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Survey Shows a Strong Sense of Belonging after Four Decades of Division (October 23, 1989)

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We thus devised the “Black Sea question”: “Imagine that you are on vacation at the Black Sea. One day you meet another German and in the course of your conversation you discover that he comes from the GDR, he lives in the GDR. What is your first thought when you hear this?” The interviewer would then hand the interviewee nine cards and say, “Take a look at these cards. Which ones apply?” It was necessary to structure the question by using cards with possible answers in order to be able to follow and compare the way in which attitudes developed over a long period of time. The suggested responses were devised so that four demonstrated a feeling of national ties, or at least a special interest, and five indicated estrangement.

The question was posed twelve times between 1970 and 1989 to a representative cross-section of the population. The findings showed that underneath the level of day-to-day topicality, in which German unity was insignificant, there was a stream of sentiment that continued virtually independent of the length of German division.

Most frequent was the statement: “I would be curious to talk with him.” This was the response of 71 percent in 1970 and 71 percent in early 1989. There is no sign of the often-presumed lack of interest or apathy.

“I would be happy,” said 61 percent in 1970 and 57 percent nineteen years later. “I think we’d get along well as Germans abroad,” said 59 percent in 1970 and 54 percent in early 1989. “I’d suggest having a drink together,” said 45 percent in 1970 and 51 percent in 1989.

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Those under thirty always show a trend – though usually weak – towards greater distance vis-à-vis the other German state. Does that mean that a gap is gradually widening? According to our data that is not the case. If it were true that the statements of younger interviewees indicated the beginning of a separation in national sentiments, then this separation should gradually continue and become greater over roughly two decades. Since the actual findings did not change, this must be interpreted as meaning that the younger generation gradually grows into a sense that Germans belong together and that this small sense of distance should be interpreted not as a future prognosis, but rather as an interesting symptom indicating the process by which such a feeling gradually grows.

In view of the fact that any hopes or expectations for German reunification have been virtually abandoned since 1970, we developed another question in 1973 with which to measure attitudes: “Here is a sentence from the Basic Law. Could you please read it?” The interviewer would then hand over a piece of paper with the following text: “The entire German people are called upon to achieve the unity and freedom of Germany in free self-determination.” The question followed: “What do you think? Should this sentence continue to be included in the Basic Law, or do you think it should be deleted?” In 1973, 73 percent said, “It should continue to be included in the Basic Law”; in 1989, 75 percent gave that response.

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