With new questions, we gradually approached a sentiment among Germans that was once described by the expression “in the waiting room of history.” In early 1989, the interviewer presented a picture of a man who was saying: “One has to work towards German unification, even if it cannot be achieved immediately. With such great goals people have to accept that they might not personally experience their completion.” The corresponding interview question was: “Would you agree with this or not?” Sixty-one percent said they would “agree” and 20 percent said they would “not agree.” Nineteen percent were undecided.
Another question asked in early 1989 was: “Is the German Question still open, or is it no longer open?” We were concerned whether this question, which includes terminology relevant to policy towards the GDR (“German Question still open”), was too far removed from our ideal. A question used in a public opinion poll should be worded so that someone could pose it to a neighbor over the backyard fence. But people seemed to have no trouble with the wording. Fifty-one percent said the German Question was still open, and 24 percent said it was no longer open. Twenty-five percent were undecided, which is not an unusually high figure given that it was such a difficult question.
Finally, in two parallel surveys conducted in early 1989, we asked: “How do you feel? Would you say the people in the GDR are more compatriots or foreigners?” Seventy-one percent said “more compatriots” and 17 percent said “more foreigners.” Twelve percent were undecided. And: “If you think about the people in the GDR, do you think of them as Germans who just live in another part of Germany, or do you think of them as foreigners, like, for instance, the Swiss or Austrians?” Seventy-nine percent said “I think of them as Germans”; 13 percent said “foreigners” and 8 percent were undecided.
The Black Sea question, the question regarding the Basic Law preamble – in September, all these public opinion trends, which had been charted for almost two decades but could not be seen in practice, only in objective tables, were suddenly no longer just on paper but had transformed themselves overnight into a reality that could be seen on television. The impression left by the events meant that even complicated questions resulted in unusually high agreement by two-thirds of the population.
[ . . . ]
But the naiveté that led many people since the mid-1950s to expect that it was possible simply to divide a people the way one splits a log – that chapter in history is now probably closed.
Source: Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, “Das Zusammengehörigkeitsgefühl ist stark geblieben” [“The Sense of Belonging Together Has Remained Strong”], Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, October 23, 1989, p. 13.
Translation: Allison Brown