Finally, what characterized the mutual demarcation of the two systems, and also to some extent the mutual demarcation of the two societies, was that West Germans and East Germans also ascribed to each other the unpleasant aspects of their own nation. It is difficult to be a German, especially after World War II, and it follows – presumably with a fair degree of necessity – that in cases of a division such as Germany’s each side points the finger at the other before the world. To be sure, the GDR was no challenge to the FRG, but German self-hatred could project a lot onto it. And the same holds true the other way around! Here, in addition, the FRG actually was a challenge to the GDR. The facts may be hard to untangle, but it is altogether undeniable that these projections are still exerting strong effects today, namely by acting as a breeding-ground for very negative feelings, including hatred.
Every “We” and “They” that people in East and West say about each other – “We” hardly ever refers to the Germans as a whole right now – confirms that there are two separate identities. This manifests itself in great mutual suspicion. And it finds expression in myriad attributions of qualities and characteristics: the people on the one side are stubborn if they do not understand something right away, or lazy if they are having a hard time with something; the people on the other side are arrogant if they casually demand something. It is precisely because the respective characteristics of East and West Germans are still being felt so strongly that generalizations are constantly being made. As is usually the case, these generalizations are not quite correct; uncertainties arise, as do variations in judgment. The West Germans do not at all comprehend how people can voluntarily be so different from them. The East Germans, for whom so much has been broken, are having a hard time negating themselves, on top of everything else. Of course, identity – especially in East Germany – is ruptured by many old and new enmities, but for large segments it still holds.
Much about the differences and their manifold consequences is unavoidable. The West pays – the East lives from the payments. The West is even paying a great deal – but for the East it is by no means enough. The West retains all its comfortable institutions, and all it will accept – and with great reluctance – are certain delays in their further expansion. In the East, a large part of the world that made up people’s lives – a world that was indeed inadequate on the whole but familiar and more or less functional – is being dismantled.
It is also unavoidable that in the West everyone is keeping his job, whereas the reality in the East is that 50 percent have become unemployed. What is not unavoidable is that all manner of well-earned supplementary pensions in the East are gradually being eliminated, while in the West all rights remain intact. Whether property matters had to be handled the way they were, whether so many East Germans had to be pushed into uncertainty about their future housing is very much up to debate, also whether it might actually have been better to continue some institutions, for example, the youth centers of the Free German Youth, for the time being, albeit under different leadership. It is surely not completely unavoidable that Western personnel replace Eastern personnel time and again in instances where the latter are compromised or appear incompetent – though unfortunately this is often also done where this is not the case.
And it is all but absurd that among the inequalities between the Eastern and Western Länder there is only one single noteworthy exception, one aspect in which equality already prevails. This is the distribution of asylum-seekers relative to the size of the population – the decision behind it is surely one of the most idiotic of the entire unification process, as one certainly could have realized at the time it was made.
By now, the East Germans largely tend toward resignation; for the West Germans, the new Länder are primarily a disruption: financially, but also in terms of way of life, living conditions, and attitudes. And they believe that this disruption should be eliminated as quickly as possible.