Being a German born in 1989 | Fall of the Berlin Wall | DW | 18.10.2019
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Berlin Wall

Being a German born in 1989

Thirty years after reunification, a whole generation of Germans have grown up that never knew divided Germany. People like DW's Greta Hamann, who reflects on what was really so different and what it means today.

I've never been very good at remembering historical dates. Except one: 1989. The year when the Wall between East and West fell. The year I was born. I was barely six months old when the first border crossing opened for the people of East Germany, and my mother says I was asleep in her arms as she watched the news on TV.

The first time I consciously encountered the Wall was in the garden of a house in Recklinghausen, a town in the Ruhr region of western Germany. There it stood, but this slab of wall did not stir any feelings in me - except perhaps for bafflement about why people would put an old hunk of concrete in their garden rather than plant some nice flowers.

Greta Hamann

DW's Greta Hamann

'Is the Wall still standing?'

At 16, I went to Brazil as an exchange student, and the questions began on my first day at the school: "Is the Wall still standing?" or, "What's life like in Alemanha oriental [East Germany]?" I didn't speak Portuguese, so I just gave them a confused look and wondered what Germany had to do with the Orient. And what wall were they talking about anyway? The students kept asking, and at some point I realized - they're talking about the GDR. No, I told them, the Wall was gone. But because of my lack of both Portuguese and knowledge of the history of my country I couldn't tell them much more than that.

Read more: How East Germans peacefully brought the GDR regime down

A few years later I went to university. Another student, who I had made friends with, came from a village on the Baltic coast in the region of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. "Oh great! The beach!" I thought. "Yes, I come from the East," she said. I stopped. She was right. I hadn't thought of that. The categories of East and West just didn't exist for me. Germany - that had always been clear to me - was one country. When I meet someone from eastern Germany it's the same as meeting someone who grew up in Bavaria or Lower Saxony. Of course there are regional differences - we speak in different accents, experienced different things in our childhoods and at our schools. But still, we have more in common than things that set us apart.

'Stop pretending everything is fine'

Unfortunately, not all Germans share this point of view, especially those that come from the East: "Stop pretending everything is fine," one headline in the German news weekly Die Zeit read during the 25th anniversary of reunification. It made me feel guilty. So everything isn't fine?

The headline belonged to a series of articles in Die Zeit in which young East Germans explained what they think is still wrong with reunified Germany. Or what annoys them about the West Germans, or "Wessis." "So, are you back in dark Germany?" one of them gets asked by a western friend when he returns home. Another complains about arrogant Wessis who barely know eastern Germany and think they know everything. Another says that the process of reunification is just a one-way street: "What was East Germany allowed to contribute? Not much."

Bildergalerie Mauerfall

It's time to celebrate again, and not be stuck in old prejudices, says Hamann

I call Professor Klaus Schröder, director of a GDR research association at the Free University in Berlin, who addresses these questions every day. "A lot of East Germans say that West Germans - especially those from North Rhine-Westphalia - 'aren't interested in us. They're not interested in our history or our stories.' And it's true." It seems that I belong to a particularly ignorant group of Germans.

Read more: Reunification is an 'ongoing process,' says Merkel on German Unity Day

Young people's minds changing

Neon, Germany's biggest young people's magazine, conducted a study of German youth 25 years after reunification. "Seventy-eight percent of young adults believe in true love," its cover stated. "Half of them consider social justice as the most important aim of politics. One in five women shave their armpits. This is who we are!" The poll was conducted among 1,000 Germans aged between 18 and 35, on a variety of subjects.

One of these was German unity. Fourteen percent, it said, believe that eastern and western Germany are substantially different. It was more than twice as many in 2005. Next question: "How do you judge German reunification?" Forty-seven percent think that it was successful — an opinion that only 14 percent had in 2008. And only a very small proportion (four percent) believed that reunification has been a complete disaster.

It can't be so bad then, I thought to myself in relief. The tendency that this poll shows is unambiguous: We're getting somewhere. And only the fewest people will deny that Germany is one country today. We just have to wait a few more years, get to know each other a little better, undo the lingering injustices between East and West, and at some point we can consign the "Arrogant Westerners" to the history books, and put them next to the pictures of our peaceful revolution. We'll be glad for the fall of the Wall, and laugh about the strange prejudices we once had.

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