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Germany's imperfectly balanced reunification

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Germany's imperfectly balanced reunification
Photo: Milla+Partner, Sasha Waltz /dpa
12:24 CEST+02:00
Germany's planned gigantic seesaw commemorating reunification perfectly symbolizes the country's failure to come to terms with its unity properly, says Christian Bangel of ZEIT ONLINE.

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.

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.

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