There’s nothing to celebrate

In line with this week’s theme we are privileged to have Chris Luttenberger (the same Chris of the Ikea heroics) as a guest blogger. Chris kindly agreed to share with us a history lesson as someone whose family experienced firsthand life in the former Republic of East Germany. Dankeschön Chris!

I was asked to write a guest post about the whole GDR thing. Me! I don’t know anything about history. No guaranteed historical accuracy. What a challenge. I will just assume, dear Reader, that you don’t know anything about it as well.

Assuming this, GDR means German Democratic Republic. Self-Refutation! Nothing democratic about it, as I hope I will show. The GDR (in German: Deutsche Demokratische Republik, DDR) was founded as loot for the Russian part of the Allies, after Hitler was defeated in 1945. The word loot is chosen intentionally. I’ll get to that. There was some heavy thinking about what to do with the intellectual, financial and emotional ruin that once was the “3rd Reich”, and four years after the end of the war in 1945, the four allies France, Britain, Russia and USA decided to dissolve and divide the country of Germany into four parts.

Because of the upcoming tensions between the superpowers USA and Russia that eventually became known as the “Cold War”, the three powers allied against Russia, and Germany became the most literal part of the famous “Iron Curtain”. A wall was built.
From that point on, Germany developed into two different countries. 1949 to 1989/90 was the period of time for which the GDR existed. There was the capitalist threefold of powers with a kind, forgiving approach to the former Nazi-Germany. Heaps of money and intellectual resources were poured out to reorganise the West German economy and build a democratic state again. On the other side (of the wall) there was communist Russia, still in agony about what Germany did to them. The consequence was that Russia took all of the economic resources from Germany: it was an occupation.  The Eastern Bloc exploited the GDR region and built up a state of total control, monitoring every motion of the state’s citizens. In fact, terror.
A sophisticated system of “unofficial associates” abbreviated “IM” (inoffizielle Mitarbeiter), let the citizens, brain-polluted through the socialist propaganda, control their own neighbours and friends, even mothers, kids and siblings. There were mass organisations for the youth just like in national socialism (although as a German you have to be careful to compare) ie the FDJ (Freie Deutsche Jugend, Free German Youth) that kept the kids, teenagers and adolescents in a cage they could not even see. Well, there was this wall, everyone could see it of course, but it was said to be “protecting them from the capitalist class-enemies”. “The party” (self-refuting: There was only one) orchestrated the absence of all kinds of goods, resulting in the total isolation from any country other than the “big brother”  to a tragically hilarious degree. Especially the education was restricted to a doctrinal communist approach. Any other opinions were forced into being retracted. The course of peoples lives was interrupted (I was thinking of a particular German word here, couldn’t really find an english synonym) and destroyed, people were questioned, tortured and imprisoned. A police state. The half-life of such states luckily seems to be not that long.
After a while, people started fleeing the GDR, crossed the border, even the wall, tried to get out, leave. Also the political pressure rose. People in Leipzig, the city I live in, went on the streets with candles each Monday to peacefully demonstrate their discontent. Every Monday, the number of people increased. The “peaceful revolution” (self-refuting implications again) started. Before the wall fell, there was this almost electric tension in the city, because everyone knew that something would happen. GDR officials placed a massive presence of police and armed military forces in the city to prevent a number of more than a hundred thousand people from violently starting a revolution. After a church service that was held by the local pastor that started Monday prayers for a peaceful change, all these people flooded the streets, equipped not with guns but with burning candles. No one shot, no one threw stones. They just chanted “Wir sind das Volk”, meaning “we are the (one) people” over and over again. A sign not even the party could ignore. A couple of days and political confusions later, the GDR did not exist anymore, the wall fell.
20 years from then: I am sitting in front of my computer, evaluating the situation. I could go to Greece tomorrow, or London, or Sydney. I can utter  my personal beliefs, be they sceptical, critical, even politically destructive and all the world is free to read them. The microphone lines in the walls of the houses, though still there, don’t have an ending anymore, no IM sitting in some room (maybe the flat on the other side) and meticulously writing down every word I say. No membership in any organisation is compulsory for being allowed to do A Levels or to study.
Germany this week has had big celebrations due to the 20th anniversary of the reunification. From my limited perspective, there is nothing to celebrate, as harsh as it sounds. There might be no visible wall anymore, but even that can be questioned. Fly over Germany from east to west and you will discover a change of landscape, the mark of a scar. As you leave “the new federal states” endless, monocultural fields – leftovers of the “agricultural production companionships”, as it would literally be translated – turn into patchwork bits and pieces of private acres.
My generation (I was born September 1988) ironically still suffers from “40 years of brainwash” as my father likes to put it. This country is by no means one, still torn apart right in the middle. Not speaking of the economic and social inequalities between the two zones, it is a border of mind in the first place, defacing an otherwise beautifully shaped country. Politics tries to artificially equalize loans and taxes, but the different amount of work in east and west just does not allow such a thing. After being educated, young people flee the east in search of jobs and hope in the west, turning cities with a cultural heritage of centuries into ghost towns. Prejudice and half-knowledge, handed down to the kids by their parents results in an East-and-West-Consciousness. If you get to know people, it is a social reflex to ask them “Ossi oder Wessi?” meaning born in east or west part of the country. Knowing the answer, you can be sure to either share a set of values, certain cultural heritage, even the words you use, or to hold up a subtle, unfamiliar distance even though you might like the person. I hate that question. I guess, the first generation to live in a unified country again will be the one that has no living ancestors to tell them “how things were”, just influenced by each others personalities. Utopia. Till then, unification celebrations stay hypocrisy.
Don’t get me wrong: I am thankful for not living in a regime but in a country that has one of the most powerful economies in the world. I am thankful for luxurious freedom of speech, for the possibility to live my Christian faith openly without oppression. I sure can celebrate these things on a national holiday. Still, making a long story short, even if I tend to get cynical: it is impossible for me to celebrate this reunification in the same way, as it is impossible to vote, when there is only one party.

5 Responses to “There’s nothing to celebrate”

  1. 1 lesley October 10, 2010 at 2:55 am

    I thank you Chris for the depth of understanding you have given me I know it is true that when the wall came down it didn’t end all the troubles of the East, but i am so remote from you people – I cannot understand the ongoing agonies and implications of you precious people, unless someone is prepared to share their heart and their understanding. Thank you for sharing with me through Ally’s blog. I thank God for you and i cant wait to meet you next year when I come to spend time with our precious family. God bless you and keep you and give His peace – Lesley

    • 2 Chris October 10, 2010 at 8:56 pm

      You are most welcome! I like to show my understanding of our country to people so far away. Also enjoyed thinking about my relationship to this country again, always helpful. If anythings unclear – feel free to ask! I´ll be happy to try and give an answer. Thanks!

  2. 3 Ostap Bender October 10, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    “My generation […] still suffers from “40 years of brainwash” as my father likes to put it.”

    A very true sentence. 20 years after the fall of the communist dictature the new east german generations are still raized and socialized in the spirit of the (GDR-)collective. Besides, this father must be one of the very few east germans capable of kind of social self-criticism. Also typical for the east germans, as in this article, is the lack of global historical context, when speaking of the fall of the communism. Ask an east german person for example, who was Reagan and what was his role in defeating communism and you will get nothing but silence.

    • 4 Chris October 12, 2010 at 8:06 pm

      thanks for the critical comment! appreciated. I wouldn´t say “raised in the spirit”, no one can be totally “ewiggestrig”, but it certainly lingers here. I´d also like to question your picture of “typical east Germans”, sounds like dangerous tendencies implicated.

      I consider myself as a person “not interested” in politics not because of simple ignorance, but because my generation, especially when it comes to NS-Dictatorship (and technically GDR is a consequence of this) is filled up with information year by year, which paradoxically produces some sort of anti-interest. We´ve heard it over and over again.

      Concerning “lack of global historical context”: Objectively you are right. Nonetheless I am curious to find out about what you would determine as enough globals historical context for such a limited (in both number of words, personal knowledge, special audience) media as a blog post. In contrast: Subjectively I have to say that the task was to write a quick history of the GDR and add a personal evaluation in a way that keeps people interested.

  3. 5 Miriam September 23, 2011 at 10:16 am

    I know that this is almost a year after the blog entry was written, but I just happened to read it now and gave in to the desire to comment.
    I don’t exactly disagree with you, Chris, yet I take a different persepctive on things. Yes, there is a scar running right through our country – but it is a scar, not an open wound, and it is healing (even though very slowly)! You can destroy something in an instant, but it takes ages to heal or mend that same thing. I think it is simply unrealistic to expect the problems to be gone in less then (at least!) twice the time it took to create them.
    There is certainly a difference in mentality or consciousness between East and West, but I (as a Wessi from the North living in Ossiland) don’t think it is bigger than e.g. the difference between North and South. (I occassionally don’t understand a word my friends over here use, but, boy, I’m really lost when I’m in Swabia, for example! The same applies to values and the cultural heritage you were talking about.) And I don’t think it’s much of a problem either, as I see it rather as an expression of the richness of our local, cultural diversity. And I’m looking forward to celebrating in a couple of days that these local differences can now develop naturally, by mutual contact and exchange! 🙂

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A girl with a camera, a toddler and a sewing machine. Making sense of Germany... and life in general.

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