Fall of the wall far from home: ” I was completely surprised that the fall of the wall was so peaceful ”

Fall of the wall far from home: ” I was completely surprised that the fall of the wall was so peaceful ”

Lenin’s bust: The discovery in the wood was a stroke of luck for Andreas Metz. (Source: Andreas Metz / Eulenspiegel Verlag)

But once again the question: Why does Metz have such great interest in the past of East Germany? "I think you shouldn’t look at the GDR solely from negative aspects", answers the photographer, who went to East Germany for the first time as a schoolboy in 1987. A school trip to Rome hadn’t worked out, so it went to Dresden, Weimar, Erfurt. The beginning of a long passion.

"Of course, the GDR was also an injustice state, with a Stasi, wall and prisons"says Metz. "But also a state in which millions of Germans have spent a large part of their lives and designed their everyday lives with a lot of diligence and creativity." Metz wants to preserve this story, for better or for worse, photographically. For example in the form of the large wall mosaics, which, of course, ideologically supported, offered a lot of art in the freely accessible space for the citizens of the GDR.

"Socialist heritage and today’s modernity"

But which place particularly impressed Andreas Metz on his travels through the east of the republic? "Halle-Neustadt"he says without thinking. "So many bad things have been heard and read about this part of the city. For example, the massive emigration of residents and the demolition of many buildings. But today Halle-Neustadt is again a very young, lively district and a laboratory in which socialist heritage and today’s modernity are connected in an exciting way."

30 years of reunification: ‘More successful than some would like to believe’ The fall of the wall far from home: ‘I was completely surprised that the fall of the wall was so peaceful’ Exclusive survey: So many Germans are not happy with the unification

Andreas Metz neither wants to teach nor teach people. What he has in mind is a more active engagement with the history of the workers ‘and peasants’ state. Before its last testimony may be gone in the future.

Andreas Metz has hundreds of photographs of relics from the GDR for his book "East Places" selected, you can find some of the best in the photo gallery above. Or click here.

Sources used: Telephone interview with Andreas MetzAndreas Metz: "East Places. About the disappearance and recovery of the GDR", 2nd edition, 2020

He was a politician in the GDR and the FRG. On the 30th anniversary of reunification, Wolfgang Thierse answered questions from t-online users about the turnaround, its consequences and what surprised him about the West.

Wolfgang Thierse grew up in the GDR. A country ruled by an authoritarian regime. A country that, according to the former President of the Bundestag, does "of a certain everyday solidarity" that was shaped by people. 

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he joined the newly founded SPD in the GDR in January 1990. Willy Brandt’s policy on the East, which gave imprisoned people in the East a voice, impressed him. A few months later, after reunification, he entered the German Bundestag. Later he even became its president. 

In our video interview above in the article, you can find out whether he thinks reunification is the right term, what his first impression of the West was like back then and what attitudes of other East Germans upset him. Alternatively, you can find the video here.

German reunification: Sahra Wagenknecht: ‘In retrospect, that was an illusion – until now’ CDU General Ziemiak: ‘We live in the best Germany that ever existed’ The fall of the wall far from home: ‘I was completely surprised that the fall of the wall was so peaceful expired ‘

In our format "ask me" we enable users to ask questions to people that they do not meet in normal life – or who they do not want to confront these questions personally.argumentative essay outline

Sources used: Conversation with Wolfgang Thierse

Is it all a good 30 years after German reunification? No, write the Green bosses Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck in the guest post. Much remains to be done. But we can also learn a lot for the current upheavals.

A Munich resident who gets off the ICE in Erfurt after two and a half hours to have a nice weekend should have the impression of a promise that has been fulfilled. "Blooming landscapes" Helmut Kohl as Chancellor had promised the East Germans at the time of the fall of the Wall that nobody would be worse off than before, but many would be better. And yes, the old town of Erfurt is beautiful, a picture of the boom, so to speak. So where did all the frustration and the whole debate come from, everything is fine with Germany, 30 years after reunification. Or? 

The 30th anniversary of German unification is without question a reason to celebrate. October 3rd, 1990 not only reunited the divided Germany legally and formally, but also laid the foundation for a common Europe from Lisbon to Tallinn. Both are constitutively interwoven and were only possible together: German reunification and the growing together of our Europe in East and West. Unity is the foundation on which we can stand. But in recent years there have been so many moments of shock – Pegida, right-wing terrorist networks, Brexit – so many cracks, breaks that we have long been startled out of the lethargy of the obvious and, as a country, have started to openly discuss where we are stand and what holds us together. 

Look behind the facades

This includes a look behind the restored facades. Equality of living conditions is a constitutional principle, reality is different. A full-time employee in the east still has an average of EUR 1,000 gross less per month than in the west. An average inheritance in Bavaria or Hesse is over 170,000 euros, in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania or Saxony-Anhalt around 50,000 euros. None of the 30 DAX companies are based in the east.   

For West Germans, the 1990s may have seemed like an ongoing promise of promotion to the people in East Germany. The numbers prove the opposite. Almost a quarter of the original population in East Germany moved to the West after reunification, especially young women and the well-educated. The birth rate in East Germany was 0.77 children per woman in 1994, only lower in the world in the Vatican. Incidentally, the picture is the same in all of Eastern Europe.

There is something fundamental behind these sober numbers: fear of the future. Although there has been radical structural change in the West too, especially in the Ruhr area, nowhere have we had such abrupt experiences of economic collapse, nowhere has our entire personal and socio-political life changed as profoundly as in the five East German federal states. The fact that the economy before Corona grew faster in the east of the country than in the west, that more people are moving from the west to the east than the other way around, and that the birth rate in all parts of the country is historically high at around 1.6 births are positive trends . But the birth kink of the 1990s will be felt for a long time: a generation is missing. And: The experience of decline leads to a new fear of loss.

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"The light that went out"

The political scientist Ivan Krastev wrote in the book "The light that went out" described how the self-empowerment of 1989 quickly became a paradigm for imitating the West: Everything has to change in the East and nothing in the West. The more young people concluded that "First class citizen" to become is only possible if one moves to the West and the more those who remain felt like losers from an externally controlled adjustment, the more the willingness to change died out and the rejection of what reunification brought with it grew. A vicious circle.

A rejection that led to people in West Germany turning away without understanding or with the self-image of development workers in the "wild east" drive to do good. Above all, an honest inventory should encourage us to open up anew, to listen, and to argue. And when we see that liberal democracies are struggling around the world, we should consider whether we can come to terms with weaving errors of the past 30 years, heal them and learn fundamental lessons from them. To keep growing together.

As a Westgrüne failed because of the German question

When we, as the chairmen of Alliance 90 / The Greens, think of our own history and the growing together of two separated Germanys, we usually think of courageous civil rights activists in the GDR like Bärbel Bohley or Marianne Birthler and Werner Schulz, both of whom in our party history also support that Later two parties grow together: the East German BÜNDNIS 90 and the West German Greens. 

In the West German Greens there was Petra Kelly, Lukas Beckmann and others who had established close ties with East German opposition activists long before 1989 and supported them vigorously. When the painter and opposition activist Bärbel Bohley was expelled from the GDR in 1988, Lukas Beckmann not only invited her to live with him, but also went with her to the meeting of the Greens in the Bundestag to report on the events in the GDR. But about half of the Green MPs and employees left the room.

With all the pride in our East German civil rights roots, a critical look back at the deep division of the West German Greens over the question of the Peaceful Revolution and the process of reunification should not be missing. 

"Everyone is talking about Germany. We’re talking about the weather."

Marianne Birthler, green civil rights activist from the very beginning and then head of the Stasi records authority, later said about that time: "For many (…) in the West Greens it was difficult to imagine that one could make pacts with people who were in resistance against a left-wing state." Better a left dictatorship in the GDR than no GDR. This attitude sometimes extended to the top of the party and parliamentary group. And yes, there were also well-known Greens whose proximity to the SED regime was not only ideological. 

Marianne Birthler and Werner Schulze in 1990 on the occasion of the constituent meeting of the People’s Chamber in Berlin: "For many (…) in the West Greens it was difficult to imagine that one could make pacts with people who were in resistance against a left-wing state"said Birthler later. (Source: Stana / imago images)

The division and powerlessness of the West Greens before the German question culminated in the federal election in December 1990 in the poster "Everyone is talking about Germany. We’re talking about the weather." Green and, by the way, red too (as a candidate for Chancellor, Oskar Lafontaine, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, pleaded for a freeze on admission for inner-German refugees from the GDR in order to get a "bleed out" to prevent the GDR) did not have German unity, but the ecological and social issues firmly in view. However, they were caught in the intellectual context of the old FRG. There was simply no common ground for a common answer to the German question.

Overall, there was no all-German party in the politically sluggish early 1990s that could have used the historic moment constructively for a new departure for the entire country that was so urgently needed. 

The East German Experience

Most people in East Germany experienced the ubiquity of politics in their everyday lives during the GDR era. Unlike most in the West, in the decades that followed they learned how to build a life on unsafe ground. The state, which until then had interfered in the most intimate questions of life, was suddenly gone, the new one did not really appear. Instead, dissolution everywhere: industry, jobs, communities and clubs, youth homes and sports fields, and a feeling of insecurity when right-wing extremists roamed through villages unhindered by the police. 

It is understandable that in the East the feeling is more pronounced that one has already had enough changes in life and that political announcements are initially distrusted. Against this background, we have a special obligation to justify if we are striving for major changes – starting with the conversion to a climate-neutral society. This is especially true at a time when crises are pooling, climate crises, crises of liberal democracy, overheated globalization … It is up to us to make it clear: Those who want to stop must take precautions, those who want stability must change shape. 

On the night of October 2nd to 3rd, 1990, people celebrate the festival of unity in front of the Reichstag in Berlin. (Source: imageBROKER / Manfred Vollmer / imago images)

It is precisely the East German experience, the courage of those who took to the streets in 1989, the experience of the major breaks in the decades that followed, that can help us as a society as a whole to master the upcoming changes in mutual agreement. Precisely because changes cannot be imposed on, according to the principle that everything is wrong here and everything is right there.

Today we need a struggle for the better alternatives that should have existed in 1990 – and the realization that East Germany could also have been a role model, think of daycare centers or the compatibility of family and work. And it is also about the fact that East German voices can be heard better in the all-German narrative, that East Germans are better represented in the political, economic and cultural switching points than they did after 1990.

Writing history together

If this time – unlike 30 years ago – we are willing to discuss the direction, speed and form of changes with one another, we can do better. If, for example, we as a state invest historical sums in this pandemic, then it is in our own hands what the country in which we invest should look like.

This includes keeping social promises, reducing inequalities, creating equal living conditions in East and West – in the countryside and in the city.