Posts Tagged ‘German reunification’

Hagen Koch marked off the Berlin Wall

Monday, October 30th, 2017

 

Hagen Koch, just 21 years old at the time, was a little known, yet important, player in the construction of the Berlin Wall. It was Koch who researched the exact location of the boundary between East and West Berlin. And it was Koch who painted the white line that would mark off the border. Hagen Koch walked 30 miles in a single day in August of 1961 of, hunched over to paint that line. Once finished, construction of the Berlin Wall began.

 

Hagen Koch researched the exact location of the boundary between East and West Berlin and then, in August of 1961, painted the white line that demarcated that border. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Hagen Koch researched the exact location of the boundary between East and West Berlin and then, in August of 1961, painted the white line that demarcated that border. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

How did the Berlin Wall come about?

Since earliest times, man built walls to keep others out. However, the Berlin Wall was a rare example of a wall built to keep people in. It was constructed to keep East Germans from defecting to the West because between 1949 (the creation of East Germany) and 1961 (the construction of the Berlin Wall) over two million East Germans had done just that. They had left East Germany and fled to the West. For years, East German leader Walter Ulbricht http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/image-challenged-walter-ulbricht/ pleaded with the Soviets to let him close the border to put an end to the workforce drain. By August 1961, the Soviets agreed, and Ulbricht proceeded with his plan.

Berliners awoke on 13 August 1961, a beautiful Sunday morning, to find Operation Rose (Ulbricht’s code name for the construction of the Berlin Wall) in full swing. By the wee hours of the morning, most of the border between East and West Berlin was already primitively closed. Barbed wire and concrete posts severed streets. The underground and elevated trains terminated at the border. Armed soldiers stood guard. Within a few days, a block-and-mortar wall replaced the barbed wire fence. The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years. It split the city and separated families and friends. It became a symbol of the Cold War.

Hagen Koch’s Rise to Fame

Having graduated a technical draftsman, Hagen Koch joined the Ministerium fuer Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security) – better known as Stasi – as a cartographer. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-stasi-and-how-it-worked/ Upon joining the Stasi in 1960, Koch made a speech, which quickly propelled him up the Stasi ladder. In his speech, Hagen Koch denounced “American imperialism” and emphasized his pride in East German socialism. Upon hearing Koch talk, Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi, remarked, “He’s the man of our future.” http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-mielke-master-of-fear/ Soon thereafter, Hagen Koch was promoted to Head of Cartography.

Hagen Koch’s transformation

One hundred percent committed to East German-style socialism at the beginning of his career, Hagen Koch’s conviction began to fade when the Stasi insisted that he divorce his wife on account of her ties to the West. His commitment to East German ideology took a further plunge when Hagen’s father lost his job for protesting the expulsion of his Dutch father, Hagen’s grandfather.

After having fulfilled his service requirement, Koch left the Stasi in 1985. Four years later, the Berlin Wall fell. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-day-the-berlin-wall-fell/ Thereafter, Hagen Koch began to talk openly about his part in creating the hated barrier. He had had a change of heart in the preceding years relative to East Germany’s political system. In 1990, Koch became Cultural Heritage Officer at East Germany’s Institute for the Preservation of Historical Monuments and was appointed Minister of Culture, responsible for the demolition of the Wall. After German reunification the same year, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/germanys-unite-through-treuhandanstalt/ Hagen Koch began creating an extensive Wall Archive at his home and welcomed visitors to view his collection. Visiting dignitaries included the Queen of Sweden and the artist Christo. Over time, Koch turned self-styled chronicler of the Wall and became a sought-after speaker. As part of a Historical Witness Project, the Wende Museum in Los Angeles, California, invited Hagen Koch to tell his story. Click http://www.wendemuseum.org/participate/historical-witness-hagen-koch to watch the interview.

 

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 my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

Berlin’s “Citizens in Motion” memorial

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

 

Berlin’s impending “Citizens in Motion” – Buerger in Bewegung – memorial will commemorate the protest movement that toppled the East German communist regime and led to the reunification of Germany in 1990. In June 2017, more than a quarter of a century later, a memorial to freedom and unity received final approval by the Bundestag (lower House of the German Parliament). The monument is expected to open in 2019, the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

What the Citizens in Motion memorial will look like

Citizens in Motion will consist of a steel bowl-shaped structure, 180 feet in length and 60 feet across. Inscribed with Wir sind das Volk (We are the people) and Wir sind ein Volk (We are one people), the memorial honors the men and women who caused the Berlin Wall to fall in 1989 and led to the German reunification one year later. The structure will hold up to 1400 people. When at least 20 more people stand on one half of the structure as opposed to the other half, the bowl will gently tip to one side, similar to a teeter-totter. The visitors themselves then become an active part of the monument.

 

Berlin's planned "Citizens in Motion memorial to commemorate the men and women who who caused the Berlin Wall to fall in 1989 and led to the German reunification one year later. Rendering: Milla & Partner. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Berlin’s impending “Citizens in Motion” memorial, which commemorates the men and women who caused the Berlin Wall to fall in 1989 and led to the German reunification one year later. Rendering: Milla & Partner. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Concept of Citizens in Motion

Memorials are normally passive objects of contemplation. Citizens in Motion will be interactive. The monument will come to life when people gather on it. Designed by Stuttgart-based architect Johannes Milla & Partner and Berlin choreographer Sasha Waltz, Citizens in Motion is designed to illustrate how people have to act in concert to effect change.

As the East German economy crumbled and people fled to the West, the East German people began to hold gigantic, non-violent, pro-democracy demonstrations, which led to the fall of Berlin Wall and the socialist government. Then another enormous task faced the German people: Bringing together two Germanys, which, despite a common language, had experienced dramatically different political and economic realities for over 40 years. The road to a German memorial to commemorate freedom and unity was equally difficult. Everything from design, location and cost was controversial. The ensuing debates demonstrated that freedom and unity require participation and interaction. http://www.dw.com/en/bundestag-gives-green-light-to-controversial-german-reunification-monument/a-39093773

Where will the Citizens in Motion memorial be located?

Citizens in Motion will be positioned in front of the Berliner Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace) in the city’s historic center. The Berlin City Palace is currently undergoing reconstruction and will house the Humboldt Forum when completed. Read: Berliner Stadtschloss to Humboldt Forum The original Berliner Stadtschloss was demolished by the East German regime in 1950 to make way for the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic), the East German parliament. Read: The Palace of the Republic lives on In 1989, the square in front of the Palace of the Republic was a site of mass demonstrations, which contributed to the collapse 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

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

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. https://www.voanews.com/a/berlin-wall-segment-arrives-in-washington/2916901.html/

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.