Besides the financial East-West gaps, the psychological gaps also lie between eastern residents and western citizens. From the viewpoint of West Germans, the Peaceful Revolution was a victory for democracy, and East Germans were victims of a dictatorship. However, how do East German feel about the viewpoint?
To answer this question, what the GDR was like is to be discussed at first. East Germany was a satellite of the Soviet Union. This country had the most successful economy among all members of the Communist Bloc, and even some internationally competitive sectors such as mechanical engineering and printing technology. Like many communist countries, there was no freedom of speech and expression, which resulted in many desperate emigrants. Besides, the GDR had a relatively homogenous (and xenophobic) society because fewer foreigners immigrated to East Germany than to West Germany. Such population dynamics (many emigrants with fewer immigrants) led to a workforce shortage, and so, a larger active participation of women in the workforce (as well as a more sufficient number of and quality of childcare facilities) was one of the notable characteristics and “legacies” of the GDR society. Nonetheless, the difference in economic strength between West and East Germany got larger and larger since the division of Germany, and finally the Peaceful Revolution occurred.
At the beginning of the Peaceful Revolution, in fact, most of GDR citizens called for mere freedom, and they had never thought of reunification with the other side of Germany. Then, after the reunification was conducted in the form of annexation of the GDR to West Germany, they were devastated by rapid changes. Political, educational, and social systems were converted to the western ones, and even Ampelmen, animated men on traffic signals for pedestrians, were replaced with western-style ones. The production of Trabant, an automobile symbolic of East German industry, was ceased in 1991. News about the injustice of SED (abbreviation in German of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany) was broadcast day after day. The Treuhandanstalt allowed western enterprises to beat down prices or take advantage of their financial and/or political dominance over eastern companies. (A report by Halle Institute for Economic Research mentioned, however, that this privatization agency has been criticized with its actual activities ignored and/or with its long-term effects insufficiently analyzed.) Unemployment rate surged, which suffered women most. Some Wessis (West Germans) came to the former GDR territories and tried to drive the eastern inhabitants out of their lands by force and to buy up the properties. The West Germans that first contacted East Germans after the reunification were likely to fall into certain categories: insurance agents who harassed eastern residents, industrialists who exploited the bargain sales during the privatization process, and so on. Because of this (or at least in part), the eastern residents have come to generalize every West German to be superficial, arrogant and money-oriented. Thus, Ossis, a lot of whom were between jobs, started to feel as if they, as losers, were now ruled by the West and became second-class citizens. They felt Ostalgie, a portmanteau of Ost (east) and Nostalgie (nostalgia), and missed their former homogenous, equalized society, although enjoying the improving standard of living also. A mental Berlin wall then emerged between the “lazy and complaining” Ossis and “arrogant and money-obsessed” Wessis.
What about the psychological wall between East and West Germans these days? Generally, many western residents seem to consider the eastern partners positively as hardworking, friendly and helpful although the easterners still think of their counterparts negatively, as arrogant. However, Wessis sometimes exhibit behavior discriminatory against Ossis. When a woman from the West decided to enter the university at Dresden, she was asked by her friend if she would like to attend a meeting of Pegida (a far-right political movement). In TV dramas, Ossis tend to be depicted as being simple and credulous, and transcriptions of the easterners’ dialect are superimposed on the screen. Job seekers who graduated from the universities in East Germany are sometimes presented lower salary than those who graduated from universities in the West. Besides, every time TV documentaries describes the horrors of the GDR and the SED dictatorship, many East Germans feel as if they themselves were criticized. With no regard for such easterners’ feelings, publications and annual reports issued by the federal government insist that the dictatorship of the SED/GDR should be critically appraised in a “no-tolerance” manner. Thus, the psychological Berlin Wall still remains everywhere.
Then, how can we narrow the psychological gap? One possible solution is that politicians, media, and the federal and state governments should not stress the injustice and/or horror of the GDR/SED too heavily and that they should evaluate the former GDR/SED in a fairer way. Of course, the SED/GDR should be criticized in many aspects including re-education for “inadequate” children and young adults. However, considering many ordinary easterners who look on the former GDR’s homogenous, equalized society favorably, the strictly critical attitude towards everything about the GDR/SED can be harmful to narrowing the psychological East-West gaps. Another possible solution is frequent contact with each other. Actually, a recent opinion poll conducted by a public broadcasting organization shows that one sixth of westerners have never been to the eastern territories. Thus, if there are more opportunities to know each other, the inner wall between Ossis and Wessis may become less significant. Fortunately, East Germany has a lot of popular trip destinations including Berlin and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Take a trip to East Germany and talk to the local people over a beer or local cuisine!
Annual Report of the Federal Government on the Status of German Unity 2018 (bmwi.de/Redaktion/EN/Publikationen/jahresbericht-zum-stand-der-deutschen-einheit-2018.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=3)
userpage.fu-berlin.de/melab/wordpress/?p=4814 (“Ossis and Wessis forever?” by Nele Templin and Antonia Grzelak)
welt.de/gesundheit/psychologie/article147131006/So-sieht-es-in-der-Psyche-von-Ossi-und-Wessi-aus.html (“This is what the mind of Ossis and Wessis looks like.” by von Fanny Jiménez)
“The Wall - The reality 30 years after the collapse -“ (the second of the three feature stories; Asahi Shinbun published on November 12, 2019)
young-germany.jp/2019/09/ostfrauen (“My DDR - Shedding light on women in East Germany: Uta Mitsching-Viertel” interviewed by Hideko Kawachi)
young-germany.jp/2019/12/ddr7 (“My DDR - East Germans did achieve the Peaceful Revolution, but West Germans were the winners.” interviewed by Hideko Kawachi)