Thoughts on the Two German Republics

If you expect a well thought out post about the current divide in German society with a far-right party on the rise, the conservatives losing votes, the labour party in a downward spiral, the liberals and most important the Greens gaining some momentum…. Sorry! I’m not going to comment on that. For now anyway. I’m trying to keep up with posting a bit each day in November, whether to call it NaBloPoMo or “Blog Every Day in November” #BEDN, which I think I might like a bit more as I feel NaBloPoMo has run it’s course. 

I’ve watched the German movie “Ballon” in our local movie theatre last night and it left me thinking about some things. The movie is based on the true story of two families who escaped from East Germany in a home made hot air balloon in 1979. I was too young to remember it when it happened and only read about it later among other escape stories. The movie was very well done, I thought, even though some of the suspense was of course fictionalized as in the families were never as close to being caught out as the movie made it seem. But the whole storyline, the oppressive atmosphere, the necessary mistrust among people, the real danger those people who just wanted a better life for themselves and their families was very well portrayed.

When we left the theatre I was trying to remember how much I actually knew about East Germany when I was growing up in the 80s. And I’m a bit ashamed to say:  very little. I knew there was a border with a fence. We had been on vacation in regions close to the border and I dimly recall – more from family anecdotes than from real memory, I think – that some of us children threw rocks or sticks towards it when we saw it on a hike. My parents were not amused, but as we have been on the West side of it all, it wasn’t really an issue. I remember seeing the fence, but I had no idea and never thought about the other half of the country behind it. I must have been 6 or 7 years old then.

When I was 10 or 11 (5th / 6th grade in 1985 or 1986) we got a new girl in our class in the middle of the  year. Her family had been allowed to leave East Germany after a long time of her parents being dissidents and even spending time in jail, I think. I honestly never asked for details even though  we’ve been on very friendly terms all the way through our school years. Her parents, her sisters and her were relocated to our area and they basically only owned the few items they were able to carry in their suitcase / bags. All of them found their footing quickly though. 

I think I did start to pay some attention to national or international politics in my early teens (1987/88) and I’m sure I must have learned about the crumbling of the Sovjet Union and consequently East Germany. I most probably read or heard about the demonstrations in East Germany and the folks travelling to Hungary and Czechoslovakia finding refuge in the West German Embassy there all through the summer of 1989. But I was 14 years old and my dad had just unexpectedly died in May that year so I think my mind was elsewhere. At least that’s my explanation. I do remember Genscher’s famous few words though (still making me weepy).

I don’t know where I’m going with this post here. There was so much I didn’t know back then. In the time after the Wall came down and the whole Reunification process I did follow up with all the horrible oppressive things that had happened in East Germany. From a news audience point of view mostly though. I don’t remember really watching a lot of the many novels or movies that dealt with all those very personal and often heartbreaking stories. Or at least not in the last 10 – 15 years. After a while it’s so easy to forget how horrible that regime in East Germany has been. So this movie was a good reminder. And a prompt for me to appreciate the way of life I’ve been granted all my life. The freedom of speech. Of vote. Of movement. Of everything really.  And that’s something worth fighting for to keep it that way or to make it that way. Everywhere on the world.

*steps off her soapbox*

Here is the movie trailer (in German, but I think you get the gist)


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