Posts Tagged ‘German reunification’

Has German Ostalgie run its course?

Monday, February 1st, 2016

German Ostalgie has largely run its course according to a recent poll commissioned by Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster. Deutsche Welle aims at audiences outside of Germany and is available via television, radio and the Internet.

What is Ostalgie?

“Ostalgie” is a hybrid word that popped up following German reunification in 1990. It implies nostalgia for the former east and a longing for a prior way of life. After having been absorbed by, but not totally integrated into, West Germany, many former East Germans began to fondly recall the “bad” old days. They felt nostalgic toward certain aspects of their former lives that had suddenly disappeared: They felt a loss of community and equality; they missed certain foods that were no longer stocked; GDR-themed (East German) items became popular http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/ampelmaennchen-former-east-berliners/and http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/ampelmann-to-marry-ampelfrau/; memoirs of growing up Ossi (Eastern) began to fill bookstore shelves, they missed familiar television shows; and a general yearning for the lost socialist system of government developed.

Ostalgie turned into cash - Ampelmann Shop in Berlin-Mitte with the beloved East German traffic light man as a theme. photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Ostalgie turned into cash – Ampelmann Shop in Berlin-Mitte with the beloved East German traffic light man as a theme. photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

An example of Ostalgie was the 2003 German blockbuster movie, “Good- Bye Lenin.” In this fictional story, a young man tries to keep political reality from his mother after she suffered a serious heart attack and coma. His mother, a dedicated socialist, experienced the coronary event just before the fall of the Wall. When her doctor suggests that the slightest upset might cause another, possibly fatal, heart attack, the son invents elaborate schemes to sustain his mother’s illusion that the German Democratic Republic still exists. When the mother unexpectedly wanders outside while the son is asleep, she sees the giant statue of Lenin being helicoptered away (to read about the real-life fate of the Lenin statue, visit http://walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/comrade-lenin-is-back/)

Has Ostalgie run its course?

Twenty-six years later, the answer is – Mostly. The use of terms like “Ossis” for East Germans and “Wessis” for West Germans – so common after reunification – has greatly decreased. In September 2015, Deutsche Welle commissioned a survey to find out how Germans see their society 25 years after reunification. http://www.dw.com/en/dw-poll-united-but-not-yet-one/a-18740932 The pollsters questioned more than 1,000 Germans aged 18 and older about their attitude toward reunification. They found the younger generation to be more positive about the reunification than their parents and grandparents. The 45-59-age-group is the least satisfied. Seventy-nine percent of 18-29 year olds (born just before or after reunification) think that German reunification was an overall success while 69% of 45-59 year olds (in their twenties and thirties when the wall came down) agreed. When asked whether German reunification brought them personal advantages or disadvantages, 65% of 18-29-year-olds saw mainly advantages while 14% saw chiefly disadvantages. In the 45-59-age-group, 53% perceived primarily advantages while 21% saw predominantly disadvantages.

Overall, 90% of the 18-29-age-group felt that Germany’s reunification set a good example for other countries, while 77% in the 45-59-group felt that way. Differences between responses from the former East and West had decreased. It appears that the former East/West divide no longer shapes people’s identity and that Ostalgie is largely a thing of the past.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

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Mandatory Church Tax Debate

Monday, January 25th, 2016

How would you like your government to collect a mandatory Church Tax from you every year? German taxpayers have no choice in the matter.

German citizens must indicate their religious affiliation on their tax return. Based on affiliation they will most likely be obligated to pay a compulsory, annual Kirchensteuer, a Church Tax. The two largest religious communities in Germany — Catholics and Protestants — are required to pay the tax, but smaller denominations — such as Unitarians and Jewish communities — participate in the compulsory Church Tax assessment as well. The state collects the tax and passes it on to the appropriate religious community. The mandatory Church Tax amounts to 8% or 9% of income and includes a 3% collection fee that goes to the government. Should the tax be mandatory? Should it be collected by the state? These are questions that have been the subject of an ongoing debate in Germany.

How did Church Tax collection start?

With the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss (Principal Decree of the Imperial Deputation) of 1803, churches lost their constitutional role in Germany. The financial support from kings and princes who had formerly ruled the land had suddenly evaporated. Larger German states were forced to annex smaller ones, and church possessions were given to princes in need. To compensate the churches for their loss of income and to afford them new means of meeting expenditures, the government instituted a Church Tax. http://www.german-way.com/history-and-culture/germany/religion-in-germany/ The first community to introduce the Church tax was the former German state of Lippe-Detmold. It did so in 1827. In 1887, the former state of Wuerttemberg followed suit. Prussia followed in 1905/06 and Bavaria in 1912. In 1919, Church Tax collection by the state became law. In 1949, West Germany anchored the provision in its new Constitution. Since then, the state-collected Church Tax has been mandatory in Germany with one exception: East Germany ceased to collect it between 1956 and the reunification. At that time, however, the Church Tax was reintroduced in East Germany. Needless to say, the reinstatement still irritates the people in the former eastern states.

How does anyone become subject to Church Tax?

When a person is babtized, he or she automatically becomes a member of that church. No membership application is required. Only individuals who have formally left the church are exempt from paying Church Tax. Until 1965, even a non-denominational husband was obligated to pay Church Tax for his wife if she belonged to a church. He was compelled to pay the tax even if his wife did not work outside the home. My father so resented this requirement that he left the church altogether. (Read “A Matter of Faith” in my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom).

How much Church Tax is collected?

In 2011 the income from Church Tax amounted to 4.9 billion euros for the Catholic Church and 4.4 billion euros for the Protestant Church. http://www.german-way.com/history-and-culture/germany/religion-in-germany/ In 2013 this figure increased to 5.5 billion euros for the Catholic Church and 4.8 billion euros for the Protestant Church.

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How is the Church Tax spent?

Although the largest portion of the churches’ income is derived from Church Tax, the houses of God also receive income from investments, leases, rents, government grants, donations and inheritances. In addition, the German state pays a combined half a billion euros to Catholic and Protestant churches to compensate them for the expropriations in 1803. Nearly three-quarters of all church income pays for personnel costs (pastors, deacons, parish helpers, clerks, educators, social workers, and the management and administrative staff). Most of the remainder pays for the construction and maintenance of buildings, pensions and reserves. http://www.sueddeutsche.de/geld/kirchensteuer-der-weg-von-gottes-geld-1.2207208 Should churches use less of their income to meet personnel costs and more to help the poor? Yes, says Pope Francis. He wants the church to care less about the preservation of the institution and more about the people who are marginalized.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

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Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen Prison – Part 2

Monday, November 16th, 2015

 

Last week I wrote about the history of the dreaded Stasi prison Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen http://walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-hohenschoenhausen-prison-part-1 Today I will share my personal impressions after touring the former prison buildings.

My impressions of Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to take one of these guided tours of the Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen Memorial. Our guide was a West German woman who had been incarcerated here because of a romantic involvement with an East German man. Her account of the psychological intimidation methods employed by the Stasi was truly chilling. We were told that the overall goal of the Stasi was to destabilize prisoners and to make them feel powerless. To that end, prisoners were completely sealed off from the outside world and never even told where they were being held. They were strictly isolated from their fellow prisoners, and interrogations and manipulation to extract information were harsh. They involved isolation, sleep deprivation, water torture and threats to friends and family members.

Typical Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen prison interrogation room, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Typical Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen prison interrogation room, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Walking through the prison, we came to realize that the cells had no windows. The only air exchange occurred through a few small holes in the bottom of the cell doors. These doors had a small, latched openings through which the guards observed the prisoners. Even the cell toilets could be viewed through these openings. We also visited a padded room that had neither windows nor corners. Its purpose was to play havoc with the prisoners’ sense of orientation.

Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen observation window into prison cell, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen observation window into prison cell, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

The average prison stay at Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen was six months, although some prisoners were held captive without trial for years. Interrogators were trained psychologists who had been briefed on the prisoners and their families and used sophisticated methods to break down defenses. Their methods were so successful that a third of all Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen prisoners were informants by the 1980s.

From personal recollections our guide added that lights were turned on and off at regular intervals throughout the night and that the guards awakened prisoners who did not maintain the “approved” sleep position. All prisoners were expected to sleep on their backs with their hands on top of the blanket. The Stasi did not allow any kind of contact between inmates. If a prisoner was lead through the corridor to an interrogation room and his path crossed that of another inmate, both were required to turn to the wall so that they could not get even a brief glimpse of each other. To reduce the chance of such encounters in the first place, a red and green signal on the ceiling indicated whether a prisoner was allowed to walk on or not.

Signal light at Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen prison indicating whether or not a prisoner was allowed to walk, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Signal light at Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen prison indicating whether not a prisoner was allowed to walk, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

The closing of Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen

Unlike many other government and military institutions in East Germany, demonstrators did not storm the Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen prison after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In fact, prison authorities had time to destroy numerous pieces of evidence of the prison’s history. Therefore, today’s understanding of the methods employed at Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen comes mainly from eyewitness accounts and documents maintained by other East German institutions. It is estimated that more than 91,000 full-time Stasi employees and 189,000 unofficial collaborators maintained close, repressive surveillance over the East German populace until the Berlin Wall fell.

http://www.wired.com/2010/10/phillip-lohoefener/

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

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Unique Berlin Wall Segment in D.C.

Monday, August 17th, 2015

A unique Berlin Wall Segment arrived at the State Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. last Thursday, August 13, 2015. It arrived on the 54th anniversary of the closure of the border from East to West Berlin. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/08/246027.htm

Plans call for the piece to be put on display in the State Department’s Museum and Education Center, which is currently under construction. The Center is scheduled to open to the public at the end of 2017.

What did the Berlin Wall really look like?

The actual Berlin Wall actually consisted of two walls: The eastern so-called Hinterland Wall, and the western wall, which we usually think of when we speak of the Berlin Wall. A death strip separated the two. Today, the graffiti-decorated western wall segments are more popular with tourists, collectors and investors. Although souvenir shops sell small pieces of the Berlin Wall for just a few dollars, an entire wall segment measures 10.5 feet in height, 4 feet in width and weighs 2.9 tons. Between 1961 and 1990, around 54,000 of these concrete slabs made up the western side of the Berlin Wall. Their costs, even without shipment and handling, can be astounding.

Typical stretch of the western Berlin Wall, Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

Typical stretch of the western Berlin Wall,
Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

The Berlin Wall is all over the world

Berliners started chiseling away at the wall immediately after the border opened on 9 November 1989 and continued to do so for the next few years. I hammered out a number of small pieces myself. But some people immediately looked beyond mementos. They recognized the profit-making opportunity. A Bavarian businessman, for instance, made an offer on an entire wall Berlin Wall segment only one day after the border opened. The bidding went from there. A Japanese company offered $185,000 for a single section. So far, around 600 segments have found new homes outside Germany. Twenty-six years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, more pieces are scattered across the globe than remain in Berlin itself. South Korea acquired five sections of the Berlin Wall for a different reason. For South Korea the Berlin Wall segments symbolize their country’s hope that North and South Korea may also peacefully reunite one day. http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/oct/28/-sp-where-on-earth-berlin-wall-25-years-fall

Why is this Berlin Wall segment so unique?

The Berlin Wall segment that arrived at the U.S. State Department on Thursday bears twenty-five personal signatures on its front face. These signatures belong to statesmen who played key roles in the reunification of Germany. The section of the Berlin Wall that just arrived in D.C. was signed by former US President George H.W. Bush, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, former US Secretary of State James A. Baker, former prime minister of the German Democratic Republic Lothar de Maiziere and others. Initially, the German energy company Verbundnetz Gas AG owned this particular wall segment. Verbundnetz Gas presented it to the Atlantic Council, a think tank devoted to international affairs, and the Atlantic Council put it on temporarily display at the German embassy in Washington. Last Thursday, the Atlantic Council gifted this unique Berlin Wall segment to the U.S. State Department, its permanent home.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

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Reunification exuberance turns to gloom

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

Last week, we talked about the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 and the reunification of East and West less than one year later. We also alluded to the financial and social costs that unity would require.

Financial and social costs of reunification

Immediately following reunification, an agency was created to privatize the “people’s property”, the state-owned enterprises in the former East. This agency was called Treuhandanstalt. It soon became clear that the average productivity of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was equal to only one-third of that of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). The profit from privatization that had been expected to come close to DM 600 billion (about €300 billion) fell short by far. In fact, the expected profit turned into an actual deficit of DM 230 billion (€115 billion). That meant that privatization could no longer pay for the needed infrastructure in the new federal states, as had been anticipated. To make matters worse, factories in the former East were so outdated that they had to be closed and/or rebuilt resulting in massive unemployment. With little initial productivity in the East, the population in the former West was forced to bear most of the financial costs of reunification. The population in the former East was forced to bear most of the social costs of reunification. Soon, reunification exuberance turned into gloom on both sides.

Aufbau Ost project.

Then there was the Aufbau Ost project. It consisted for the most part of the construction of infrastructure and telecommunication facilities in the former East, preservation of cultural assets, environmental projects, and the renovation of inner-city residential quarters in Dresden, Leipzig, Chemnitz, and Halle. The initial lack of such assets in the five new federal states resulted in an immediate exodus from east to west. According to a recent statement by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the exodus has finally stopped. But it took 25 years before the population outflow in the new federal states is equal to the population influx.

Today, 25 years after reunification, great progress has been made in the former East, both economically and socially. The worst is over. Still, enormous challenges remain. But the people from East and West are now prepared to face them together. http://www.tatsachen-ueber-deutschland.de/en/german-unity/main-content-020/the-challenge-aufbau-ost.html

 

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

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German reunification

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

At the beginning of 1989 German reunification was on no one’s mind. Hardly anybody in Germany or elsewhere anticipated that the Berlin Wall would disappear in the near future. During the course of the preceding twenty-eight years, the East German government had continually “improved” the Wall. Now, in its forth generation, the Berlin Wall was higher, stronger, and even less surmountable than ever before.

Reunification within one year

On October 7 of the same year, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) celebrated its 40th anniversary. Despite preceding unrest and demonstrations, no one expected it to be the GDR’s last anniversary celebration. But only one year later, on October 3, 1990, the two distinct German states were reunited after forty years of separation. East Germany had collapsed like a house of cards in the space of just a few months, and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) had added five new federal states by accession. They were: Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.

The cost of reunification

Initially, reunification brought forth nothing but exuberance among the people on both sides of the dividing line. East and West Germans assumed that the reunification process could turn into an administrative nightmare, but that it would be a manageable undertaking. But it tuned out that the social and financial costs of reunification were enormous. Within a brief period, people in the East and West were forced to come to terms with their past, present and future without so much as a precedent in history. http://www.tatsachen-ueber-deutschland.de/en/german-unity/main-content-020/the-challenge-aufbau-ost.html

Next time, I will discuss some of the problems East and West Germans had to face during the reunification process and for many years thereafter.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

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Christian Führer – Fall of the Berlin Wall

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

Christian Führer passed away last Monday, June 30, 2014, at age 71. His name and that of the Nikolaikirche–St. Nicholas Church–in Leipzig will forever be linked to East Germany’s peaceful revolution against communist rule. As Pastor, Führer led weekly Monday night Friedensgebete–peace prayers. These meetings became the foundation of the demonstrations that ultimately brought down the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and led to German reunification.

Rev. Christian Führer

Rev. Christian Führer

Nikolaikirche

The church was built around the time that Leipzig was founded in 1165. It became a Protestant seat in 1539 and has not changed much since the 16th century. Johann Sebastian Bach played the organ here in the 18th century. In 1980 Rev. Führer became pastor at the Nikolaikirche. At that time the Cold War divided the world into East and West, and a wall split Germany into the DDR (East Germany) and the BRD (West Germany). Religion was frowned upon by communism so that atheism was the norm in East Germany. Churches like the Nikolaikirche were spied upon.

St. Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

St. Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Peaceful revolution of 1989

“In the DDR, the church provided the only free space,” Führer said in an interview with Religion & Ethics News Weekly. “Everything that could not be discussed in public could be discussed in church.” http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2009/11/06/november-6-2009-the-rev-christian-fuhrer-extended-interview/4843/. To encourage a dialogue on topics that were otherwise taboo, Christian Führer established the Monday night prayer meetings. The gatherings gained in popularity and attendance soon exceeded the church’s 2,000-seat capacity. By early 1989 the East German authorities tried to stop Führer’s Friedensgebete by arresting random “suspects” inside and outside the church. But the meetings continued. To the contrary, the number of participants grew even larger. In September 1989, the prayers turned into peaceful demonstrations. Thousands of people held candles and carried banners. Although the police tried to keep the demonstrations in check, the number of demonstrators continued to grow.

October Showdown

On 9 October 1989, 100,000 demonstrators gathered in the center of Leipzig. They were met by 8,000 armed police with orders to shoot. Demonstrators shouted, “We are the people” and “No violence.” A blood bath seemed likely, but organizers appealed to the demonstrators to remain peaceful. They complied. Miraculously, not one shot fell. Quickly, protests swept through the rest of East Germany and led to the opening of the borders on 9 November 1989. Christian Führer had provided the cradle for this peaceful revolution. His name will remain inextricably entwined with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

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Ampelmaennchen – former East Berliners

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

What is green and helps pedestrians cross the road? Ampelmännchen! Ampelmännchen is German for “little traffic light men.” Internationally, a generic walking figure or a WALK sign gives pedestrians permission to cross, a hand or a DON’T WALK sign implies to wait. Prior to German reunification in 1990, the two German states used different forms of Ampelmännchen: West German traffic signs showed a generic human figure; East German signs displayed a stocky male figure wearing a hat.

Ampelmännchen (little traffic light men) created by former East Berliner, Karl Peglau

Ampelmännchen (little traffic light men) created by Karl Peglau in 1961

History of the German Ampelmännchen

Until 1961, only vehicle traffic lights directed traffic in the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The lights looked more or less the way they had in the 1930s. But the growing number of cars had led to an increase in vehicle-pedestrian accidents, which caused the East Berlin Traffic Commission to consider traffic lights for pedestrians. They asked East Berlin traffic psychologist Karl Peglau to design such lights. In early October 1961, less than two months after the Berlin Wall had gone up, Peglau introduced an icon of a little perky green man with a happy stride to signal permission to cross. His red cousin spread his arms like a human barricade. By the early 1980s, the icons had also gained widespread popularity throughout East Germany as characters in children’s road safety education programs, a cartoon strip, a radio nighttime story series, and on television.

Save the East German Ampelmännchen

Following reunification, traffic lights were to be standardized, and the East German Ampelmännchen were slated to disappear, much like other features that had once been part of life in former East Germany. Immediately, a campaign to “Save the Ampelmännchen” was launched with the result that those perky little guys with their human features were preserved from extinction first in the former East Germany, then in the former West Berlin, and eventually in other formerly West German cities as well.

The Ampelmännchen mascot

In the years after German reunification, the former East German Ampelmännchen became the mascot for an East German nostalgia movement because, as Peglau believes, they represented a positive aspect of an otherwise failed social order. Today, Ampelmännchen are extremely popular souvenirs with locals and tourists alike and are recognized worldwide as a brand from Berlin. Over forty souvenir products bearing the Ampelmann logo, including t-shirts, bags mugs, lamps, and jewelry, are hot ticket items and have become the German equivalent of Mickey Mouse. Also visit Ampelmann to marry Ampelfrau

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

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The Trabi – an ugly duckling?

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

The Trabant, lovingly referred to as “Trabi”, was the Volkswagen of East Germany. Small, slow, and unsafe, it looked a little like an ugly duckling. But, for East Germans, the car with its 26-horsepower motor and two-stroke engine was an object of intense pride and affection. Purchasers typically had to wait for delivery in excess of ten years, and its price equaled the average worker’s annual wage. The year the Berlin Wall fell, a new Trabi, straight off the assembly line, cost $8,600. And a used car might snatch an additional $4,000 because of its shorter delivery time. Trabis were big-time polluters. They produced roughly the same amount of emissions as 30 large Mercedes-Benzes. In fact, they polluted so much that West Germans called the car “Little Stinker.”

The last Trabi leaves the production line at the factory in Zwickau on 30 April 1991. (AP Photo/Eckehard Schulz)

The last Trabi leaves the production line at the factory in Zwickau on 30 April 1991.
(AP Photo/Eckehard Schulz)

Between 1957 and 1991, over three million of these Trabis rolled off the production line in Zwickau, Saxony. But after German reunification the cars could not longer be produced competitively. Many Ossis (East Germans) had traded in their Trabant for secondhand VWs or Mercedes-Benzes. Others kept them as second cars. When the last car left the plant on 30 April 1991, an era had come to an end, and the Trabant had become a piece of nostalgic history. “They were polished more than they were driven,” said Motorwelt, a German Automobile Club magazine. Over the years, the cars had been the butt of endless jokes:

A Trabi loses no oil – He marks his territory!

How do you double the value of a Trabant? – Fill up the tank!

How many workers does it take to build a Trabi? -Three: one to cut, one to fold and one to paste.

Why is a Trabant considered the longest car? – There’s 8 feet of car, followed by 50 feet of smoke.

But despite its shortcomings, Trabis made unforgettable history when they carried thousands of fleeing East Germans across Czechoslovakia and Hungary in the summer of 1989. I will never forget the images of the long lines of Trabis crossing the borders to the West and of those abandoned along the roadsides, their owners crossing the borders on foot.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

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Stalin Note

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

The Stalin note was a diplomatic paper. On March 10, 1952, Joseph Stalin’s deputy foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, delivered three identical documents to his postwar Allies–the United States, France and Great Britain. The Stalin note was the first of four pieces of correspondence on the same subject, all initiated by Marshal Stalin. The paper proposed a peace treaty between the four Allies and the East- and West-occupied Germanys to end the country’s artificial division.

Content of the Stalin Note

In this diplomatic note, Stalin proposed German reunification but attached several stipulations. Aside from other requirements, he proposed reunification of East and West Germany, providing that the occupying powers withdraw their armed forces and liquidate all of their bases in Germany. He further demanded that once reunited, Germany would be required to forfeit her right to enter into a military alliance with any power, that had taken part in WWII. Stalin suggested a four-power conference to act on his proposal by signing a peace treaty with Germany.

http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/journal_of_cold_war_studies/summary/v013/13.4.ruggenthaler.html

Four-power conference

The conference never took place. Germany and the three Western Allies feared that a peace treaty of this nature could result in the reunited Germany’s inability to protect her borders. They also recognized that signing this peace treaty would mean that the reunited Germany would be barred from aligning herself with the Western powers. As history shows those interpretations prevailed. The Cold War continued to heat up over the next three decades, and East and West became more firmly entrenched in their respective blocs. Germany remained divided until the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) collapsed in 1990.

The question remains

Historians have been divided ever since on the intent of the Stalin note. The questions remain (1) Did the West German, Western European, and American leaders miss a much earlier opportunity for German reunification? (2) Were the Soviets offering a sincere path toward German reunification in 1952 or was the Stalin Note a ploy to facilitate the incorporation of Germany into the Eastern bloc? Opinions differ to this day.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

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