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The Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago, but Germany is still divided (washingtonpost.com)
158 points by tbolse on Nov 2, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments

I'm a little concerned with the lack of any absolute numbers in the data visualisations in this article. The 'more/less' and 'higher/lower' bars could be very misleading on some of these stats. I can understand that adding numbers can make these visualisations a little more intimidating but is it too much to expect the high/low ranges to have an absolute number on them?

For example in the disposal income visualisation what kind of magnitude of a difference is there. Is the average 2 thousand euro a year lower or 10 thousand euro a year?

What concerns me is that some of these stats can be massaged with the right visuals into producing a difference between East and West that isn't as big a difference as the graph makes it out to be.

The original article published in the German newspaper Die Zeit has the graphics with numbers. The article and the graphics are in English. http://zeit.de/feature/german-unification-a-nation-divided

I do not know why the Washington Post removed the numbers in their graphics...

Washington Post is courting the "numbers are a distraction from the story" demographic.

Had a small twitter discussion with the editor of the article yesterday, that for example the data on trash is not comparable (different metrics in different municipalities, for example counting collected foliage or not), especially that it doesn't allow the conclusion for a national divide, based on some vague stereotypes. At least this fact got amended into the paragraph.

The bigger picture is that the eastern part of Germany got deindustrialized twice. The first time post-WW2 from both sides. In part by the US-forces who had seized the western parts, like Thuringia, but had to hand them over to the Soviets in time, so they seized anything they could easily move out to the western zones; We take the brain[1].

On the other hand the Soviets, who were way more strict in getting their reparations than their western counterparts, took apart a lot of factories and railways and shipped them eastwards. Every bigger company that could, moved their HQ and center of operations to the western zones — where they stay until today — on their own as well. With them went up to 3000 mostly well educated people per day, in total more than 3 million (of 17M total) in the 16 years before the wall was built in '61. The motivation of building the wall was therefore economic in nature, since the GDR couldn't survive this ongoing brain drain with the mythical Wirtschaftwunder going on next door.

30 years later in the early 1990s after the fall of the Wall and the reunification the Treuhand, a state owned-holding, who's sole purpose it was to sell-off the former GDR state owned businesses to potential investors, kind of more or less knowingly finished off the rest of what was left of the industry. Since not a few of the western investors were solely interested in buying up potential rival enterprises, so they could dismantle them shortly after. This left the east in a highly disadvantageous position with the west of Germany, since there were practically zero industry clusters left and since then state subsidies had could only do so much in creating the organic growth that was needed.[2 includes some good maps]

[1] http://www.pentaconsix.com/01gerhis.htm

[2] http://www.dw.de/mapping-differences-in-two-german-economies...

Don't forget the crushing secret police state, the high cost of the soviet focus on war production that redeployed commerce across the soviet empire to make weapons, instead of consumer goods, centralized planning, failed communist economic policies, gulags, and the decades of communist education that wiped out generations of entrepreneurs.

Wait a second, who was send to Gulags (in Siberia, I suppose)?

Little mentioned fact is that after WWII the soviets took almost 1M people laborers from Germany to USSR. I think some of them returned.

The allies also used a lot of them. Not their brightest hour.


And where did all the Solidaritätszuschlag go? I think there has been heavy investment in the East, too. I'm too lazy to look it up, but it must be billions and billions and there is still more coming?

When I came to Leipzig for the first time I was surprised how new and clean everything looked. Much nicer than in rich Munich. Because in Leipzig everything WAS new. However, they also had some building scandal (one guy defrauding banks to do lots of expensive building), I am not sure if that also factored into it.

I heard back then (a couple of years after reunion) that for example universities also had better equipment in the East because everything was new.

I believe that reflection upon these results is critical to any attempt at raising the economic productivity of a region. It seems clear that infrastructure, education, and business development incentives (even if only in making it easier to found and afford to fail at making a go of a small business) are critical ingredients to economic vitality.

Reading this, I couldn't help thinking of an observation P.J. O'Rourke made after visiting the DDR ("East Germany"): "It takes a special kind of economic system to turn a nation full of Germans into a third-world country".

Nails it. Great quote. And you can't reverse the damage of this economic system overnight, especially when almost all of the young people willing to build and create something new have moved away.

The last part of your reply is especially important: East Germany is most likely the blue print of what will happen to the southern portions of the European Union. I am surprized this is not discussed more widely. Deindustrialization with most of the educated young generation moving away. This trend is hard to reverse.

as if the Morgenthau Plan was never canceled

25 years is a very short time to expect some of the longer term economic and cultural changes to take place. Just like the street light bulbs, they'll get replaced as the old ones die off.

On a related note, I've never understood how you could live in West Berlin and yet travel freely to the rest of west Germany, because the city itself was deep in East Germany. I know the city was supplied by airlift during the blockade, but that eventually stopped. So how did someone from West Berlin travel to, say, Frankfurt by car? What was to stop someone from East Germany doing the same thing? The wall only went through the city, right?

I have travelled in East Germany and I found it to be a pleasant place, with very friendly people. Though they tended to have bizarre fashion sense and much more limited English compared to west Germany.

This puzzled me too.

Wikipedia has a good overview under the Travel section of the article on West Berlin though: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Berlin#Transport_and_trans...

Seems like there were a few ways out, and they all had systems of monitoring in place. Westerners on the highways could interact with Easterners, but their trip was monitored at check points, down to how much time they took for the journey, to make sure they weren't fraternizing too much.

Apparently the GDR, who was bearing the cost of the transit roads and was facing economic difficulties, began levying fees on travel from West Berlin and West Germany. They tried to increase these fees, but eventually the FRG, probably realizing it was over a barrel on the issue, just started paying the GDR a yearly fee to keep the roads toll free.

The flight travel bit is interesting. If you had fled into West Berlin, you can't exactly drive through East Germany like everyone else. The Western government subsidized a flight service between West Berlin and West Germany primarily for such travelers.

Fascinating period.

The 1948-49 blockade was also fascinating moment. The Western parts of Berlin (at the time split between France, UK and USA) had their roads blocked off; rather than start getting supplies from the Soviet side and thus lose control over West Berlin, an airlift was instituted which did an amazing 200,000 flights to Tempelhof over 11 months. In comparison, Chicago ORD had 580,000 combined landings and takeoffs in the whole of 2014.

Conflict-wise it's interesting to contrast the general Cold War with the non-wars if Afghanistan, Iraq.

> So how did someone from West Berlin travel to, say, Frankfurt by car?

There were few approved transit routes from West Berlin to West Germany. So you could get a transit visa (which you had to pay for in west german currency) upon getting on one of those routes and present it to exit the GDR again (you weren't allowed to leave the transit route midway, and if you took to long to pass through, you'd be questioned). Note that transit between West Berlin and West Germany is different from simply crossing between the two Germanies[0], which was relatively easy for est german citizens, but particularly difficult to do for east german citizens.

> What was to stop someone from East Germany doing the same thing? The wall only went through the city, right?

The wall may have only gone through the city, but there still were border checkpoints[1] outside of Berlin.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_the_inner_German_borde... [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inner_German_border

> 25 years is a very short time to expect some of the longer term economic and cultural changes to take place.

And yet, the GDR only existed for 40 years.

It's much easier to destroy than to create.

Unless you wish to create ruins.

The Transitabkommen of 1971 guaranteed free Travel for Citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany.


The airlift had to happen because the USSR cut off the highway access to West Berlin.

I believe the highway was cordoned off from the rest of East Germany.

One thing that I never understood is that in order to make this happen, planes had to fly above the USSR controlled East Germany, what prevented the soviets from just shooting down every plane since it was their airspace at the time?

The agreements put in place regarding the partition of authority over Germany after the war did not require keeping the roads and railways open, but did require keeping air access open along certain corridors.

So the East/Soviet leadership was able to close the roads and railways without violating any agreement; the Western/US/UK/France leadership had simply not anticipated originally that this would happen.

There were documented cases of harassment of planes, but shooting them down would have provoked another war immediately. And the Soviets knew they were not prepared to fight another war. Especially because the Soviets did not yet have nuclear weapons at the time of the blockade/airlift (the blockade lasted June 1948-May 1949, and the USSR did not conduct its first successful nuclear-weapons test until August 1949).

Western intelligence services used the flights in those corridors for arial photography. So the Soviets had reasons for harassing planes that tested the limits of the corridor.

The same forces that prevented active warfare between the superpowers throughout the Cold War period. It came down to how much provocation they could get away with. In the case of the blockade, preventing ground traffic was doable but shooting down airplanes would have rapidly led to an all-out war.

Nuclear war?

I'm always annoyed that while pointing out that the right-wing extremist parties are stronger in the east than in the west of Germany, they really don't matter at all. Look at their numbers[1]. However, the left-wing extremist party "Die Linke" is a direct successor of the SED, which was the communist party of the DDR, is surprisingly strong [2]. Clearly, it shows the disappointment of the reunion of quite some people in eastern Germany. The disturbing fact here is:

The difficulties these regions face are a direct consequence of the exploitation done by the communist dictation (the SED). It took billions of euros to alone fix the environmental damage, e.g. in Bitterfeld [3](unfortunately in German). Also, the industry there was not on level to compete in the world market, how should it? State-directed economy might have theoretically advantages when applied worldwide by humans without human flaws, but in our real world it has been proven wrong again and again.

The damage done to a region by 40 years socialism can't be fixed within 25 years with 0.95 ... 2 trillion (!) [4] euros. But people still vote for the party who has done all the damage. (And I haven't talked about the personal damage that has been done by prosecution, murder and torture by the Stasi (the secret forces of the DDR).

[1] http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nationaldemokratische_Partei_De... [2] http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_Linke [3] http://www.faz.net/aktuell/wirtschaft/20-jahre-umweltunion-m... [4] http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosten_der_deutschen_Einheit

The difficulties these regions face are a direct consequence of the exploitation done by the communist dictation (the SED).

While that is an often repeated trope, you'll be hard pressed to find actual studies supporting it. In fact is seems that correcting for the different start positions of both economies (marshall plan in the west vs. reparations in the east) explains pretty much all the difference that was appearent in the late 80s. (see e.g. "Das Scheitern des Realsozialismus" by Steinitz).

I'm not sure why that trope is so successful, but one reason could be the that from the viewpoint of someone from the western parts of Germany looking at the eastern parts, what catches the eye is the abysimal effiency of the micro economical structures, as micro economical effiency is something a market economy shines at. The macro economical aspects are not that appearent for an observer because apart from monetary policy macro economies aren't part of the western political discourse. But Eastern Germany had a planned economy, e.g. the focus laid on the macro economical development, and macro economical growth was indeed consistently higher than in Western Germany from the 50s until the 80s.

It took billions of euros to alone fix the environmental damage, e.g. in Bitterfeld

...as it did in Western Germany in the 80s. Haven't you seen the pictures of the massive acid rain damages of the black forest in Western Germany? (have a look at "der Spiegel" from 1981: http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-14347006.html) Those massive environmental destructions were results of the industrial zeitgeist and could be observed in both political hemispheres.


as it takes a magnitude more energy to refute bullshit than to produce it, i'll be brief.

1., the complete soviet block collapsed due to its economic system and policies. growth, consistently from 50 to 80s, higher than in the west? are you delusional?

2., the "saurer regen" was a) never that bad and b) still tackled and fixed. what exactly did the east ever fix?

as someone who travelled into the old eastern block due to my heritage i have to say that your revisionist bullshit is deeply offending.


Thanks for that insightful reply.

A lot of people who vote for Die Linke might either be too young to really have experienced the GDR in full bloom, or are compelled by actual arguments, of which they occasionally feign a few good ones, as politicians usually do.

BTW: I met a lot of people who'd been incarcerated mostly for their political motivation, but I've never met anyone who was murdered. Although I see how that might be difficult, I haven't even as much as heard about it. So, either the Secret Police really kept it secret or you are being overly dramatic.

count all the deaths by border guards plus the victims of 1953.

plus hard to meet someone who has been murdered...

Die Linke is the successor to the SED, a party that went defunct 25 years ago. It's been participating in the democratic process ever since reunification, and is part of several state as well as numerous local governments. For the most part, and certainly in terms of their actual political activity, the correct label is "social democratic" and not so much "extremist". It's anything but surprising they poll in the double digits, right-wing political spin notwithstanding.

"Offa's Dyke fell 750 years ago, but, the United Kingdom is still divided"

I am not sure about flu jabs and childcare or even who does their recycling, however I am sure that most of the comparisons can be said about England and Wales. It would be funny if pollsters did surveys and found 50% of English people didn't think the union with Wales had worked out as well as the king had told them it would.

Look north instead of west and you'll see a chunk of the United Kingdom where a lot of people seem to think that joining with the English was a bad idea after all.

The light color difference in Berlin is awesome, didn't know that.

Another difference: the Ampelmann West: http://tinyurl.com/krew59f East: http://tinyurl.com/k6nk8dx

I'm waiting for the Lichtgrenze installation (licht=light, grenze=border) which visualizes the Berlin wall next week. http://vimeo.com/105754237, https://fallofthewall25.com/

The Ampelmann is no longer a differentiator between East an West Berlin, nowadays it's "east Ampelmann" everywhere in Berlin.


This led me down a few rabbit holes online. I had never heard the Kennedy or Reagan speeches from Berlin, but they're embedded on the wiki:


Those both stood out against the backdrop of dry political speeches. You have a leading statesman, sure, of a country with plenty of its own flaws, but calling out a system that is completely absurd, immoral, and against the course of history. Speaking partly from national interest, no doubt, but still calling something out, calling it like it is.

Leaders seem to get a lot of extra points in their legacy column when they're able to pull this off.

If the sitting President were to make such a speech today, I wonder what and where it would be.

In Washington DC, calling for the dismantling of the military industrial complex, an end to perpetual war, a pacifying of the increasingly violent police, and the general re-establishment of the individual rights enshrined in the Constitution.

President Obama made a major, iconically-staged speech in Cairo in 2009 regarding relations between Muslim-majority countries and the NATO (approximately) West:


Fascinating book about the Kennedy time period in Berlin:


Probably in Syria, calling for reform of radical Islam.

> Probably in Syria, calling for reform of radical Islam.

What you say makes no sense.Of all the countries in middle-east,Syria is one of the least islamic and did a good job at protecting minorities like christians.

Your saudi folks on the other hand are no different that what ISIS is preaching.But your government loves saudi money.

The US loved Saudi oil, not Saudi money so much. The US never really needed money from Saudi Arabia. The sole reason the US took a distinct interest in propping up the monarchy was for oil price and supply stability.

With the US boom in shale / fracking oil (and Canada's coinciding oil boom), Saudi oil not only matters less by the day to the US, but Saudi Arabia is increasingly becoming a hostile oil competitor looking to fight the US domestics for market share. That conflict will get worse by the year going forward, likely eventually ending with the US reducing its guarantees of security for the monarchy and with the Saudis turning increasingly to China for protection.

I'm from Germany (born shortly before the fall) , and I always found it super weird that this "us vs. them" mentality existed. Compared to the enormous timespan east and west Germany was considered the same nation, those 40 years seem to pale in comparison. Besides that, there wasn't a civil war or anything that divided the population intrinsically, but it was forced upon us. On the other hand, Germans are known for doing or thinking what they're told and in German media and the German mindset, the wall still exists.

"Enormous timespan"? I think if you take some history into account you will reconsider that. We tend to project the existence of a construct called Germany backward in time, but Germany did not really come into existence until a bunch of small states were united under Prussian leadership in 1871, and even then it remained a pretty fragile construct. Lots of tribalisms remained. Still, if you count the timespan between 1871 and 1945, you get a bit over 70 years. That's not nothing, but not that much more than 40 years. You should probably subtract the four years of WWI and the 12 catastrophic years of Nazi rule, and then you are left with less than 60 years of shared history before the division into east and west.

A nation is not defined by borders and politics.

I think you are confusing nation with state, which is an easy to mistake to make when the nation-state -- the idea of state tightly coupled to nations -- has been a norm for several centuries, but while nation-states might be the current norm, nations and states remain distinct concepts.

In the specific context of Germany, while its true that Germany has been a nation for quite a long time (long before it was a single state), but nations are just social identities, and both sides in the Cold War were quite active in actively using propaganda to build "us" vs. "them" identities, and its not that surprising that without strong organized active supporting for the old pan-German identity and with active efforts to create opposing identities to replace it over a couple of generations, that there is a gulf created which will take another couple of generations of active effort -- at least -- to erase.

Yes, it is. Nationalism as a political ideology just likes to pretend as though it weren't.

Ok, since we're kind of nitpicking over the word "nation": what do you suppose was the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation?

I'm aware that you were referring to the idea of a nation as it was established around the time of the French revolution. However, "Germany" as some kind of coherent construct is not just a recent concept.

Oh please then do tell what it is defined by.

That is the distinction between nation and state - nation just means people sharing language, culture, history and so on but does not imply living together in one state. So even while Germans lived in two states while Germany was divided they still were one nation. And I just want to explain the difference, I don't want to make any statement whether this distinction is relevant or not for the parent comment.

WWII was wiping out a lot of German history. In the west some restauration of old elites took place. In the east, a new political and economic system replaced what was there before. 40 years means roughly two generations of socialism under soviet leadership. Both parts of Germany were developing into role models for their political systems. A lot of structural change took place in the east.

It's also always astonishing how very little basic views change over time in people. I can well remember that many of the generation who grew up before or during WWII was anti-semitic views long after the Third Reich. Even people who were not active racists had them. The Third Reich was responsible for some, but some views were very old (see for example Martin Luther http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_and_antisemitism ).

For some change the previous generations have to die away, but there are underlying views which are hard to change even between generations.

> Germans are known for doing or thinking what they're told

Well, actually communism was a German invention. You may have heard of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and others. The particular combination of Racism and National Socialism / Fascism was also a home-grown development. A working model of democracy had to be explained to us, though. It took a few decades in West Germany to make it work, put the results were positive.

By "thinking what they're told" I mean that they believe everything they hear and see little to no reason for political activity. In caricatures, Germans were and sometimes still are depicted as a "Deutscher Michel" with a nightcap, because of their political inactivity and lethargy.

So what I actually meant was that in German media, the cultural differences between east and west are still heavily emphasized, there are special shows about it and thus the people tend to think about eastern Germany as "them". The differences do exist, but you could take any 2 Bundesländer and they'd have almost or even more differences to each other, than any western Bundesland has with an eastern one.

> The differences do exist, but you could take any 2 Bundesländer and they'd have almost or even more differences to each other, than any western Bundesland has with an eastern one.

There are differences between Bundesländer. But West vs. East has a lot of special differences: ownership, farms, small and medium companies, political views, religion, etc...

For example North and South parts of West Germany differ in religion: protestant vs. catholic. East Germany OTOH has a larger atheist population.

From a long term cultural view, somebody from Rostock is not much different than somebody from Hamburg (where I live). It's just that Hamburg had several decades economic success, and Rostock did not. This affects employment, job opportunities, population development, GDP, etc. The differences between the former East and West Germany are real, even though some are getting smaller. It will take more decades to change things. The equal living standard is a goal. Generally differences are okay and Germany had always states which had their own business/views/traditions - different from countries where there is a more centralized situation (UK/London, France/Paris, ...).

I like to think the German people as a culture changed twice or thrice over the past 100 years; WW1, then the economic problems which helped bring the nazi party to power and change the Germans' culture, then WW2 (as a continuation therof) and the post-war fallout and separation of the country for two generations. Then the post-cold war rebuild, the period we're in right now. I doubt much of 'classic' German-ness remained out of all of those events and cultural changes.

Besides the still visible difference between eastern and western Germany you should not forget that we are really well off in comparison with other countries. And not everything in eastern Germany is worse, for example daycare availability as a leftover from the GDR or infrastructure like roads and the fiber network due to the heavy investments after the reunion. When DSL became common it was hard to get it in eastern Germany because there were no copper cables.

>>Here is one possible explanation: Having dealt with constant food shortages until 1989, eastern Germans learned to economize and buy only those items they deemed necessary

There are two sides to this. After the fall of communism in Poland in 1989 people would buy EVERYTHING they could put their hands on. We had 3 washing machines in our basement - when I asked my father why, he replied that during communist times you had to apply to the government for a permit to buy one, so after 1989, when you suddenly could just walk into a store and buy one with no restrictions, it made perfect sense to buy 3 at once! You never know if you won't need more! And the same principle applied to everything. In fact, my father made a very successful business importing stuff from the West, since (as he put it) you could bring back a truck full of any junk you could find, and people would buy it - they were so eager to breathe in this new capitalist freedom where anyone could buy anything, that they were buying old TVs and motorcycles by a dozen.

I think, one of the reasons, many in Eastern Germany turn to right wing parties or groups, is that they see it as alternative to the capitalistic system, which is represented by the other parties. The other alternative, the left wing side was made unpopular by the fall of the so called "communistic system" and the saying, that Communism has lost, sticks to the people. So they turn right wing. Of course, the right wing parties are no real alternative to capitalism, but that is difficult to comprehend.

Even Hitler himself presented the NSDAP as alternative to the US capitalism in the 30s. On the surface, it was, but when you looked deeper it was some kind of "undercover capitalism" under the hood of a movement that claimed to be social and unite the people -- but in reality it united some people, by tearing the whole apart, by finding some new foes, the rest of the people should feel as one. But this was an illusion from beginning.

I think, the right wing parties and groups do the same today again. They find the problems, the people have with capitalism -- and capitalism did not treat the eastern people well after the fall of the wall -- and use it as cheese in their big mouse trap.

Yes, Germany is still divided in my opinion today, because the rulers did not understand that the people need more than only bananas and some money in their pockets to go shopping.

Many women -- it is said -- even had an abortion in Eastern Germany after the fall of the wall, because unemployment was pressing so hard and in spite of German laws, some employers pressured them to do so. With unemployment still high and wages still lower than in the western parts, it is understandable, that many people don't feel to comfortable with a system that gives money, but once again no hope to those people. In the old system, they lacked bananas, but they had peace of mind and did not have the pressure to beat their neighbors. I heard many times, that people where much more friendly and helpful with each other in the old system, than they are today.

25 years isn't that long, really. My dad grew up in Berlin during and right after the war, my mom's family fed to the West after losing their factory and property in the East to the Russians and were denied education due to their bourgeois status. Their world view is still shaped by those events so how could 25 years wipe out the stark divisions between the two Germanies.

It's hard to describe what it was like traveling as a tourist to East Berlin. Stepping out of the S Bahn station into the East was like emerging into a movie set of the immediate post war era, it even seemed like being in a black and white movie. Trying to spend the 25 Marks they forced you to exchange into Ostmarks was nearly impossible, there was just nothing you wanted to buy there except for Russion literature, maybe.

It's amazing how little it takes to create divisions and how long it takes to reunite. I assume that the Koreas are looking at Germany's reunification long and hard, and I imagine they are scared shitless.

Korean reunification is almost incomprehensible. Germany had and has massive problems, despite the fact that East Germany did exceptionally well relative to the Communist world. North Korea, by contrast, is a total shithole even by Communist standards. Best case, it seems to me like North Korea would need to go through decades of reform and catching up before reunification could even be considered. And that of course assumes that the North Korean leadership comes down with a sudden case of acute sanity, which doesn't look likely to happen anytime soon.

If there is North Korea left. They seem hell bent on destroying their country.

wow I never expected Berlin to be on East Germany.

Why is this on Hacker News? Is this site going to use its popularity to preach about social issues now, like so many other tech sites have? That's a huge turn off for me.

It's kinda relevant economically, and in spirit since Berlin has a thriving culture of hackers and startups.

A bit defocus and diversion don't hurt either. It's not the kind of breaking news I come here for, agreed. Social issues are everyones responsibility, anyway, so it's a fruitful basis for comments.

Because there are hackers for which the fall of the wall was the defining moment of their life, hackers that were not even born back then and need to learn some history and hackers that are just curious ...

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