On October 3 Germany celebrated the 23rd anniversary of the country’s reunion, German Unity Day. Major celebration activities, attended by high-ranking officials of the Federal Republic of Germany, including President Joachim Gauck and Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, were held in Stuttgart. On October 3, 1990 the West and East Germany reunited into one state. This was enabled by signing the Two Plus Four Agreement between two German states, GDR and FRG, as well as the Four Powers – the US, the USSR, France, and Great Britain. It launched the process of Germany’s reunification. However, the division into west and east still echoes in the German society, although Germany seemed to have overcome all the consequences. Egon Bahr, the ideological inspirer of the New Eastern Policy (Neue Ostpolitik) in the time of Willy Brandt’s chancellorship in the 1970s, in an interview to Deutsche Welle said that Germans still lack national originality and an inner wall prevents them from feeling a single nation. However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel does not share this opinion. She believes that the young generation does not draw any line between West and East Germany anymore.
An important factor in overcoming the division was East Germany’s lagging compared to West Germany. Nearly 1.6 trillion euros were invested into the rebuilding of Eastern Germany in 1990-2010, by estimates of the German Institute of Economic Research. Most of the money – about 70 percent – went to the social coasts. The thing is that after the cardinal changes hundreds of thousands of citizens of the former GDR found themselves jobless or they were forced to retire before time. Another hindrance was the cultural and mental “remnants” of the communist past in the east.
The erection of the Berlin Wall became a tragedy for many people: it divided families and stood in the way of communication of close people. According to various data, 125 to 1,245 people died in an attempt to get over the wall.
The unification of Germany was antedated by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the destruction of which was practically started by residents of West and East Berlin. It was a culmination in the process of collapse of the entire communist system. The Day asked the witness of the fall of the Berlin Wall, former burgomaster of Berlin Eberhard DIEPGEN about how everything happened in reality and what the process of integration of the East was like. The German politician, a member of CDU, has twice served as a mayor of Berlin – in 1984-89 and in 1991-2001. So, he could compare what it was like before and after the destruction of the Berlin Wall.
The fall of the Berlin Wall was a key link in the process of collapse of the entire Soviet system. That was the beginning of the end. What did you feel when you learned about the fall of the Wall?
“I felt happy and amazed at the same time. At that very moment when it crossed my mind that it was high time for us to reunite and establish new democratic order in Europe. And we had to make use of it. We hoped the Soviet Army would not attack. I felt anxious because it seemed the events of 1968 in Prague or in Budapest in 1956 could repeat themselves.”
Germans have lived in a divided society for nearly 30 years. This has created certain borders, not only geographic, but also cultural and mental. What difficulties as a mayor did you face while overcoming the consequences of this division?
“You are right, a different kind of socialization existed in society. There was a different kind of thinking in relations with the government. Those were the consequences of the long-time dominance of an undemocratic system – the GDR had almost totally transferred from Nazis to Communists. There was a need to encourage the initiative of people once again. And that was not simply a means to show that ‘the West knows everything.’ The most important point for me was the attention and respect to human potential under absolutely different circumstances.”
If we assess the situation from the outside, it seems that Germany has overcome all the consequences. But what is in fact going on inside of Germany? Have Germans managed to restore the integrity in society?
“Even after 23 years since Germany’s reunion clear consequences of the division into east and west remain. Much also depends on the generation, for 1989 created difficulties mainly for middle-aged people, in their 50s. It was difficult for them to comprehend the professional changes, which resulted from the ruination of the GDR economy. Older people found themselves on a lower level of the Federative Republic, whereas the youth had every chance for new freedoms and professional orientation. There were also people, for whom the 1989 revolution was disadvantageous. And it is a right thing to look from the outside. Many people after 1989 managed to escape the starting collapse. The new infrastructure in the former GDR made people in West Germany envious, and the outflow of specialists from East to West, which had created problems before, helped to find integrity and similarity between the regions of Germany.”
Many social changes took place while you were a mayor: reforms were implemented, including the changes in rethinking of historical past. In your opinion, has Germany made enough for the denazification process? What have you personally done for this?
“There cannot be a clear answer whether it was made enough. Unlike other countries, Germany has accepted its history, especially the Holocaust. And in my opinion, there are sometimes even too many discussions about self-understanding and self-awareness. An extremely important thing is that because of especially sensitive attitude to ultra-right organizations in Germany (unlike other countries as well), there is no important right radical parties. As for the crimes of ultra-right and xenophobic criminal groups – there have been no changes. In a single moment they ‘undermine’ Germany and the level of efficiency of our federal security systems. While I was a mayor, places of honoring the victims of Nazism were created in Berlin in the center of the city, not in the suburbs.”