A West German Perspective on the Continuous Division Between East and West
Thirty years ago, the Berlin Wall that had divided Germany for 28 years fell. In the minds of many Germans, however, the Wall remains an integral part as it continues to symbolise the story of two peoples – to this day.
While the claim may sound egregious, the minds of many West Germans reveal the truth. The basis of this claim? Countless conversations with West German individuals of all generation, ages and intellectual capacity. Full disclaimer: Yes, I am also West German.
When talking amongst each other, i.e. West Germans with West Germans, one quickly agrees: Those over there are different, not like us. And indeed, I too belong to those who claim that they can identify an East German without having to see their address.
For our hypothesises, we tend to present exhibits A, B, C and D: the dialect (an immediate tell), the appearance (atrociously superficial, but still mostly accurate), a notorious proclivity to complain and above all, the worldview.
While the first two points can be attributed to West German arrogance, they are also pretty much irrelevant in daily life. The view of the world, the ideology, however, is an attribute that carries implications for the entire republic. Most recently, this was observed in the East German state elections in Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia when apparent right-wing forces – with fascist tendencies – gained a momentum that had not occurred since the time of the Third Reich.
Our reactions to it? We are usually semi-outraged, and rightly so. Nevertheless, within a short period, a certain level of acceptance arises. Not because we appreciate the election results, but because we simply do not expect anything else to occur in the East. After all, the SED’s successor party PDS, which is now called The Left, has been a pillar of East German politics for decades. In 2019, the torch has been passed on to neo-Nazism.
The East has always been open to political extremism. No matter whether it was Communism, Socialism or Nazism, all find a happy constituency in the ‘Neuen Ländern’ (new states). Totalitarian ideologies remain deeply embedded in the East. So much so only 49.2 per cent of East Germans do NOT consider the GDR to have been a ‘Unrechtsstaat’ (unjust state). Needless to say, that most of us realise the degree of unjustness the GDR represented (80.9).
Do not fool yourself with those images and clips of individuals fleeing from the GDR or crying tears of joys the night the border opened. It is only one side of the truth. The other one is that a significant number of individuals felt comfortable in their totalitarian state, which the survey mentioned above, thirty years later, confirms. It is a staggering example of why our mindsets are so opposed. Few things illustrate this better than our respective understanding of the past, present and future.
However, as so often the case, people are inclined to make excuses for circumstances. Here, the excuses are supposed to justify a proclivity towards extremism and revisionist history. We are told East Germans remain deprived, due to a weaker infrastructure, lack of significant companies in the regions and correlating higher unemployment.
Indeed, no company in East Germany is registered at the German stock exchange (DAX), and the Gross Domestic Product in the new states at €356.3 billion is nowhere near €2907 billion the rest of the republic generates.
However, the unemployment rate in the East stands at 6.1 per cent, while the West remains slightly better at 4.6 per cent. In 2011, unemployment in the East reached 12.4 per cent. Thus, it was cut in half within the last eight years, which, by all accounts, is quite remarkable, given the Third World attributes the East likes to claim for itself. Nonetheless, extremism continues to increase. The alleged lack of job offers can never be a justification for the latter. Moreover, here is a contrarian idea: it is 2019, pack your bags and move to a region where suitable work is available.
Mind you; some people do relocate. Unfortunately, these are mainly young and/or talented people, who either start working or, due to the lack of reputable universities outside of Dresden, become students in the West. Less successful, disgruntled individuals stay behind and often feel forgotten by the West.
The latter remains one of the main issues we have always had with the East: the lack of gratitude and appreciation. For almost three decades, West Germans have built the East that was, due to its former rule of socialism, in shambles when the reunification occurred by paying compulsory taxes (‘Solidaritätszuschlag’) and countless stimulus programs. With the result that many places in the East now look more enticing than West German cities.
The older generation of West Germans particularly resents this default setting of self-loathing. You know, those people, who grew up during or soon after totalitarian barbarism caused our whole country to collapse. While people in the GDR were guaranteed work, childcare etc., West Germans were rebuilding their country – without constant complaints.
Even after three decades, we remain two peoples and differ drastically. One of the only assessments both of us will likely agree upon. The nicknames we have given one another are a testimony of it. For the East, we remain ‘Besserwessis’, western-know-it-alls. For us, they have always been ‘Jammerossis’, whining/moaning easterners.