Birthing Pangs of a Unified Germany
The Story Beyond the Wall
Capitalism Vs Socialism and Democracy Vs Communism was possibly the biggest debate after WWII. Countries divided, wars fought, lives lost. One such country that was divided into parts was Germany, with the Allied forces dividing the country into sections they would run, after the fall of the government. And such was the formation of East and West Germany: the two sides of the Berlin Wall.
We’ve all heard of the fall of the Berlin Wall. What about what happened before and after? What convinced the governments to put aside these differences and unite into what we know of as Germany today?
Imagine you are a citizen of Leipzig in the 1980s. The German Democratic Republic (East Germany or GDR) is slowly unravelling. While people still have jobs and housing, the economy is failing. Everyone wants to leave, they want their freedoms. You, along with everyone else, want to end the oppression by Stasi (The East German secret security force) and the government. Every day at 5pm, in the biggest church of Leipzig, St Nicholas’s Church, you and the other protesters gather to pray. You pray not for yourself, but for the freedom and peace of the country.
Church Prayers for Protest, Leipzig 1985
Prayer can’t be a protest, you might say. It’s just prayer, you pray for what you want, right? Yes, but the moment it’s a large group of people, many thousands of people in a city with a small population, it’s big. All of them, speaking out together against what they believe to be violations of their rights to freedom of speech and press, and autonomy and involvement in elections. Rights international bodies guarantee everyone.
Did you know that one of the most prominent genres of music today started in these church protests? You’ll be surprised to know, the music is techno and punk rock. It neither fits the idea of communism nor church music, but it became the language of protest. This followed suit of the USSR’s more open-minded policies, namely of Perestroika and Glasnost –– policies which attempted to recover the failing communist economy and increase transparency in the Russian government respectively.
Church Concert in St Nicholas’ Church, 1988
There was another protest that used churches and music to aid their cause. The civil rights movement. This movement used gospel music, which is entirely different. Yet the concept of using music and religious venues to unite people under a common cause of freedom and basic rights was present in both these protests. The circumstances were different, with one protesting for rights within a country and the other for the formation of a new one. But the same techniques, in a way, proving once again that music and religion are universal languages.
Nine years pass with this regular cycle. The number of people gathered grows day by day. Plans are shared, and so are ideas. The 9th of October, 1989. The true catalyst, where thousands of people flood the streets all over the country. The brutal end of the Tiananmen Square Protest is heavy in the people’s minds. They fear the Stasi will bomb them, but they stay strong, chanting for their peace and freedom.
Protest outside St. Nicholas’ Church, 1989
The Stasi never attacked. That was the signal. Things would change. November 4th, 1989. Alexanderplatz, Berlin, is flooded by 500,000 people, all asking for one thing. The freedom of speech and press. November 9th 1989, the Berlin Wall fell.
Protest in Alexanderplatz, Berlin, 1989
Post The Fall: The initial stages
Celebration erupts and so does a giddy sense of freedom. Things are different, things will be better now, they believe. People storm the streets, full of hope and happiness, delirious celebrations are all that are seen. Music production is on the rise, setting in stone Germany’s predominance in the genre of electronic music. Famous brands such as Enigma rise to great heights.
The East and the West are united by a love for dance and techno music, the youth finding commonality in these genres. Punk was too politically loaded to always be around and dance was a big part of West German culture. And that is how techno music, which we still love to listen to today, was born.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl has made many promises to the GDR. They look forward to freedom. The opportunities. But as wise old men say, slow and steady wins the race. Kohl was neither. He wanted the transition done in months.
Helmut Kohl giving his 10-point plan speech, 1989
His 10-point plan for the reunification was appalling to all the other NATO countries, and many others internationally. They didn’t believe it feasible, not if the average life had to be respected.
Hurrying Never Pays Off
While the cabinet assigned for the financial reconstruction of the GDR was denied their approach, or any investment into the economy, a new leader was placed to privatise the 15,000 GDR companies. Detlev Karsen Rohwedder, a known shrewd and ruthless capitalist who had already unemployed tens of thousands.
We all know the advantages of democracy and capitalism, and yes there are many. Direct involvement in the government, healthy competition, profit, and opportunities for innovation: that’s what The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany or FRG) wanted to give the GDR. And it's also what the GDR wanted with the unification.
But speed isn’t a friend of these concepts. With the power Rohwedder now had, he began shutting down companies and writing off employees. 760,000 people (yes, indeed, more than ¾ of a million)!! All with a single signature, and there were many more.
This angered the people, naturally. Over 25% of the population was unemployed. The worst impacted group was women, who had fairly high employability and good access to childcare even in an impoverished GDR because children were considered state assets. When capitalism came into full throttle, in the quest for maximising profit, a lot of these privileges were cut.
The Startling Impact
Violence now flooded the streets. The peace that had characterised the protests in the past had now flipped completely. It gave rise to the third generation of an Anti-FRG terror group that had been hidden by the Stasi, the Red Army Faction. They had become active again through the late 80s, killing big names in capitalism.
This time, they killed Rohwedder. But what was scary was how there was no evidence, even with the confession letter the militia left. The blame for this lay with the government, however, because they didn’t implement the security measures they had promised to.
Part of the RAF Confession letter. Read the full translated version Here
Lutz Staufer, an ex-member of the RAF said in an interview “you can’t shoot capitalism, or else someone would have done it long ago.”. Perhaps shooting capitalism wouldn’t be the best idea, after all, it provided people with so many opportunities.
The immediate aftermath was horrendous, along with the stigma that the East Germans had to face all over, even as young as preschool! The children would learn from their parents that those from the GDR were inferior, and so there would be petty insults thrown such as “East Germans stink” or “East Germans are stupid.”.
A Happy (?) Ending
In the initial stages of the reunification, there were many obstacles that East Germans had to face. Due to a lack of understanding between the two sides, the reunification experience was rocky for those who were present at the beginning.
But as time passed, things changed for the better. Even those who had held stigmas in the past realised their mistakes and went as far as to reach out to those they may have hurt. This change of attitude took thirty years.
Children of the reunification and after now can see the kind of freedom they are lucky to enjoy. They have a wide range of opportunities; opportunities they wouldn’t have had without the reunification. Opportunities to meet new people and hear different stories, and be a part of one of the strongest economies in the EU.