East - and West - Berliners Feel Nostalgic for Old Days
BERLIN — Six-and-a-half years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, political scientist Hellmut Wollmann says he still gets choked up when he bicycles through the Brandenburg Gate on his way from his apartment in the western part of the city to Humboldt University in the east, where he teaches.
Observers say that though many people still think of Berlin as two separate cities, the "wall in people's heads" is not as high as many think. But recently certain signs of nostalgia have surfaced.
The relative electoral success of the PDS - the successor party to the former East German Communists - is cited by some as a sign of longing for the old days.
Polls suggest that many Germans have grown disenchanted with reunified Germany. The severity of the economic difficulties in the eastern German states, including continuing high unemployment, has become clear in recent months. And the failure of a May 5 referendum that would have merged Berlin with Brandenburg, the state that surrounds it, suggests that many former East Germans agreed with the anti-merger campaign slogan, "One reunification is enough."
But East Berliner Lothar Heinke, a journalist, says, "They don't want the DDR [German Democratic Republic, or former East Germany] back, but there are some things they want different." He warns against "painting it all in black and white."
Manfred Gullner, director of the Forsa opinion research institute, sees the divided mentality as largely the result of simple "unfamiliarity with the unknown."
It isn't just that East Berliners are blinking and squinting as their eyes adjust to the bright lights of capitalism. "The West Berliners have learned that there's a world outside Berlin," Gullner adds. A lot of artistic and countercultural types felt at home in walled-in West Berlin, in part because of its exemption from otherwise universal conscription for military service in Germany. And there were other special privileges for those who chose to come to, or remain in, Berlin. "We used to speak of the Zitterpramien, the bonuses we got for 'trembling,' " Professor Wollmann says, referring to such extras as the income tax breaks and the 8 percent pay supplement Berliners used to get. The "trembling" on the citizens' part was supposedly due to the threat of a Soviet invasion.
"We had the best of both worlds. It was a quiet place, despite the international tensions," he says.