As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of its fall, the ‘nets are abuzz over this interesting column in the Guardian, UK; it is written by a woman named Bruni de la Motte, who kind of misses that old Berlin Wall and her East German existence:
On 9 November 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down I realised German unification would soon follow, which it did a year later. This meant the end of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the country in which I was born, grew up, gave birth to my two children, gained my doctorate and enjoyed a fulfilling job as a lecturer in English literature at Potsdam University. Of course, unification brought with it the freedom to travel the world and, for some, more material wealth, but it also brought social breakdown, widespread unemployment, blacklisting, a crass materialism and an “elbow society” as well as a demonisation of the country I lived in and helped shape. Despite the advantages, for many it was more a disaster than a celebratory event.
Writes Jonah Goldberg:
1. I love that one of the problems with a free Germany is “blacklisting.” Lord knows the Stasi would never have resorted to blacklisting! (She also goes on to bemoan the lack of academic freedom in post-unification Germany. It was so much better in the old days. Uh huh).
2. “Social achievements” is put inside quotations marks even as it is modified with the word “genuine.”
3. I love the suggestion that East Germans lacked “existential fears.” I don’t know what this woman is talking about, but it seems to me that a lot of folks who risked their lives to escape East Germany were afraid of something. Not a whole lot of West German’s braved the barbed wire to escape their fears, if memory serves.
I think the “existential fears” probably meant religious influence or accountability, which is rather sad, but Jonah’s point is a good one, and you should go read all of his remarks.
Before we get too misty-eyed about the Good Old Days of Stasi and Totalitarianism, let’s take a look at this fascinating piece from Wired magazine:
Ulrike Poppe used to be one of the most surveilled women in East Germany. For 15 years, agents of the Stasi (short for Staatssicherheitsdienst, or State Security Service) followed her, bugged her phone and home, and harassed her unremittingly, right up until she and other dissidents helped bring down the Berlin Wall in 1989. Today, the study in Poppe’s Berlin apartment is lined floor to 12-foot ceiling with bookshelves full of volumes on art, literature, and political science. But one shelf, just to the left of her desk, is special. It holds a pair of 3-inch-thick black binders — copies of the most important documents in Poppe’s secret police files. This is her Stasi shelf.
Poppe hung out with East German dissidents as a teenager, got blackballed out of college, and was busted in 1974 by the police on the thin pretext of “asocial behavior.”
I’m thinking Bruni de la Motte would not have much liked the “asocial” Ulrike Poppe. Possibly Bruni de la Motte would have reported her for not being happy that her life was being so efficiently managed for her.
You’ll want to read all of that, too.
Then, perhaps you’ll want to rent or purchase The Lives of Others, a terrific film about which I raved two years ago, having watched it and been very moved. Oh, and maybe you’ll want to read this, too.
…our first protagonist is a successful playwright who has managed rather easily and charmingly to bridge the divide between the freedom of his art and the restrictions of his government. His life is rather better than the lives of others, and one gets the sense that he is not fully appreciative of how tenuous are his privileges. The suicide of a dear friend – a blacklisted director – seems to bring that message home to him. He writes an article on the hopelessness reflected in East Germany’s suicide rate, and tries to get it smuggled out, to the West.
In The Lives of Others, our protagonist is outfitted (by dissident friends) with a new typewriter because the East German government would be able to identify his work by his own instrument’s typeface. The government knew, you see, what every artist used to create his art, the easier to track any dissent.
The Lives of Others has moments of beauty interspersed with scenes of harrowing loneliness, shame, purposeless and hopelessness, but the moments of beauty are sublime – a man at the piano, his music deeply affecting the Stasi agent assigned to listen in – a conversation between that agent and a child of about six. The little boy, holding a ball, enters an elevator with the agent and asks, “is it true you are with the Stasi?” The agent responds, “do you even know what the Stasi is?” The boy: “My father says they are the bad men…”
The agent, on automatic pilot, begins to ask the boy what is the name of his father – another comrade to check up on, you see – except he seems to realize he is about to exploit an innocent, and he stops himself. The Stasi agent, in his relentless, thorough and dedicated spying, has observed real, committed and selfless love. He has been moved by art (which so many disdain as useless). He has encountered a true innocent in a land where no one is considered that. And just moving against the periphery of this powerful but underappreciated trinity – love, art, innocence – rocks the Stasi’s world.
Intrusive Government FTC Disclaimer: Yes, I recommended they consider purchasing a great movie. Yes, if someone does that, I might get a kickback of .70 cents. But I’d recommend the movie, even without the .70 cents.
Jammie Wearing Fool
Don Surber: Palin and Reagan on the wall