There is a story in the family about me being four years of age and explaining to my mom that there were two Germanies, the Federal Republic and the GDR, and that we were living in the Federal Republic and the people in the GDR were the surpressed ones. Only I didn’t say surpressed, I said squished – easy to confuse „unterdrückt“ and „zerdrückt“ for a little girl.
I do remember the day the wall came down. I was barely five years old. My mom and dad were crying and I had no idea what was going on, but there were lots of people on TV celebrating and appearantly all was well. I asked my mom about that day many many years later and she said that aside from the births of her children, it may just have been the greatest day in her lifetime.
Another family legend tells of the time between the wall’s downfall and the reunification when my parents took my sisters and me to see Schwerin. My dad, who never spent money lightly, had to change a certain amount of GDR currency that we needed to spend, and there was a fair, and we were allowed to go on rides until we almost threw up. I have a very faint image of a rusty merry-go-round in my head.
I think I speak for most Western German children of the 1980s when I say that we grew up with certain ideas about the GDR, the majority of which were grey, dark and solemn. Also, by the time most of us were old enough to judge for ourselves, we didn’t find that part of German history to be much of an issue. It’s not like it was World War II and we were, as a collective, to be blamed for the deaths of millions of people. It was an unfortunate epoch that now lay behind us. No big deal.
Only when I moved to the former East when I started college did I realize that it was different for other people my age – namely for those who didn’t grow up in the West. They had actual memories of things changing. Their parents had gone through identity crises when the political change came upon them. Everything they knew was re-evaluated – from their breakfast cereal to the educational system that made up their schools and kindergartens.
One friend told me that she was the first year not to become a pioneer anymore. The Thälmann Pioneers were a youth organization in the GDR, in the younger years they were like a scouts movement; the older the children got the more ideological the contents became. The initiation to the pioneers was a big deal and my friend told me that she was heartbroken because she would not get the necktie that belonged with the uniform.
Another friend told me that she was riding the city bus with her mom, and the way she had gotten used to, she started singing, and she sang her favorite song from kindergarten. But right away her mom shushed her and said harshly: „You’re not allowed to sing that anymore!!!“ It was the song about the red Soviet star.
All of a sudden there was room for me to realize that while nothing had ever changed fundamentally in my own life, it was different for my friends. And I keep trying to understand the differences that came about between us with this political event every day.
In Berlin the course of the wall is indicated in the street pavement by the use of different looking paving stones. Every day on my way to work I cross this line on the ground as I go from the former West to the former East. It has become somewhat regular, but on most days I still smile when I do. The idea that it would have been impossible 25 years ago is unspeakable.
Who would I be if Germany had not been reunited 22 years ago today?
I could write a long list of speculations here that I could not possibly prove. I’ll just make one statement that I am fairly certain about: I wouldn’t have been able to leave my heart in so many places. And man, I’d hate that.