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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.

The Paris Diet

Today’s post is a guest appearance by the wonderful Keren Moran. Enjoy…

Does anyone actually believe Mireille Guiliano when she says that French Women Don’t Get Fat? Since Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris arrived on Saturday my Paris day dreaming has been fueled by descriptions of chic gastronomic restaurants, artisan bakeries, cheese, wine, chocolate, outdoor markets, macaroons, pain au chocolat, brioche, crêpes, foie gras…I could go on and on. With temptation like this, how come the city isn’t  brimming with fatties (I’m assured it is true that Parisians are annoyingly gamine)?

When I visited Ally in Stuttgart the other week I offered her some friendly advice. If you move from Australia to Europe you will get fat. That’s what happened to me, and I am almost certain that the week I spent in the south of France last year was the beginning of the end. But little do we ignorant tourists know that the French don’t actually eat a couple of croissants for breakfast each morning.  Nor do they feast on an array of cheeses at lunch and dinner.

What Mireille will tell you is that the French have eating for pleasure in moderation down to a very fine, probably bohemian, art. I know Ally hates it when “moderation” is the answer to anything. But that is what we set out to achieve together with our Paris Diet – me, still on the path to reversing the damage of months of eating my way through Europe, and Ally, a few months into adjusting to  her new residency in Germany where carbohydrates and pork reign supreme. With three weeks to go until our week-long trip to Paris, we knew that we wanted to be free to enjoy its culinary delights without walking around feeling like fat tourists. There was also some kind of completely unfounded equation we came up with, that if we were healthy for three weeks prior to the one week of indulgence, then the healthy weeks would counteract the ill-effects of a butter and pastry laden week.

We are up to day 14, and our method is simple. We email each other at the end of the day detailing what we have eaten. Food diaries are a tried and tested method of dietary success, and emailing has a – guilt feature – “If I eat this, then I’ll have to tell Ally about it…” We have both read Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat and are trying to implement her principles: smaller portions, slower eating, seasonal cooking, food appreciation and indulgence in moderation.

These are the highlights of my cooking week, which I made every effort to eat in moderation:

Pumpkin Pangrattato with Rosemary and Orange – this is from the Nigel Slater book. Basically you steam some butternut pumpkin, then put it in a casserole dish with a a few knobs of butter and topped with fresh breadcrumbs, chili,  fresh rosemary, orange zest and garlic, which you first fry in a little olive oil. Bake the whole thing until golden.

The Pia Recipe – actually I don’t think it is actually her recipe, but I found it on her blog. I used Earl Gray tea leaves instead of just black tea bags and it tastes lovely. (Note the lack of fat in the recipe!)

Home-made pizza with my “Spring Topping”: Fresh asparagus from the farm shop, thyme flowers from my garden, parmesan cheese, bacon and baby spinach on a home-made tomato sauce base. Cook the pizza base with just the sauce, bacon and asparagus. To serve top with baby spinach, sprigs of thyme flowers and shaved parmesan cheese. Drizzle with some good extra virgin olive oil. Easy, but so delicious.

About Me

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

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