Where West reaches to meet reluctant East
Bonn — Harald Juhnke, West Germany's most popular TV master of ceremonies this season, welcomed the audience in the huge auditorium, then those watching the show in their West German living rooms and, finally, his viewers "in the other Germany."
Needing no cue cards, the audience instantly burst into wild applause.
Sometimes the phrase used is "our brothers and sisters yonder." Less frequently, it is "those behind the barbed wire."
But whichever version he prefers, no master of ceremonies, and no West German politician, ever forgets to throw it in when the red eye of a live TV camera blinks at him.
For it is a shibboleth of official and private faith in West Germany that, despite the fortified line dividing it, the German nation continues to exist as an entity.
The communists who rule East Germany disagree. They say the German nation has disappeared. They go further -- they say they aren't even Germans.
Ask an East German, in German, if he is a German.
"No," he replies, if a communist official monitors the exchange. "I am a citizen of the German Democratic Republic."
Ask the same question of a West German.
He tells you that he is a German. Pressed, he will add that he is "a Federal German," meaning that he is a resident of West Germany, the Federal German Republic.
Citizenship is at the heart of the argument between the two German states.
The constitutional court of West Germany declares that all German enjoy a common citizenship, no matter which of the rival states issues their passports.
The communist regime in East Germany rejects this ruling. It has tried to undo this as it has attempted to cut all other national ties.
But West German television helps bridge the gap. Millions of East Germans watch West German television every night. They follow West German TV newscasts -- to learn from West German reporters in East Berlin what's really happening in East Germany.
Protest poet-singer Wolf Biermann is forbidden to perform publicly in East Germany. Only after the communists pushed him out did the East Germans finally see and hear him -- on West German TV.
The communists sent Rudolf Bahro, a critic of their economic system, to prison, then expelled him. He finally explained his case to the East German public -- on West German TV.
The West German government pushes hard to open the East German door to more human exchanges. The communists go along grudgingly, in return for more trade in goods they desperately need, for help in carrying out such urgent projects as the electrification of their railway system, and in return for the purchase of political prisoners in hard currency.
As one result, 8 million West Germans and West Berliners visited East Germany and East Berlin in 1979.
From the communist point of view, they could do little to upset the regime's firm hand, while bringing in several billion marks of hard currency.
From the West German point of view, these visits help hold the nation together.
Bonn would like the traffic to be two-way.
But the communists allow only pensioners to visit West Germany and West Berlin -- 1.3 million of them last year -- and, grudgingly, about 40,000 members of the work force, on urgent family matters such as the death of an immediate relative.
Nevertheless, in return for hard economic advantages, the communists have opened their door a shade wider.
Both government and opposition in West Germany worried that the communists might shut the door again if the West reacted too sharply in Europe to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Many Americans failed to understand what they perceived as West Germany's halfhearted reaction to Afghanistan.
Chancellor Helmut Schmidt tried to explain his position in his toast at a White House dinner March 5:
"It sometimes is being overlooked that [West Germany] is only a part of a nation and that there are 16 million Germans living outside our borders, living in a communist state, a puppet state, under the immediate presence of I don't know how many hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers, ground forces as well as air forces, and that it has taken us an enormous diplomatic, psychological effort to establish at least some ways and means and channels of communication with our countrymen, with our 16 million countrymen in the communist orbit.
"They are the ones who would suffer in the first instance if we get back to the cold war."