A recent book gives voice to the people who lived through the DDR
*The paradox of communist Germany was that it remained more culturally conservative than its capitalist equivalent*
You have to give the communist countries this much: they preserved the homogeneity of their peoples. It was the capitalist countries—the so-called ‘good guys’—which embarked on a programme of diversity and multiculturalism with the express intent, to my way of thinking, of wrecking their people’s way of life. The result is staring us all in the face and yet the people vote for more.
The parents of a German I know have spent all their lives in Magdeburg, East Germany. They say that they felt freer to express their opinions under communism than in today’s Germany. A West German friend who used to be active on social media has closed all his accounts for fear of state reprisal.
I've visited Weimar, in the eastern state of Thuringia, a few times. In a park near the middle of town is a fairly large Soviet cemetery, for Soviets who died in the area during and after the War, containing a lot of hammer-and-sickle imagery. It must have been a hard pill to swallow for the local people. Bad enough to lose a World War so catastrophically, losing countless young men and civilians, without your conquerors then going and building a massive triumphant monument to themselves in the middle of your town. Which you're not even allowed to grumble about.
** The angry crowd chanted, “Das hat alles keinen Zweck, der Spitzbart muss weg!” – “No point in reform until Goatee is gone!”’ **
I admire their courage, but the slogan lacks a certain zing.
Growing up in the late '50s and early '60s, the East Germans seemed especially terrifying. The Russians may have been communist and brutal but they were also inclined to incompetence, romanticism and Vodka.
The Germans on the other hand were communist and good at it. I imagined their tanks all neatly lined up and their sober, stony-faced crews ready to charge across unhindered Autobahnen. This delusion was happily shattered the first time I saw a Trabant, or rather several of them, broken down on the Autobahn hard shoulder.
These communists are totally different people to the hammer and sickle brigade on twitter. Not least because they have read some Marx. Not least because they left their bedroom. Not least because they were prepared to sacrifice for their beliefs. Walter Ulbricht was a true believer, who did lead a horrible life in exile and had very little chance of gaining power for all of his life, it took a world war and the invasion of Germany to do that. He was not therefore an obvious power seeker.
Reading the book, I warmed to him and the early GDR, unexpectedly. It wasn’t as successful as the west but did in fact grow the economy successfully enough, with some economic freedoms, in the 50s and 60s.
Very nice article. Makes you wonder if the East Germans might have been the first people in history to make a go of socialism - if only they hadn't been hobbled from the start by the USSR.
I lived in West Berlin from 1979-1982 and went over to East Berlin several times, as well as to East Germany, a couple of times as far as the Polish border which was, stricly speaking, not allowed. The ossies appeared, on average, to be a dour, humourless lot and may well have actually been so. Yet looking back now I feel a certain nostalgia for a culture that would have found smiley-faced Matt Baker an oddity.
Yesterday’s revolutionaries are today’s reactionaries
Another good book on life in Eastern Germany is Maxim Leo’s “Red Love”.