Thursday, March 02, 2006

East Germany Revisited: Welcome To Stasiland

You do not want to miss this article by Steve Chapman, over at RCP. It's entitled, A Prison for a Nation of Captives.

Anyone that is familiar with the former East Germany knows that the nation itself, was a concentration camp designed to punish the Germans for WWII. It was dark, desolate, and lacked color. Most everything looked some dull shade of gray, with no personality.

The border with its western neighbor was lined with anti-tank ditches, barbed wire, and guard towers every 100 meters. There were villages divided, with the roads blown up.

On the western side of that border, you had scenes of nice houses decorated with colorful gardens, something any impressionist would love to paint. You had the hustle and bustle of commerce. Traffic was always hurried. Businesses were located in every village, kids played in the yards, and life was generally vibrant and busy.

Sounds great, right? Well, let's just contrast that with the eastern side of that line. Remember the dark, gray nature? Extremely so. Not only that, rarely would you see more than one vehicle driving in the same vicinity, at the same time. In fact, it was not considered unsual to not see a car for several minutes. The sight would have made a good setting for a Hitchcock film, had it not been for the billboards that lined the eastern side. These billboards were ads that promoted the German Democratic Republic as some kind of glorious utopia, for the people of this gulag.

One time, I remember seeing an eastern factory carefully placed right on the border; carefully placed for all that came to this one divided (the name escapes me) village, to see. A group of us came to it; all that separated us was a small patch of grass, the barb-wired ditch, and a couple of trees. It had large windows that made it easy to see people at work. When they saw us, they stopped and looked at us. They stared. They weren't working, they were bored. They were supposed to be working, but they weren't.

Well, in a way they were.

You see, those people were actors. That factory didn't make anything. Those people were made to look like there was work going on. Show the greedy, capitalist west that communism works and works hard.

But, they got tired of acting long anough to stop acting, and stare at us with sad dejected eyes. They wanted to look at free people. Their eyes gave it away. They wanted out of that hell hole. They wanted to taste the good taste of freedom. But that ditch, those East German guards (with AK-47s locked and loaded), and that razor sharp wire got right in the way.

I have never forgot that scene, I doubt I ever will (at least until dementia sets in).

But that's not the amazing part of the story. All of the drabness and deceitfulness aside, the funny thing in all of this is that this was the best they could muster up for a border show. Can you imagine what it looked like further inside this huge prison, far from where westerners could see?

See why I prefer capitalism and liberty, over socialism and oppression?


ms. miami said...

i highly recommend the film 'goodbye, lenin'- available at blockbuster (at least the one near me). it gives you a good look at average people living in east berlin before, during, and after the fall of communism.

LASunsett said...

Thanks Ms. Miami. I will look for it.

The thing to remember is, East Berlin was a showcase. Even though their lives under communism may have been bleak by our standards, it was the best they had to offer, because that's what most westerners were permitted to see. There were areas that were much worse off. There were areas that had never been rebuilt after WWII, even as late as the 90s, when the wall fell.

ms. miami said...


bits of this film take place in the countryside as well, but yes most of it is within east berlin.

the interesting thing about this film is the 'ossistalgia' it unleashed in germany following its release. the film does a great job of demonstrating how, although most were unhappy with their government, ossies still had their identities wrapped up in their daily traditions and way of life, all of which was wiped away without really asking them what changes they want.

stores selling DDR products have since reappeared:

(also, ossies still face a lot of discrimination once they move to western länder. they have greater opportunities, but have to face new problems, too.)

LASunsett said...

Ms. Miami,

(also, ossies still face a lot of discrimination once they move to western länder. they have greater opportunities, but have to face new problems, too.)

I'd like to add to that:

Westerners are none too pleased that they have been asked to foot the bill for the rebuilding of the former east. Not only that, easterners are not adapting well to their new found freedom and to capitalism.