CMSgt. Don Sutherland
An aerial view of a segment of the Berlin Wall.
Last Saturday was the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall. On Sunday, I had brunch with some friends and we ended up discussing the topic.
One member of the circle, an arty type from a Western European country with a substantial property investment in Prenzlauer Berg and a relative newcomer to Berlin (let’s call her “Clara”), began to lambaste triumphalist media "propaganda" about the Wall and socialist East Germany.
She said she was sickened by an interview with an Ossi man who said he shed tears of joy the day the Wall fell in 1989 – the happiest in his life. "Capitalist propaganda"...
She continued to defend the GDR with the likes of "190 people killed at the Wall in 28 years!... that is nothing compared to what Monsanto is doing with its TRANSGENIC POTATOES!" And more: "In East Germany, women were paid the same as men!" And, finally, "It's only thanks to East German culture that I can run naked through Mauerpark at night without getting raped!"
East Germany had its good sides. Its relative gender equality (though all the bigwigs were men), its comprehensive (though militaristic) childcare, its lax attitude to nude sunbathing (left over from pre-war Germany). Oh, and a great sense of neighbourly solidarity, human warmth on a personal level that one seldom finds today amongst western, capitalist scum (you and I). Nothing brings people together like a dictatorship. And look: In the last 20 years the West has become more "eastern" - they're finally getting all-day kindergartens and schools. Angela Merkel, an Ossi woman, has managed to lasso the conservative western CDU and drag it closer to the centre.
And yet, the Wall was really shit. Any attempt to justify its construction or talk down the trauma it inflicted on Berliners and Germans (and what it represented for people in the other Soviet-sponsored totalitarian ‘democracies' further east) – is utterly ignorant and stupid.
Think: separated families, separated lovers, people murdered for trying to walk across the street, risking their lives for "freedom" – yes, "capitalist freedom", which any enlightened mind will agree might not equate real freedom, but political and geographic "freedom" nonetheless, in comparison to the repressive, oppressive grey, failed state of the GDR.
Not to mention the omnipresent Stasi (not all East-Germans were such warm, benevolent souls), extreme limitations on speech and expression, centralised thinking, rampant pollution, bad food, corruption, single-party hegemony and, scratchy, single-layer toilet paper. Who wants to return to any of that?
I can tell you for a fact: not the individualistic, freedom-loving, slow-food eating, yoga-practicing Clara. If she's really the enlightened rebel she makes herself out to be, back in the GDR she would have been the first one sitting in prison or shot dead on the border.