Next year will see many a look back at the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, which led to the country’s demise. But premier Wolfgang Böhmer said he hoped people would maintain a realistic picture of the country whose leaders built that wall, and let go of a somewhat “glorified” memory that has taken hold.
He said that fact that many East Germans risked their lives trying to leave the country, including those who made it to the West Germany embassy in Prague in 1989 in order to flee, has been all but forgotten.
“We have to keep in mind that people needed to live in another way than they actually lived back then,” he said in an interview with the DPA news agency on Monday.
Several years ago, a wave of nostalgia for East Germany washed over Germany, even getting its own word — Ostalgie — a play on the German words for east and nostalgia. Many a television special took a loving look back on the positive aspects of life in East Germany – including cult Trabant cars and suppposedly better day care for children — while largely ignoring the darker side of things, such as the absence of basic freedoms, a lack of many material goods or the omnipresent secret police, the Stasi.
Still, Böhmer said despite a current tendency to whitewash parts of GDR history, former East Germans could be proud of the role they played in ending the East German regime and paving the way for German reunification.
Saxony’s premier Stanislaw Tillich also called that period 20 years ago a time that East Germans could take pride in.
“They were the ones who fought for freedom through peaceful revolution,” he said, adding that easterners should also be admired for what they have achieved in the past two decades.
“In 1989 they found themselves in completely uncharted territory,” he said.
Much has been written about the “mental wall” that many say still exists between the former east and west. While the pejorative use of terms such as Ossis and Wessis to refer to those from the other side has declined somewhat, there are still differences in psychology, Böhmer admitted. But he said they have been overplayed.
Tillich agreed, saying the easterners should not feel inferior to their western neighbours. In fact, he added, he and his fellow Germans in the east might have a leg up these days.
“We have lived through the kind of transformation that will likely help us weather the current financial and economic crises better than those who up to now haven’t had to go through that kind of massive change,” he said.