WALLS AND FENCES (Part 2)
By Kevin Stoda
Between late Summer 1989 and November of that same year, the first successful peaceful revolution in Germany’s history took place. In this peaceful revolution, the masses and leadership accepted a status quo of no-to-violence (Keine Gewalt).
However, this revolution was restricted to the former East Germany (DDR). That is, the vast majority of West Germans looked on with great interest but were not endangered participants when the Honecker’s regime in its last days, i.e. on October 7 and 8, took swings of violence, arrests, and harassment of protesters in all corners of the walled in territories of Communist East Germany.
By October 9, 1989 with the amazingly peaceful demonstrations, prayers, and marches in Leipzig and elsewhere, the East German regime was suddenly on the verge of collapse—as no more shots were fired and no arrests were made.
The DDR government had begun to capitulate to those who sought peaceful change without a bullet.
Within 26 days of the Peaceful Demonstrations of October 9, the largest peaceful mass demonstration in the DDR’s history would take place with opposition and government showing many words and manifestations of peace and good will to one another. “On the morning of 4 November 1989, approximately 500,000 demonstrators (sometimes the number is even said to have been nearly a million) made their way through East Berlin’s center, past the East German Parliament and the Privy Council Building. At the end a rally was held on Alexanderplatz.”
“The organizers registered the event officially, in order to take legal proceedings for the recovery of the basic right to the freedoms of assembly, of expression and of the press, which were anchored in the constitution of the GDR, but never actually granted by the state. A security partnership was agreed upon with the police, who hardly made an appearance. Actors with green and yellow sashes and the inscription »No Violence« acted as supervisors.”
According to most witnesses and historian, »Never before had Berlin experienced so much shared determination, spontaneous imagination and, despite all radicalism, circumspection.«
Within 31 days (November 9) the border would be open.
By March 1990 the unification of East and West Germany was fully underway, after the DDR held its first free elections.
On October 3, 1990, the two separate Germanies were no more. There was only one—and the revolutionary change movement in East Germany had all-but-collapsed.
AN OLD DDR JOKE FROM THE 1980s
I lived in West Germany of the 1980s and had made about ten visits to Berlin—often going to East Germany for a day in the late 1980s. One of the East German jokes of the era was about Erich Honecker and his wife, Margot. The two, as a duo, had been a formidable couple—ruling the country for nearly 20 years.
The joke went as follows with Honaker’s wife begging him, “Ahh, Erich, please open the wall up so people can be free to go.”
Erich looked at her with a loving twinkle in his eye, “Margot, I see mein Schatz(my dear). You want us to be alone here [in the DDR behind the Wall].”
In hindsight—and with knowledge of this sort of East German gallows humor—it is astounding that no one predicted what would happen the minute the Wall was opened up in November 1989.
In turn, I, like many pacifists in West Germany, had hoped that the Walls opening would bring great reform and change to all of what had been East and West Germany till 1989.
MY CROSSING OVER THE WALL AT BRANDENBURG GATE
Well, most of the physical wall around Berlin and between Western and East Germany was gone forever in an amazingly short period of time. I, myself, visited The Wall on December 31, 1989 and peoples were busy hammering away still write at the Brandenburg Gate.
I climbed up onto the Wall. There with 1000s of others on the wall near the Reichstag and Spree River–where crosses hung to victims who had died trying to cross no-man’s land there over the years.
That snowy cold day, I had come from the West Berlin side to the Brandenburg Gate and had then climbed down from the Wall to go through that once-forbidden symbol of Berlin and Germany. In moments—and almost shaking–I strolled slowly down the famous Unter den Linden street past the Soviet-, USA-, and other Embassies.
I reached in my pocket and realized that day I had forgotten to bring my passport.
At that moment, I felt a sense of wonder and honor at experiencing that particular moment in history. I shivered at the realization. I had just entered the DDR without passport, where only a few years earlier, I had been strip-searched at and rejected at a border crossing near there.
SOMETHING INSIDE US DOESN’T LIKE A WALL
Well, walls are not easy to take down—no more easier than the fences referred to in Chuck in DC’s writings.
Recall that Chuck in DC had written: “Our obsession with fences, whether they serve a right or wrong purpose, is really a reflection of our conflicts with one another. Would we really need fences if there was no such thing as burglary? If we got along with our neighbors? If there was unity and harmony in our neighborhoods and communities? Robert Frost . . . says, ‘Something there is (within us) that doesn’t like a wall.’ In an ideal world, we feel, there is no need for fences. We hardly think of God’s kingdom in terms of fenced-in properties, do we?’”
I hate walls, too.
This is certainly why I felt joy for both myself—and for Germany that special winter day. The bureaucratic wall of East Berlin keeping me out of one-side of the City was gone—just as the wall keeping East Germans in their place was being pounded into oblivion.
BUT, WHAT OF THE WALL?
Throughout the 1990s (and even into this decade) Eastern and Western Germans have spoken of the continuing exists of Walls in Their Own Heads. These walls have had to be built down over a long time frame than the physical barrier wall of Berlin and East Germany. Meanwhile, tearing that physical wall apart had only taken a few months.
Stories like this in the press have still been common——in Germany of the 3rd Millennia:
“In Berlin today, there’s very little left of the Berlin Wall. Even those who’ve lived here all their lives have difficulty remembering exactly where it used to be. But if every fifth person in Germany had their way, the barrier that split the country during the Cold War would be resurrected.”—Detusche Welle (DW), 2004
Deutsche Welle writers have noted, “Although the physical barrier between east and west is a thing of the past, many Germans still speak about the ‘Mauer im Kopf’– the Wall in the head.”
DW gave the following examples: “Stereotypes about East and West are stubborn. East Germans think of westerners as ‘Besser-Wessies,’ or arrogant know-it-alls. West Germans, in turn, roll their eyes about the ‘Jammer Ossies,’ or whining easterners.’
That is, “’East Germans have a false perception of affluence in the West. They overestimate the level of prosperity, and take the upper income level as the average, so many of their demands are unrealistic,’ says Klaus Schröder, an expert on the former East Germany at Berlin’s Free University. ‘West Germans are envious when they see how much money is being transferred to the East. Many people feel that the true cost of reunification is being hidden from them.’”
On the other hand, “Negative western stereotypes about easterners have even been passed down to the younger generation, to those who were teenagers when the Wall fell. There’s been an exodus of young easterners to western cities in the 14 years following reunification, but those who’ve remained in the East are often pegged as lazy, unmotivated, and bitter about their future prospects. Those assumptions are wrong, say sociologists at a leading public opinion research institute in the southern German city of Allensbach. They quizzed 2,000 Germans on their attitudes on typically Western values. While they concluded that, in the East, values such as equality and social justice ranked higher than individual freedom, the researchers admit they were surprised by the responses of young easterners.”
The good news is that most youth today see these different Weltanschauungen (World Views) as stereotypes and face-to-face, east or west, get along together to a great degree. Many of the younger generation have given up on manifesting any difference between eastern and western Germans at all publicly. They demand to be seen as simply German in both walk and talk (lifestyle).
WHERE ARE THE WALLS THEN MOST VISIBLE in GERMANY?
Well, even before the East German Wall came down in 1989-1990, I had observed other forms of “walls in the head phenomena” in Western Germany. By the 1980s, Berlin had become the largest Turkish City outside Istanbul.
In addition, German had for, example, become the second (or third) highest Muslim-populated state in Western Europe, even as the country’s Chancellor was telling almost all of them that they had no chance of ever becoming German citizens. That Chancellor was Helmut Kohl, the Unification Chancellor. He had stated several times prior to getting elected chancellor in 1983 that “German was not an immigration country”.
I thought, “Talk about a mass of people going around with blindfolds I thought back in the 1980s. Germany is already an immigrant land. Look at the millions of non-Germans and blood-Germans (first generation refugees) from all over the planet.”
At that time (1980s), though, one had to be a blood German to become a citizen so millions of Turks, Italians, Greeks, and others had no chance of getting permanent green cards or citizenship before the late 1990s when the citizenship rules changed—and Germans built down their anti-foreign-integration-walls a bit. [On the other hand, I noted that the definition of blood German was only Eastern European oriented. America—my homeland—and Canada have another 60 to 70 million people of blood German descent, all of whom/which Germany refuses to count.]
However, the building-down-of-walls-against foreigners (xenophobic bureaucracy and society) was more difficult in East Germany, where the DDR government in early 1990 was able to expel hundreds of thousands of non-German nationals just before unification occurred.
In short, the idea of integrating foreigners had never come the minds of the great majority of the peaceful demonstrators and wall-knockers of the 1989-1990 period.
Moreover, East Germany not only had exported its foreign worker force just after the wall came down, but it was able to shift hundreds of thousands of Russian military personnel and their families from eastern government lands during the early years of unification.
These sweeping away of masses of foreigners in East Germany in this early period of the new Berlin Republic led to an even greater anti-foreigner backlash in the eastern part of the country than in the west—where the foreign born populations were much higher, even before the Wall came down and a rush of post-Soviet era blood German refugees made their way to the new German state in the 1990s.
By the time, that Germany was even considering changing its citizenship laws, the CDU was winning elections in Hessen by demanding that any new German be forced to give up any alternative citizenship—before becoming German. This was a nationalist front-type campaign which looked more like what would have happened in France under Le Pen (a fringe party leader who plays on xenophobia), but the CDU has been in charge in Hessen for most of the past decade. The CDU under Chancellor Merkel has been in charge of Germany since 2005.
During the last 4 years, a Dr. Wolfgang Shaeubel of the CDU, has taken a strong hand in limiting immigration to Germany to record lows of the century. His turn-the-clock-back approach looks more like it comes directly from the pocket of Helmut Kohl of the 1980s than of an enlightened Germany of the 21st Century.
In short, Germany has been building walls up against foreigners as fast as it has been trying to integrate those who already live within German borders.
The HIGH-BUILT WALL by German Integration Officers in Schaeubel’s Germany is scary and contradicts the intention of millions of Germans and government leaders to reduce walls against integration of new settlers in Germany in this 3rd Millenia.
FINAL THOUGHT ON WALLS
A German once wrote, “The worst kind of walls are often the ones we have built ourselves because we don’t recognize they are there.”
Germany in 2009-2010 needs to reflect on those words.
The Spiegel magazine reported this year that one “third of all children born in Germany belong to immigrant families, but many immigrants are poorly integrated into German society. A new study has shown that Turks in particular are faring poorly in Germany.”
Moreover, “A new study has delivered a damning verdict on the integration of Germany’s immigrants, concluding that an alarmingly high percentage of them live in a parallel world with poor prospects of a decent education and career advancement.”
Bertelsman and other surveys show “that foreigners who come to live in Germany tend to remain strangers, even after 50 years and three generations in some cases. There are even problems among those who hold German passports.”
The Spiegel writers summarize, “It’s a disturbing trend for Germany. The country needs immigrants because Germans aren’t having enough children. The population is shrinking and aging and its productivity is in danger. If the immigrants, who tend to have more children, are poorly educated and can’t find jobs, they’ll end up costing the state money rather than supporting it.”