German children: What do they know about the Berlin Wall?
Amid celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germans have been stunned by a study showing deep disparities in what kids know about their country's recent history. Much depends on where they live.
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Along with tens of thousands of young people from around the world, she decorated one of 1,000 giant dominoes erected along the strip that once divided East and West Germany and then toppled to commemorate the end of the cold war.
"I knew everything already, how the border was," says Marlene, a 9th-grader who lives in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg, not far from where the wall was. "The parents in half the class had something to do with it." She knew that her mother had been barred from taking her high school exam because of her parents' church activities. She knew, too, that her friend's grandfather was put in jail when he tried to escape, only to be denounced by a friend. [Editor's note: The original misstated how her mother left East Germany.]
"It's something everybody should know about so we can treasure what we have," says Marlene, who attends Berlin's Schliemann-Gymnasium. "So that if it happens again, we know what to do."
In the Black Forest village of Ichenheim, near the French border, Tobias Geiser knew little of his country's eastern half until his teacher sent him on a historical scavenger hunt. After months of interviews, he and fellow students built a Trivial Pursuit of sorts about the German Democratic Republic's (GDR) history.
His verdict? "The wall still exists in people's heads," says Tobias, whose project won third place in a national history competition "We hope that that can happen if the economy in the east improves."
Study: Kids have rosy view of east
Last year, a study stunned Germans by revealing not only how little youths know of the GDR, but how many still view it as a cozy, socially just society. Two decades after unification, children's views of their country's second dictatorship still hinges on whether they grew up in the east or in the west.
Conducted with 5,219 schoolchildren in Berlin, Brandenburg, Bavaria, and North Rhine Westphalia, Ms. Deutz-Schroeder's survey showed the disparities: Only 57 percent of young people from East Germany approved of the Federal Republic's political system as opposed to 83 percent from West Germany.
Worrisome to many, for example, was that 66 percent of the 16- and 17-year-olds in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia didn't consider the GDR a dictatorship; fewer than two-thirds of East German pupils thought the economic system worked better in the west than in the GDR. [Editor's note: Original did not include the state.]
The findings acted as a catalyst for change, setting up a small revolution that culminated with hundreds of school projects like the one Marlene and Tobias were involved in.