one rested on the threat of force, once that was removed the local puppets could either choose to go quietly or in a bloodbath that would consume them as well. With the exception of Ceaucescu they chose the former.

Of course the nationalist conflicts that followed were a different story.

by MarekNYC on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 05:31:06 PM EST
Thanks for sharing your stories.  I remember I was living in Hawaii and turned the tv on for some other reason and saw the coverage.  I was completely shocked and had no idea if anyone had seen it coming.  At the time, I'd been going through a period of ill-health and my son was a toddler so I definitely wasn't all that up to date with current affairs.

But that wall had figured so large as a symbol during the cold war years when I was growing up!  To see it come down was incredible.  I actually cried a bit.  I brought my son through to see it, too, even though he was way too young to remember.  Sort of silly, I know, but it seemed like such a big event, it didn't feel right to leave him unaware somehow.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 06:04:21 PM EST
My memories of 1989-91 are many.

Genscher's announcement to the thousands of people squatting in the embassy grounds in Budapest.

The fall of the wall.

The vast party that was Nürnberg on that weekend when travel became possible.

My first drive across the border after reunification, a day's driving from Coburg to Eisfeld, Suhl, Saalfeld and back. My astonishment at seeing villages that were trapped in a time warp dating from the thirties as far as the buildings were concerned, with party public address loudspeakers on every street corner.

The towns that were uniform  shades of brown and gray with pot-holes the size of small trucks in the roads.

The sight of a group of soldiers, Russian or German I did not know, with their Soviet tanks.

My first business trip to Dresden. The hotel where my local contact had to shout at the receptionist that she couldn't take my passport away from me, some people were still doing things by rote and the old rules.

The drive from the center out to the old airfield where the WW2 Luftwaffe training school buildings were being converted into a business park. The tram lines that went up and down and side to side; the Russian garrison that was more run down than the city; the uniform gray and brown colour of all the houses in the suburbs, again trapped in a time warp.

It's all changed now.

Eats cheroots and leaves.

by NeutralObserver on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 08:42:44 AM EST
This is something we should be noting, but it's almost as if it just went by without any notice in the rest of Europe.

Thanks for these great stories.

by gradinski chai on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 12:20:14 PM EST

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