Earlier this year, a coworker of mine went on maternity leave and I took over a bulk of her clients, one of them being a local company which also has daughter company in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). This means, I’ve traveled to this client in the east twice now and it always leaves me with a lot of feelings on the subject of Germany, the GDR and nationality in general so I’m trying to put this into a coherent post. Be advised, I may fail at this.
I was not yet two years old when the Berlin Wall fell on November 9th, 1989. My birthday was four days later and naturally, even though I was born into a divided country, I don’t have any recollection of it. To me, Germany has always been one unified country and I can’t quite fathom the enormity of it all.
To me it’s funny that the wall that separated the east from the west is always referred to as the Berlin Wall when in fact the whole German-German border was about 1400 km long. Not all of that was actually closed off by a concrete wall, like it was in Berlin though, that was just about 160 km. I can’t fathom that, for over 28 years, there was a part of Germany that wasn’t part of Germany. Not really. People had families in the GDR that, from one day to the next, they couldn’t visit. Can you imagine that because I certainly can’t. You wake up one day and your uncle suddenly lives in a whole different country closed off from yours. So weird!
The former GDR is, and has been, the butt of a lot of jokes here in the west because it’s easy to make fun of them but it makes me feel weird because most of these people didn’t ask to be separated. They just had to make sure to get by and make the best out of a shitty situation. In fact, I have a lot of respect for those people.
It’s been 26 years post Fall of the Berlin Wall; we’re getting closer to a time when the post-Wall-era is longer than the division of Germany. More an more children are born who only know about this because they’re taught about it in school. And yet, 26 years isn’t that much time. People in the former GDR still make less money than their counterparts in the west. I wonder, how long will it take for there to be full equality? (To be fair, Germany also has a north-south pay gap that is oftentimes not talked about probably because it’s not as polemic a topic as the west-east gap.)
There are still people on both sides who wish the wall back up and part of me even gets that. The reunification was an economical disaster for the west. But our politicians back in 1989 were smart enough to overlook this fact when it was time to welcome our missing part again. And to those on the other side, who weren’t used to unemployment because the government made sure everyone was employed even if it was completely useless labour; I get that it’s difficult to wrap your head around suddenly having to battle high unemployment rates, low wages etc. There is and was no magic wand to flick and make everything alright again. It takes a lot of time and work. Apparently more than 26 years.
Today, I’ve driven through small towns with beat up, empty houses all painted in beige tones because apparently, that was all there was, colour-wise back in the day. In between you can now find houses painted in bright green, red or blue which looks crass in contrast to the other houses around and also to my West-German eyes when in fact, this is their way of celebrating having colours again. I don’t want to claim being an expert on life in the GDR because I’m not, far from it actually but it doesn’t keep me from having a lot of feels on the subject. I mean, more than 16 million people got the ability to paint their houses in bright colours back, isn’t that marvellous?