For the East: freedom to drive their Trabants 'over there'

Pastor Richard Schröder recalls the "most unbelievable experience."


Richard Schröder, a consultant and officer in German civic organizations, was an East German Protestant pastor, theologian, and professor in his mid-40s when the wall fell. He detoured briefly into politics, cofounding the East German Social Democratic Party, then getting elected to both East Germany's first freely elected parliament and united Germany's maiden parliament. This is an excerpt from his interview with Berlin correspondent Elizabeth Pond.

The Politburo proposed giving everyone a passport and letting everyone apply for an exit visa [for travel outside East Germany, with the expectation that its citizens would then not desert the country].

For, let's say, the normal population [young workers voting with their feet to pursue the color, zest, and freedom they saw on West German TV] it was the most unbelievable experience just once in their lifetime to be able to drive their Trabants "over there." It was also an incredible discovery to see how people in the West actually lived.

For intellectuals who were active in the grass-roots movements [that sprang up in East Germany in 1989] it was different.

The only citizens' movement that welcomed the opening of the wall was the eastern Social Democratic Party. The East Berlin intellectuals – those in the provinces reacted differently – saw the opening of the wall with a totally critical eye, since they had had the idea of creating a model land of a kind Europe had never seen before – an idiotic idea in my view – and they now saw that this dream was dead.

People just wanted to live the way [West] Germans lived.

Then, too, German unity appeared on the agenda as a surprise [when East German marchers quickly began demanding a merger with West Germany]. A particular group of Western intellectuals also opposed this idea, among them [iconic novelist] Günter Grass. He stylized the perpetuation of two separate German states as the verdict of history. And he saw himself as the interpreter of this verdict, proclaiming that the two Germanys must not marry, because of our guilt for Auschwitz.

[There was a major] illusion in the West about the GDR [German Democratic Republic]: that the people were content with their situation, perhaps because there were no demonstrations [in the decades after Soviet tanks quashed the East Berlin workers' uprising in 1953]. It became clear in 1989 that this was a misreading.

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