Tensions Between West And East Germany During Cold War And Their Reunification
In the late 18th century, Germany was very divided while simultaneously facing the threat of Napoleonic forces. This hurtful division was shortly realized by nationalists who supported the ideas of a single, unified Germany. Nationalism is the ideology of having an individual’s political identity aligned with the same cultural values of the country. As ideologies continued to divide, there were also many internal problems such as the lower classes’ plight and them conspiring against the princes. Germany after the Napoleonic wars was divided into Austria, Prussia, and 37 other states. Nationalism grew amongst the people after 1815 due to the increase of literature and economic developments.
Arising in the background of all of these domestic toils, the Cold War descended an iron curtain between Eastern and Western Europe. The United States of America along with the Allies gained full control of West Germany while East Germany was influenced by the Soviet Union. With the blockade of the Berlin wall that went up in 1961 separating East and West Germany with travel being forbidden between them. Although it appears Germany faced a variety of problems creating disunity, overall, the crux of its issues stemmed from the economic imbalance that then caused a shockwave of conflicts between nationalists and conservatives, questioning the very institutions and social ideals of their country.
Tensions between West and East Germany continued to grow while West Germany adopted a democratic government and thrived economically while East Germany continued with communism and being a satellite. After Stalin died Nikita Khrushchev came into power and denounced Stalin’s reign by installing a program of de-Stalinization.
Khrushchev program granted more freedom towards writers and this allowed for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to publish One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Solzhenitsyn book allowed an insight into Stalinist concentration camp showing the crimes Stalin had allowed to happen. Although writers were granted more creative freedom in East Germany Boris Pasternak’s was not with his novel Doctor Zhivago. Pasternak in his novel challenged the principles of communism causing the Soviet to censor Pasternak by not allowing him to receive his Nobel Prize for Literature. Throughout Eastern Europe, strikes and protests were happening with some causing conflicts like Imre Nagy wanting to have free elections and wanting to remove the Soviet Troops from Hungary.
This resulted in Khrushchev ordering the Red Army to invade Hungary. Like Stalin Khrushchev executed those that went against the principles of communism. While this was happening in Eastern Europe Western Europe was succeeding economically with the establishment of the common market and the European Coal and Steel Community. The common market of the European Economic Community eliminates trade barriers allowing for free trade to occur. A consumer culture arose with women reaching new heights of equality and democracy being established throughout Western Europe and West Germany.
In both The Lives of Others and Barbara the lack of privacy in East Germany is a prominent theme. In The Lives of Others having a different type of typewriter or reading western literature could get you immediately monitored or put in prison by the Stasi. In Barbara, the female east german doctor is being monitored by the Stasi and her co-worker since she tried to leave East Germany. By her doing so she now gets apartment and body checks if they see any suspicious activity. Barbara having western cigarettes or even stockings is seen as a big risk since if she gets caught with them she’ll have to face brutal treatment by the Stasi.
The only normalcy she gets throughout the film is her playing the piano. While in The Lives of Others if one denies an authority figure of something they will also face punishment or be stripped of their benefits. This can be seen when Christa-Maria Sieland responds to Georg Dreyman telling her she doesn’t need to have sex with an authority figure for her to continue working “Don’t I need this whole system?… Why do you do it? Because they can destroy you too, despite your talent and your faith. Because they decide what we play, who is to act, and who can direct.” This gives an insight into how actors and writers were very limited and restricted in East Germany. Stepping out of line in both The Lives of Others and Barbara shows the brutality one would face by figures of authority.
The start of Germany reunification commenced with the fall of communism which was officially marked with the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. A year before the wall came down Gorbachev renounce the Brezhnev Doctrine, which allowed Soviet intervention in the satellite states. Gorbachev also encouraged the satellites to reform. After the teardown of the Berlin wall, many from East Germany wanted to see the West. Gerhard Schumann who at the time was a student at Potsdam said “But truthfully I just wanted to see the West. My grandparents were over 65 and were free to visit West Germany. They came back enamored, saying it was brash. But that made me want to visit even more – for terribly shallow reasons. The girls always seemed prettier, and for sure the cars and beer were better.” (O’Hare, 2019)
Еhis is well depicted in the German film Barbara where a female East German doctor and her boyfriend who lives in West Germany comes to visit her. In the scene where she is spending time with her boyfriend in the woods, her boyfriend’s companion is standing by a Mercedes. A villager passes by and continues questioning him about his car as he is from East Germany has cars that aren’t as advanced. This scene shows how different both societies in East and West Germany was. What West Germany saw as normality the East Germans saw it as a foreign and luxury thing. While millennials were excited to experience what the West had to offer the elders had a much more difficult time adapting. The transition from collectivist economies to free markets was extreme to the elders as they were used to the certainties of state provision. (O’Hare, 2019)
While reunification marked the official end of communism within Germany problems were already arising. The question the German government was whether the economy allowed for reunification to occur since East Germany infrastructure wasn’t as up to date as West Germany. This caused even more disillusionment to happen with Germany and lead to tensions between the west and eastern Germans. East Germany cities faced high unemployment rates while reunification was happening which lead to others hoping for things to go back to how they were.
These tensions and thoughts are still present in Germany. Many blame the fall of communism on the events that occurred in 1989 like the tearing down of the Berlin Wall when groups of people began to tear down the wall with hammers, chisels and their bare hands. Constantine Pleshakov in his novel There Is No Freedom Without Bread! argues that “Communism made life secure and more predictable. Democracy, while welcome, is no guarantor of prosperity. Conversely, it does – or should – offer freedom from state oppression.” (O’Hare, 2019)
German reconciliation and reunification have not proven to benefit Germany government or economy. In 2011 German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that the country was steering away from nuclear energy. However, since the announcement, the project has not seen any plans for moving forward. Germany entire future is dependent on Energiewende ecologically, economically and technologically.
The project, Energiewende, showed Germany moving away from nuclear energy in favor of renewable resources. Even after the announcement most of the electricity is coming from burning coal reason why little progress has been done is due to German leaders being afraid of resistance from the voters. (Dohmen, Jung, Schiltz, Traufetter 2019) While others like Federal Court of Auditors President Kay Scheller is afraid that due to Energiewende failing to progress will make voters lose hope in the government. Although Germany is not seeing any progress in other countries like the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States of America the transition of using renewable materials for electricity are in place. (Dohmen, Jung, Schiltz, Traufetter 2019)
A reason for this is due to the lack of communication between the voters and its leaders while the spending for this project continues to increase. German leaders are failing to explain to its citizens as to why it is necessary for the transition to renewable materials to take place. In addition, another issue Germany is facing is the debt constraint amendment which sets a tight limit on structural deficits and only permits exceptions in natural disasters or severe recessions. (Hildebrand, Riedel 2019) This debt brake has caused low-interest rates and budget consolidation. Many feel as the system needs to be modernized as it explains why Germany needs much investment in its public infrastructure.
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