Five Years After Fall of the Wall, Few East Berliners Celebrate
Anniversary evokes nostalgia for less-tumultuous times
BERLIN — PERHAPS the most remarkable thing about Bouche Street these days is what's no longer there.
For more than 25 years, the Berlin Wall sliced this corner of the city down the middle of the street. Some in the Communist East lived literally within spitting distance of capitalist prosperity, yet border guards in watchtowers stood ready to shoot anyone who tried to breach the barrier.
It's been five years since the Wall first cracked on Nov. 9, 1989, and there's no physical evidence of it left on Bouche Street. Construction crews are now busy repaving the road, and people leisurely walk their dogs in what was once a ``death strip.''
But just because the Wall's gone doesn't mean the Germans are coming together easily. Many Berliners say the surreal reality of a divided city has given way to a weird mix of nostalgia, frustration, and anxiety that's divisive in its own way.
``I'm not in a mood to celebrate,'' Franz Hollen, a carpenter from western Berlin, says of the fifth anniversary of the Wall's fall. ``There are many things that still need improving.''
What bothers Mr. Hollen most is the economic disparity between eastern and western Germany. A stable, united nation can't fully emerge until eastern living standards match those in the west, he adds.
``Now we have problems that we didn't have before the Wall fell, such as growing poverty that divides society,'' he says.
Hollen isn't the only one concerned about the future. And that apprehension is fueling nostalgia. It seems that in reunified Berlin, practically no one wants the Wall back, but many miss the old, less tumultuous lifestyle.
From the western German perspective, there are plenty of complaints about everyday annoyances in the post-Wall era, such as housing shortages, skyrocketing rents, and choking traffic. In the old days, the roads were empty and living conditions far less crowded.
Westerners also say the Wall's demise created a vacuum that sucked the exotic soul out of West Berlin. And many are concerned about the German government's planned move from Bonn to Berlin, as though the bureaucrats will have as serious a deadening effect on the city as any Communist invasion would have had.
In the former East Germany, the problems are different and run deeper. Unemployment and other economic troubles associated with reunification have been well documented. But plenty of other aspects of the process have traumatized easterners.
``In a way, it was a more secure way of life before,'' says Franz Luthe, a pensioner from east Berlin. ``We didn't have so much crime. Now it's all murder and arson and things like that.''
Liberation for some
Many eastern German women, meanwhile, complain that the Wall's fall didn't exactly liberate them. For example, eastern German working women bore the brunt of the region's economic crash, laid off in numbers that far outpaced men.
``In the GDR [the former East Germany] I felt more respected as a woman. Now I feel discriminated against,'' says Gabriele Moritz, an easterner who lost her job and is now a reluctant housewife.
After the experience of the last four years, Ms. Moritz says she'd do things differently if offered a second shot at reunifying Germany. ``I would have not subordinated ourselves [easterners] so readily to the westerners,'' she says. ``I would have tried harder to retain some of the good things about the East German system, such as our social-welfare system.''
Given reunification's trauma, the frustration and anxiety in eastern Germany now is showing signs of spreading into a potentially dangerous form of popular alienation.
Easterners, such as Mr. Luthe, speak in fatalistic tones about the development of eastern Germany as a separate, but equal, region within the federal republic.
``I have a feeling as though we have one country, but two governments,'' he says.
The eastern state governments are dominated by the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS), the former East German Communist Party - builders of the Wall. In German elections Oct. 16, PDS candidates tapped into popular social and economic discontent to capture four out of east Berlin's five electoral districts, ending up with 30 seats in the German Bundestag, or lower house of Parliament.
The PDS's emergence is potentially dangerous for all, says Wolfgang Templin, a former dissident who is now a leader of Alliance '90, an eastern party affiliated with the west's eco-leftist Greens.
``They only speak about the contradictions, and so they hinder the reunification process,'' Mr. Templin says of the PDS. If the PDS phenomenon is to be blunted, he added, it's westerners, more than easterners, who need to change attitudes.
``I can't blame the man on the street who has a lot of other problems to contend with. It's the elite [in western Germany] that should push the reunification process,'' he says, speaking about reunification's problems and the PDS's exploitation of them.
In order to make the attitude adjustments that would boost the reunification effort, west Germans should thoroughly reevaluate the nature of the eastern Communist system, says Hans-Hermann Hohmann, a political scientist at the Federal Institute for Eastern and International studies in Cologne, Germany.
``There's a danger that some assumptions of what the totalitarian society was about are continuing without looking at what the reality actually was,'' he says.
Don't be late
In pondering solutions to reunification's lingering problems, the Germans, especially the Western establishment, might remember the words of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, speaking in East Berlin shortly before the Wall came crashing down.
The father of perestroika - Communism's last-ditch attempt to resuscitate itself - Mr. Gorbachev warned East German party boss Erich Honecker in October 1989 that reforms were urgently needed. ``History punishes those who are late,'' Gorbachev admonished the reluctant East German.
Of course, not just Mr. Honecker, but Gorbachev himself could not make the necessary changes in time, and they were swept away. But that doesn't make the former Soviet leader's statement any less valid, even for those in the West, Templin suggests.
The longer the politicians fail to address the root problems of reunification, the longer matters pertaining to the nation's long-term well-being are ignored, suggested Hollen, the carpenter.
``In terms of the world economy, we may already be too late in terms of our new technology. We're not competitive enough,'' he says.