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Germany’s imperfectly balanced reunification

The Local · 19 Apr 2011, 12:24

Published: 19 Apr 2011 12:24 GMT+02:00

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In truth, Chancellor Angela Merkel shouldn't be the one to inaugurate Germany’s new reunification memorial in October 2013.

The honour should instead go to former national football coach Jürgen Klinsmann, because the seesawing winning proposal screams that new optimistic Teutonic attitude that we Germans so like to ascribe to ourselves ever since the 2006 World Cup.

The structure – which has already been nicknamed “the fruit bowl” – will be built in such a way that it starts tipping if enough people gather on one side. Visitors to central Berlin will then literally feel the “people’s movement” that toppled communist East Germany in 1989.

It will be like the “Fan Mile” that was set up in front of the Brandenburg Gate during the World Cup: something everyone can take part in and understand. At first glance, it’s a fun idea.

But there is something missing from the design. Its feel-good aura gives the impression that the reunification of Germany is complete, that divisions have been left behind. Considering the prejudices that refuse to disappear on both sides of the Elbe River, this is nothing but an escapist dream.

Only in one respect is the concept accurate – the imbalanced seesaw will remind many eastern Germans of the last 20 years.

East Germany, and everything that is associated with it, is a closed book. Even now, one can't see a single attempt anywhere to learn something from the forty years of communist dictatorship and the twenty difficult years that followed.

Many in the East knew all about repression, and how to resist it. This was an expensive dowry they brought to the nation’s reunification, offering no societal gain. And it's still the old West German elites that determine our common society’s discourse.

The memorial leaves out any sense of the process of reunification – the problems, the friction, and yes, the sense of marginalization that many East Germans still feel. It's very possible that this memorial will one day be seen as a symbol of the failure to confront the ghosts of East Germany.

And why bother to build a memorial anyway? We already have a monument that symbolizes division, change and unity the world over: the Brandenburg Gate.

Like that fateful date for Germany, November 9, the Brandenburg Gate is not just associated with the country's Cold War division, but also with the root cause of that split: National Socialism. This is where people fell weeping into each other's arms, but it is also where the brown-shirted torchlight processions marched after Hitler assumed power. The Brandenburg Gate is a place of grown-up German commemoration.

Story continues below…

And, if suits you, this is also where you'll find the highs and lows of Germany’s new brand of optimism, since the country’s football team regularly celebrates with fans in front of the Gate, too.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of ZEIT ONLINE, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

13:53 April 20, 2011 by trevzns
And why bother to build a memorial anyway?

My question is, and why not bother to build a memorial?

There are many memorials in Berlin that reflect the views of past inhumane conflicts and unfortunate issues.

It¦#39;s time for Germans to express their feelings about achievements and not only the failures, without the guilt pressure from self-interest groups and originations that benefit greatly from the German taxpayers.

That¦#39;s why there should be a bother to build a memorial commemorating reunification.
09:51 April 21, 2011 by Universalismus
Echt..? keine perfekte Bilanz? nein heh was? Aber Deutschland ist doch Perfekt. Man muss immer positiv denken, muss immer weiter machen und vorwarts nie vergessen! man muss nur Lachen. No tears of past problems of friction. was? nein!!


Removing the biggest building ruins memorial by Alexanderplatz in Berlin between 2008-2010 to pour concrete over it and sugar-coat the memorial as if they have forgotten the past does indeed not reflect rightly on this newly proposed memorial. Germany is so knotted within itself. A memorial cant change anything, a manifestation on a sunny or cold day on civil rights, wont either, planning, organizing, acting and achieving to engage in something purposeful (Deutsche mentalität) on a daily basis may just make them implode. I certainly dont know the future of Deutschland, or how much sorrow that seesaw can bear weight.

Ich mach weiter...
09:56 April 21, 2011 by twisted
I realize that we are all entitled to our own opinion, and that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.....BUT....some things are just plain ass ugly and this design fits that description. Again opinions vary, but most modern designs and structures will only last a few years but real good design and architecture lasts hundreds if not thousands of years. Let's think about going back to building structures and monuments that will stand the test of time and really have some significance. Perhaps moderns glass, steel and cement are beautiful to some folks, but to me, Berlin's Brandenburg Gate is really a thing of beauty.
13:55 April 21, 2011 by dr_motte
do we really need this expensive statue? is this thing wasting money we need for free education for everyone? is this a liberal politics concept of a sculpture made for german cheeps? is this made from the new german dictatorship of the "politic" in berlin and germany? no one is allowed to be part of the discussion about the model at all. i don't want to be near this sculpture! its the cancer virus in our city! it is anti human architecture to me! if you play footy or badminton or want to grill in front of it you will be taken away by the 80 year old concept of "ordnungsamt". this is a sciúlpture has nothing to do with reality and berlin!
18:09 April 21, 2011 by beatriceco
As I mentioned in a previous post regarding this same issue, the Nationaldenkmal Kaiser Wilhelm I should be brought back. Reinhold Begas was a classic and Berlin needs to quit this obsession to horrible examples of modern architectural designs that will never stand the test of time. Berlin deserves better, but so long as the city is run by incompetent leaders, this will never change. Berlin has become an artists testing ground for gaudy, expensive garbage, with a hint of arrogance, and absolutely no regards for the historical architecture that surrounds these new memorials. The Nationaldenkmal Kaiser Wilhelm I was awe inspiring, and if Berlin brought this back, such as when the citizens of Koblenz brought back the equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I at the Deutsches Eck, it would help with tourism and fill in a void that was torn away. When you have class and style, there is the Nationaldenkmal Kaiser Wilhelm I or the Brandenburg Gate. Then there is no class...Welcome to modern Berlin!
19:31 April 21, 2011 by Universalismus



12:38 April 22, 2011 by Yontrop
Das heist "Jawohl". "Ja voll" ist was anders. ...or is that what you meant? BTW, I thought the article was right on. The Brandenburg Gate with maybe a stone somewhere with bronze plaque. (Too bad about some of the new buildings that have crouped up around it.) When I look at the picture of the proposed design, I can't help thinking about someone getting "pinched" under it.
17:32 April 22, 2011 by Lachner
I think that Germany needs to stop feeling guilty about their past and begin a new era where they take some credit for building an amazing economy, culture and society. Instead of building memorials to commemorate their guilt, they should do more to motivate Germans to be more proud of their country. They deserve to give themselves a big pat on the back.
03:23 April 24, 2011 by wenddiver
Wonderfall, if you put items under it you can have a National Trash Compactor. I don't guess we could have went with a simple Goddes of Liberty?

I think it was Andy Warhol who said soething along the lines of Bau House Architecture has us all living in Aluminum Sheds eventually, to that I would add putting up memorial see Saws.

Ugly and a drag on the little classical architecture.
09:47 April 25, 2011 by karldehm
Germany has been divided many times in its past. I don't see what's so special about this time. Let's get on with it guys and stop crying about the past.

Personally, a classical statue to the Germany spirit would have been more appropriate not this God awfully example of post communist impressionism.

I once had the chance to visit Russia, where I saw what they called the ugliest building

in Russia. Well, guess what? There are a lot uglier buildings in Berlin and this new memorial is just another.
00:31 April 26, 2011 by Stephen Goodson
The memorial is pointless. Germany will not be reunited until the provinces of Pomerania, Silesia, East Prussia and Danzig have been returned. The 1937 borders are the legal borders in terms of the Third Reich constitution, which according to a decision of the Verfassungsgericht of 17 August 1956,is still valid and thus internationally recognized.
00:51 April 26, 2011 by ronasch
Many people such as my greatgrandfather did not want the Prussians or the unification of 1871 and fled to the USA. The center of the USA is filled with the descendants of people who fled rule by Berlin. I have been told by family who still live in what was once West Germany that they did not want reunification. Maybe Germany should break up because the Germany Bismark has been a disaster for all the peoples of Europe
05:02 April 26, 2011 by jihao
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
14:45 April 26, 2011 by curtd59
RE: "I think that Germany needs to stop feeling guilty about their past and begin a new era where they take some credit for building an amazing economy, culture and society. "


The German 'model' works. It has 'worked' repeatedly over the centuries. Roman, Spanish, French and Anglo competition against the german model have each failed. Germany is the heart of and mind of the west and without German leadership there will BE no west. Fighting against the anglo model, and then fighting against communism were heroic deeds in retrospect. The time for guilt over the past is over.
14:14 April 27, 2011 by Angry Ami
14:09 May 3, 2011 by Universalismus

The German 'model' works. It has 'worked' repeatedly over the centuries. Roman, Spanish, French and Anglo competition against the german model have each failed. Germany is the heart of and mind of the west and without German leadership there will BE no west. Fighting against the anglo model, and then fighting against communism were heroic deeds in retrospect. The time for guilt over the past is over.

Well said. Itll weigh the blow of the market issues better than other markets.
13:08 May 4, 2011 by Angry Ami
Hey why are we still paying the "solidäritätszuschlag" it's time to put that to bed, the east doesn't need that money anymore.
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