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The Fall of the Berlin Wall and Germany Today

The Fall of the Berlin Wall and Germany Today

Understanding a country's past helps you understand its present.

Kathinka gives her viewpoint on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall; a physical and symbolic wall that shaped the Cold War and today still influences German culture.

After 28 years of separation by the iron curtain, a jubilant crowd celebrated the reunification of Germany. November 9th, 1989 went down in history when, followed by years of peaceful protests, the wall finally fell. It took another 11 months until the Eastern part of Germany officially acceded to the West on October 3rd, 1990 – today this date is celebrated as the Day of the German Union.

Now the German separation was over. Eventually families, friends, colleagues, and entire cities were reunited. Or weren’t we? Are we still not?! That’s a question even I ask myself as a German, born in 1987 in West Germany.

This year, Germany is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. What lessons did we learn and did we eventually become one nation again?

We are the same but different

Well, it is not as black and white as it seems at first glance. It is true, from Schleswig-Holstein to Bavaria, we are all Germans. We are from the same country and we speak the same language, but we were influenced by different cultures, music, books, authors and ideologies. The lives of thousands of people changed with the separation of Germany by the iron curtain that was basically built over night.

All of a sudden, we were integrated into different regimes – the Eastern part under the control of the former Soviet Union, and the Western part mainly controlled by Western Allies. Slowly but surely, Germany became the scene of another part of history, the Cold War. There were soldiers with their trained dogs on both sides of the border who had orders to open fire on anyone who made a wrong move. There was propaganda on both sides which shaped entire generations.

One-way street to a unified Germany

Keeping this in mind, the term “reunification” might be misleading as it can be argued “the West took over the East”. On the one hand, people living in the Eastern part had had enough of oppression, dictatorship, censorship, and the numerous limitations. Many of them just wanted to be free and the West represented the ultimate goal of their dreams. When the wall finally came down, nobody even questioned the West being considered standard and the East being inferior, not only in terms of economy, finance or quality of goods but also culture-wise. The reunification was more a one-way street leading to difficulties in the West as well as in the East.

In the aftermath, people started to reconsider and to weigh disadvantages and advantages: People from the former Eastern part weren’t accustomed to unemployment, but capitalism could not provide employment for everybody. The West on the other hand was financially more stable than the East and therefore had to support the East in this aspect (e.i. alignment of currency, unemployed, weak economy, etc.). In retrospect it seems as if someone decided that in order to get rid of the Stasi (Eastern Germany security police that observed and took away potential opponents of the regime), oppression, and censorship, the East had to vanish.

What the future holds

All of these issues still have an impact on all generations in Germany. However, the way my parents and grand-parents see people from the other side of the Wall is largely different to how younger generations perceive the situation today. From my point of view, we are in the process of growing together and we’ve already come a long way. Growing together is not easy, especially if the norm is to mistrust your neighbours because they might be observing you to betray you to the Stasi.

Growing together is not easy if you feel you have to financially shoulder the others. But there is no point in moaning over the past, because we are the people – that is what we learned. The next generation is already in its way to a more unified Germany.

By Kathinka Ottenbreit. From Darmstadt, Hesse in Germany, Kathinka studies M.A. Conference Interpreting at Heidelberg University. She is also a working student for SNP AG (software solutions and consulting) in Germany. At the moment she is working with Commisceo. Next milestones: graduating from university, working as an interpreter and definitely consolidating cultural training/cultural awareness knowledge.

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