Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
The Berlin Wall has now been down longer than it was up (economist.com)
250 points by mpweiher 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments

I was a teenager when the wall came down, but I remember that time well enough to know it was full of positive energy and good feelings. It was a great time to be alive.

Is there any East/West cultural tension in Germany lingering from the country being divided for a few decades?

The US still has some undertones of North/South culture clashes and our civil war was over 150 years ago.

Here's an article from two years ago comparing how reunification is proceeding: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/02/german-reunifi...

TL;DR: the West is more than twice as wealthy as the East, nearly none of the wealthiest citizens or largest companies are based in the East, expected lifetimes in the East have just about caught up with the West, about 10% of marriages are between Easterners and Westerners (the same proportion as between citizens and immigrants), more migrants live in the West, though the East is leading in some areas such as education and the availability of childcare, and about half of all citizens report that Easterners and Westerners have more differences than similarities.

That doesn't sound too bad.

When the wall fell, an East German aunt of mine visited relatives in both West Germany and the US. She said something like "Everyone in West Germany is rich compared to us. Then you go to America and everyone is like on Dallas (a night time soap where everyone owned oil wells and stuff)."

I was in West Germany when the wall came down. They stopped requiring ID cards to enter the American military base ("kasern" iirc). This lasted a week or so and then the Gulf War started, at which point you needed you military ID plus a second photo ID to get on base.

I watched the wall come down on TV with my baby and toddler climbing all over me. I sent care packages to East German relatives for a time after it came down and it was no longer a security risk for my husband for me to admit I was related to these people.

It's not just cultural tension, the divide is still deeply visible in society. You can see the old border in basically every statistical map you look at. A few years ago Zeit had this visualisation http://www.zeit.de/feature/german-unification-a-nation-divid...

Be careful with the causality here. Some East/West distinctions predate the wall. A vivid example is the 1933 electoral map http://brilliantmaps.com/nazi-votes/ but this too reflects an older reality. (Of course some of the contrast is indeed due to the postwar history, just not all.)

And likewise, the US North/South culture war long predates the civil war. Puritans and Cavaliers didn't exactly see eye to eye 200 years before that.

Regions 1 and 5-9 are now part of Poland rather than East Germany, and once you remove them the pattern is a lot less clear.

This is true.

About the people, I don't actually know much about where they were moved to. Do you perhaps know of a good summary?

Within the current borders, names ending -ow & -itz (of slavic origin) look like they have a transition near the iron curtain: http://truth-and-beauty.net/experiments/ach-ingen-zell/ I thought this was very old, but I guess there could be some mass renaming campaign I somehow didn't know about...

Even limiting ourselves to post-WW2, the wall went up more than 15 years after the end of the war; actual border lines were basically marked in 1944 already, and made official in 1949. That’s almost a generation spent apart before the wall symbolized the division.

East Germany officially lasted 50 years; that buoy will only be passed in 2039.

Sure! Perhaps I should have said iron curtain instead of wall.

My point was only that quite a few of these differences East/West of the border would have been unsurprising long before the war. Some long long before: bits of the west were part of Charlemagne's empire.

Likewise the US, where it's not so much of a stretch to map the culture war onto the English civil war.

I don't know if "tension" is the right word, but there's absolutely visible differences. Particularly countrywide. The reasons for the differences are complicated and involve history, culture, and economics. Some reading from the 2016 elections: https://www.ft.com/content/e7c7d918-a17e-11e7-b797-b61809486... https://www.citylab.com/equity/2017/09/berlin-after-the-elec...

(I'm American, this is my outsider perspective.)

West/South Germans have lots of stereotypes and jokes about East Germans. (Not condoning them, just know about them from my wife having lived in eastern Germany in the early 2000s.) See: https://www.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/4stddr/til_t... ("Only druggies and East Germans are named Kevin.").

From some of the Germans I've talked to, there is a bit of a bias against East Germans. Some West Germans (especially Bavarians apparently) see East Germans as uneducated and more likely to be criminals.

I don't know how deep this bias runs, or how common it is, but it does exist.


My father came from the east and my mother from the west. I was born in tge west, 5 years before the wall fell.

I had a bunch of girlfriends who grew up in the east.

To me it was never much of a thing.

But I know for many other people it is :/

There is still a term "Ostalgie" that refers to nostalgia for life in Eastern Germany.

I've heard neo-Nazis are usually in/from East.

A friend from Berlin told me once, for the west part of the city, the whole story was a big party. Money was poured into the city and nobody cared what they did.

The complete opposite of what happened in the east.

Also I would think housing was practically free. If you have any sort of purchasing power you're not going to want to live surrounded by the Soviet Union.

Is there such a thing as societal post-traumatic stress? I'd love to see data about how people's experience and perception of events change over time. Also the generational impact monumental events like the Berlin wall have on a groups psyche.

Speaking from experience, I see differences between my friends that lived through the balkan wars and those who emigrated before them.

If you have the chance to go to Berlin, hit up the museums. There's quite a few which will give you some of the perspective you need. The impact of the wall (see Checkpoint Charlie) is couched in the context of the holocaust, the SS, and the rise and fall of Naziism (see Topography of Terror, Jewish Museum, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe). Then these things must in turn be understood in the context of Germany's transition from empire to republic, unification, the Protestant reformation, and WWI (various other museums).

I highly recommend spending a few days in Berlin and just seeing this stuff in person. Hotels are comparatively cheap and English will get you far. Just seeing this stuff helped immensely for me, and you can make interesting connections when you see everything in one place.

Even small slices of this history are fascinating, like the different policies of urban renewal during different periods of Berlin's history—neighborhoods being torn down for modern construction, the building of Berliner Dom, the competition between East and West during occupation both w.r.t. large public works and housing.

I can highly recommend The Story of Berlin on Kurfürstendamm. It's laid out in chronological order, so it gives a very powerful sense of the turmoil that Berlin has experienced.

Another thing to do is one of the bike tours here: https://www.fattiretours.com/berlin There are different tours but they have a lot of overlapping content. It was really cool to have a bike trip weaving back and forth between East & West Berlin.

It is a great place to visit for historical significance. A reminder please don't try to 'bring home a piece of the Berlin wall' .. At the worst its real and you're moving some history from their home to yours. At best its fake and you're buying some random busted cement.

> At the worst its real and you're moving some history from their home to yours.

Over a hundred thousand tons of wall, and most of it was sent for recycling. I'm pretty sure breaking one of the many anonymous segments into fragments and selling them off is an action that greatly increases the historical reverence being given to it.

Life on the wrong side of the wall was mostly boring, sometimes unfair, and, in some cases, certainly inhumane and traumatic. But the collective experience was probably far less of a burden than the balkans in the 90s, or Syria today.

The Second World War and the Holocaust had a much deeper effect on the German psyche, one that to this day defines its thinking and action. None of the other similarly-sized countries has embraced European unification with such insistence, or rejected nationalism and militarism to such a degree: The glorification of the military on display, for example, during yesterday's Super Bowl, would be unthinkable in Germany.

That mindset is summarised in sayings like "If it happened once, it can happen again", or "not guilt, but responsibility" (for today's generations.) It's probably the reason why Germany managed to take in 1.5 Million refugees with the hard-right not getting more than 15% in the next election, while around 15,000 refugees each were apparently enough (among other things) for xenophobia to triumph in US elections, and Brexit.

As a German I can only confirm this assessment. However, I would not downplay the danger of our hard-right political spectrum.

If you look at the Fed Rep of Germany, but Austria and Switzerland are also German-speaking nations and should be counted. Austria was part of the Nazi regime, and the Switz did their banking. Austria's been far more hard-right than Germany, and Switzerland far more isolationist, e.g. not joining the EU.

The Swiss have been isolationist for five centuries, which is why they did everyone's banking in the war.

I think that's an erroneous reading.

Let's say you are five years old and one day you witness the neighbor across the street get into an argument with another person, then you watch as the neighbor takes a machete they'd been using to clean up brush in their yard and starts raining down blows on the other person, brutally murdering them in public right in front of your eyes. This happens, the whole neighborhood knows about it, but nobody does anything, the neighbor is never arrested. The neighbor never does anything similar ever again, and you grow to 80 years old living in the same house across the street, relaying the story to your own children and your grand children as surely others in the neighborhood do as well. Yes, day to day, hour to hour, life would seem superficially normal. But also every day, every hour, every moment, every thought would exist beneath a cloud. There would be no way to deny the reality of the state of the world and your relationship to it. You could not ever forget that a murderer lived across the street. It would effect every aspect of how you lived your life, it would effect many of your day to day choices from the big to the small. You'd avoid coming into conflict with that person, you would probably try to move away if you could, and so on.

The same is true of living in a totalitarian regime or under tyranny or living as a second class citizen or as a slave. Yes, day to day things might seem perfectly "normal". But that normality is itself an illusion. Just as living inside a prison one might "go about one's day" as if what you were experiencing were normal. No, you do not run to the edge of the razor wire topped fence every day, doing so might get you shot. No you do not challenge the status quo every day, doing so is useless and might get you shot. You make do with what you have, you set up your own boundaries that limit the actions you take within a confine that is strictly inside and buffered from the actual hard limits that exist in your world. You don't walk up to the guards at the Berlin Wall and ask "may I leave East Berlin today? I would like to do so" every single day. No, you live your entire life under a cloud of oppression and you live your life with a very different conception of your future possibilities than someone who lives on the other side of the wall.

I'll link here to an excellent /r/AskHistorians reddit post from a while back on what it was like to live in the USSR during Stalin's great purge: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/4md4c4/how_m...

An excerpt:

> You would not know, but it would consume your entire being.

> Imagine a disaster.

> Whether it is an earthquake, a tornado or a hurricane, what comes to mind is a catastrophic moment in which lives are upended, homes torn apart, and families scattered. When the disaster ends, the rebuilding begins. Schools are erected, homes renovated, and so on.

> The psychological damage takes longer to heal. A disaster creates uncertainty. You may not know where your next meal is coming from or where you'll sleep tonight. You might not know where your brother, sister, mother or father is. Do you have a job anymore? Can you survive anymore?

> A disaster is not just the single moment when the roof is torn from your home. It lasts until you are again as secure as you were before the disaster.

Living under the thumb of the East German police state would have been similar in character (if not quite in degree). You would know someone (a relative, a friend of a friend) who had run afoul of the regime and been reeled in in one way or another (arrested, executed, denounced, what-have-you). You would see the fingerprints of the totalitarian regime in every aspect of daily life and it would leave a shadow in your mind that would remain for a very long time.

As horrible as prison is people still get used to it. A few have trouble in when let outside and want to go back.

There is a tendency to think of such people as far outside of the norm, but it's common enough that I think it's just part of the normal human spectrum. For many the USSR was simply how things where, and many who had little power back then still think fondly of that time period. Which really should not be that surprising as for the average person prison would be worse.

That's not to downplay the bad, just notice how people can normalize repeated suffering / be willing to make different trade offs.

I'd have to imagine the wall would just be a one more bullet on a list of traumatic experiences for the region instead of THE traumatic event. I mean this came after a few world wars, genocide, dictators....

Possible that stress affects future generations in surprising ways as well, not only those who experienced it.

The offspring of mice exposed to stress react to the prompt their parents were conditioned with, even though they were raised separately and never exposed to the conditioning: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fearful-memories-...

Listen to the song Eleanor Rigby. It expresses it so well.

Not the central point of the article, but still.

A quality newspaper that writes of German soldiers in West Berlin shows quite a lack of understanding. West Berlin was not a part of the Federal Republic of Germany. Although in many aspects the line was blurred, when it comes to military it was very clear: There were only American, British, and French troops in West Berlin, each in their respective sector. Although Western Germany had mandatory military service, West Berlin didn't.

(As a matter of fact even civilian German aircrafts were not allowed in West Berlin, but that's getting off-topic)

In these dark times, my optimism is subdued.

It is reason to celebrate, but let's not forget how easy it is to rot a democracy from the inside.

There are lots of problems with today's democracies, but the problems of the 20th century are on a completely different scale than the ones we're dealing with now.

I understand what they are saying, but that was always true.

Less than 50 % availability? Pathetic.

Weird. Apropos absolutely nothing, I did a rough calculation on exactly that subject only two or three days ago. In my head, and without immediate access to data, got no further than "sometime later this year".

Starting in 1945, Russia had a very strong desire to pull out of Berlin and east Germany, it never wanted to be there. England and the US had agreed that Germany would be demilitarized, but then reneged on that promise, and formed a military alliance against Russia which west Germany joined in 1955. That was two years after Radio Free Europe in west Berlin was advocating riots to east Berliners and east Germans - which took place. And only six years after this was a wall built. Imagine if Iran occupied half of San Francisco or New York City and Iranians became indignant a wall was put up around their section? Of course much of the Nazis and SS high command was put to work in west Germany after the war in intelligence and business (union-busting etc.) other than their cleaner hands leaders like Reinhard Gehlen, or less clean hands such as Nazi and SS leader Hanns Martin Schleyer who was head of the post-war German Employers' Association (but whose past was not discussed much, most references to him are in regards to "far-left Red Army Faction terrorism"). Also, the Rhineland was the heart of German industrial might, the Russians got the duds in Germany other than a divided Berlin which caused them and the DDR's leaders headaches.

Whereas Austria, which Russia had occupied but which did not go remilitarize and join NATO, was withdrawn from by Russia, just like Russia pulled out of Iran and a number of other places as agreed. The allies had agreed Germany not be remilitarized and made a military threat to a twice invaded Russia within a 30 year span, but then England and the US broke that deal.

So Russia, who wanted to leave and have Germany reunite, was stuck by US/UK policy. Actually, as has been revealed, Margaret Thatcher was forcibly against east Germany reuniting with west Germany at a time when the Russians wanted it. So this thread stretched all the way from 1945 to 1990.

Right. Just like Russia wanted to leave Poland, Ukraine, the Baltics, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. It was the west that forced them to stay.

When the Russian Revolution took place, many of the areas you discuss were part of the Russian empire. So "Russian occupation", if that is what it was, did not start with the Bolsheviks.

Hungary is a different story, but then of course, the Hungarians established themselves as a communist republic in 1919 with no Russians in sight. This was actually put down by foreign intervention - Romanian invasion and guns, with strong support from England in the background. So you could say the Red Army was just restoring what had been taken away by foreign invasion in 1919.

Most of these areas were only “a part of the Russian empire” because Russia had previously invaded them. You seem to have completely forgotten the Partitions of Poland, the numerous uprisings in the 19th Century, and the defeat of the Soviet Army by Poland following WWI, which thus curtailed Soviet expansion. Clearly the Poles did not want to be a part of the Russian empire. The same story is essentially true to a varying degree for most other cultures in the area.

Actually, as has been revealed, Margaret Thatcher was forcibly against east Germany reuniting with west Germany at a time when the Russians wanted it

At that point in history Gorbachev was in a precarious position and Thatcher worried that giving up East Germany might see him forced from office and hardliners taking over. Mitterand also opposed reunification for much the same reason.

There was, in fact, a coup against Gorbechev shortly afterwards, bearing out the fears of Thatcher and Mitterand.

Of course, the coup petered out, Boris Yeltsin climbed atop one of the tanks and addressed the crowd of anti-Communist protesters who had assembled outside of the Russian Parliament building, and the Soviet Union promptly collapsed, which is not a series of events that anyone in the West had predicted.

I will address only one line from your post:

> Whereas Austria, which Russia had occupied but which did not go remilitarize and join NATO, was withdrawn from by Russia, just like Russia pulled out of Iran and a number of other places as agreed.

Russia "overstayed" their occupation in Austria (although they left without issues).

But they've definitely overstayed their forces in Persia and tried to create a separatist republic there.

It took a complaint to UN (and as rumours say, nuclear threat from US) for Persia to get rid of Russian forces.

So no, they definitely didn't "pull out of Iran and a number of other places as agreed"

They also didn't pull out of Korea until after they set up the Kim regime--in fact, the Korean War saw Soviet fighter pilots, still serving with the North Korean military, go into battle against the UN forces flying Soviet-provided MiGs.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact