30 years Fall of the Berlin Wall – without question a memorable date that everyone likes to judge from a different/personal point of view. Lot’s of light, but also shadow. The always same question “where have you been when the wall came down, where did you celebrate, etc. seemed to me a bit one-sided and just too simple. “Hip-hipp and hurray“ or as we use to say “peace, joy and pancakes”?… not at all.
I have at least one good friend (a former pharma-management colleague) who is sick and tired to always think and talk about his feelings on November 9th, 1989. Especially because his heart and mind from the very first moment gave contradictory signals and caused mixed feelings.
I am therefore very grateful to RalfT for writing down a couple of remarkable views on this subject for the blog, which are stated below in O-tone. Regarding its content I am almost fully with him. His contribution thus joins in our small series about personalities presented in the TAM blog under individual aspects. As there are Malu Dreyer (Prime-Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate) and Rudi Cerne (“Mr. XY” and former world-class figure-skater) etc.
Here is his story: “From 1986 to 1990, as a medical doctor and scientist, I had the privilege of representing the GDR in the Health Care Commission of the former “Council for Mutual Economic Assistance” (Comecon). Although being a GDR-citizen, I was not in Berlin on November 9th, 1989. This organization based in Moscow, the capital of the former Soviet Union, was from today’s point of view almost an anticipated copy of the “European Commission”. Specialists like me, from the member countries of the former RGW worked on convincing projects and distributed the necessary money of the member countries, without being legally responsible for its use in their home countries. After that, the responsible ministers quarreled. In the end, the opinion of the economically and politically strongest country prevailed. At that time mostly the Soviet Union, sometimes even the GDR, never Cuba or Romania. There was “unanimity”, which was always more or less enforced.
My work at the time meant that I had permanent contact with my colleagues in the commissions of other departments. So I knew that the energy supply of the GDR practically broke down completely when the Russians demanded a payment in convertible currency (dollars or something similar). How should the GDR finance that? Meanwhile, mechanical engineering, the chemical industry, the so-called “consumer goods production” and other areas had similar problems. In other words, the GDR was economically bankrupt in 1989. And I – living in Russia – knew about the bankruptcy earlier and better than most of my fellow citizens at home.
No wonder that my compatriots at home really and seriously rebelled; I was only allowed to experience this from the outside. There is something surreal about watching from a distance that a revolution is taking place in my homecountry.
At that time I shared my office with a Hungarian colleague. She had already passed the revolution. Like a smart-ass-bitch, she permanently told me from her experiences and what step to democracy would follow as of now. However, all in all she was quite right about her prognosis. The SED was banned, the successors fought over the legacy, there was an interim government with good and bad intentions, perpetrators tried to disappear, victims were publicized or presented as such, and so on.
I do not want to comment on the revolution in the GDR, because I was not present and did not participate. The honor for the end of the GDR is due to the people who have demonstrated on the streets and not to those who today tell about how they drove their two-stroke Trabants through open barriers on November 9th 1989, as if that had been an heroic act.
After the unification, I shared the fate of 80% of the former GDR population and lost my job, which I thought would be “safe for life”. Due to my professional experience, I had no problems finding a well-paid job in the “West”. But that also meant relocation and loss of the decades-long social environment for the whole family. I owe it to some industry bosses who were unprejudiced and empathetic to offer a professional from the “accession area” a real chance. In that sense, I am a “turning-point-winner”.
For me today, it is beyond any doubt that the “old” Federal Republic of Germany has invested enormous sums of money in order to nudge five “new federal states” so that they can quickly be integrated into the economic system of the social market economy. But the financial-economically nonsensical exchange of the GDR-Mark in a ratio of 2 to 1 or better has actually pushed the weakening economy in the “old federal states”.
I do not pretend to judge which GDR companies would have been worth preserving. However, I am firmly convinced that the grave structural problems that still exist today in East Germany could have been avoided by a smarter economic policy (such as a special economic zone with tax advantages). Because of short-term business interest, a long-term economic opportunity was missed.
The voting behavior of the East Germans is much criticized today. However, I can well understand that the East Germans, who have lost their economic existence after the unification or at least had to completely reorientate themselves against their will, do not break into jubilation upon the Germany’s reunification. The desire for nationwide equality in wages, pensions, insurance and so on, to me is quite legitimate. The complaining about the “old conditions”, however, lacks any realistic basis. Sometimes I would like to place the “eternal yesterdays” of my East German compatriots in closed reservations, where they can continue to live banana-free according to the old rules with GDR-assorted shops.
As a former East German citizen, I look with horror on every anniversary of The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the so called “turnaround”. The society should finally stop to talk of “new federal states” and “turnaround”. The fact to be overwhelmed with broadcasts and feature films of The Fall of the Wall in television every year, to me is only hard to bear. The wall did not fall over; nor has it overturned by any American president with sympathy for West Germany. The GDR citizens have done it themselves. What happened then was not just a turnaround, as Mister Krenz used to call it, but a revolutionary overthrow. A principle of Marxist belief is that a change in ownership of the means of production can only be achieved through a revolution. That’s exactly what happened, just in the reverse sense of Marx’s ideas. Nevertheless, it has been a revolution and we should call it that way.
I was born in 1956. That was a little over a decade after the end of the war. I do not want to argue for a forgetting culture. “Wrong” must be called wrong. Every young German should have at least once seen a concentration camp memorial and visited a wall museum. But I hate it, if our media so many years after The Fall of the Wall still reduce the GDR to naturist, missing tropical fruits and Stasi. It is not that easy. However, this has meanwhile led to an “after-wall-generation” who believe to know better what happened back then beyond the Wall and their demolition, as the surviving eyewitnesses.
Political correctness forbids today such terms as Negroes, Mohr or Gypsies including some traditional food named by that. This is fine for me, although I do not think that historical books need to be rewritten accordingly. But what is certainly strange to me are the as of today used terms “new federal states”, “accession area” and “East Germans” instead of being declared as unwanted wording. As long as we cannot overcome those terms, the bullshit in the minds will be eternal. That doesn’t make sense for anybody. … as far as his statement.
P.S. By the way, RalfT (today 63 years old) is not an obscure theoretician despite his bio-chemical Ph.D background. The father of two sons has worked abroad several times, loves art, theater and good food and is a versatile sportsman (especially diving). If a matter is very important to him, he sometimes likes a provocative approach, to encourages for lateral thinking and creative struggling for new ideas and solutions.