And Remembering East Germany
It was not that long ago that the “Iron Curtain” disintegrated. 1989. And as many historians still say, it was “a year that changed the world”. This is truly an amazing thing. And we sometimes forget how dramatic the transformation to our situation was and still is. I remember well the deep divisions between east and west, NATO and the WARSAW PACT, a Command Economy and a Free Market, Communism and Democracy.
But today, we see a new world. What once had been East Germany was an area behind the Iron Curtain that was mostly off-limits for the average westerner. And today, former East Germany is transformed. Now it is simply part of northern Germany. Whether in the countryside, or in Berlin, we see a land that has experienced more change more rapidly and for the most part, more gracefully than probably anywhere else on earth over the last thirty years. And yet, for the former East German people, the changes not only have been dramatic, but in many cases they have been deeply troubling and widely traumatic.
Without warning or preparation, regular folks were thrust into a entirely new reality of economic policies, competition, job insecurity and technological advances that overwhelmed them. There was among many an inability to adjust to the order, or disorder, the found themselves in. There were few new jobs for the “Easties”. They felt vastly out of place, like second or even third-class citizens, the nuances of the East German dialect giving them away as less than desirable employees.
Consequently, there have been widespread and well-documented cases of depression, family tensions, generational divisions, and wide gaps between the West Germans in control of the unification of Germany, and the East Germans largely at the mercy of the new reality that became their lives.
Few former East Germans would wish to return to the old system of repressions, spies, secret police, widespread deprivation, poor quality goods, insufficient manufacturing, horrible environmental problems, corrupt leaders, and the dictatorship of Erik Honniker.
Yet we in the West will do well to remember this newly changed political, economic and emotional landscape. The the people of this fascinating land have experienced more change in their lives than we can possibly imagine. All is well now. The economy is thriving and the people have finally adjusted. But a visit there can be a sober and sacred reminder of what once was, what has been endured and what else we have to be thankful for.