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GDR Nostalgia (1996)

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Why does the German public have such difficulties with this? Where is the problem? Is it perhaps disconcerting that East Germans agree on certain value judgments concerning their past, much more so than when it comes to assessing their economic condition? Is the problem that, with this development, the exact opposite of what was expected in 1990 has taken place? In fact, the economic realities did lead very quickly to disenchantment in the East. Evidently, however, among the majority of people in the East, these realities were not the sole cause of the growing sense of unease. Why had no one anticipated that there are also values other than those that qualify people as consumers?

Many had thought that at least the painful and scandalous “return of the GDR”* that was expected in January 1992 on the occasion of the opening of the Stasi files would offer immunization against any wistfulness for GDR conditions. Intend as the final “outing” of the conditions under real socialism, and carried out as a “revolution after the fact on the basis of files,” the entire operation was to no avail. In fact, in political terms, this entire incident seemingly achieved precisely the opposite.

[ . . . ]

If there was a misunderstanding that made matters difficult from the very beginning, then this, according to West German journalist Karl Heinz Bohrer, who is devoid of any trace of “GDR nostalgia,” was the fault of the CDU, which acted as though “the residents of the GDR were a variety of West Germans who had been oppressed for forty years.” Far from it! In the GDR, “a completely different mentality took shape, not only among SED activists, but on a mass scale ….”** Given the current state of the debate, there is nothing one could add to this. Bohrer’s concluding observation certainly lacks no clear understanding of the situation: “Instead of melting pot fantasies, we would have needed differentiation.”***

Now we have differentiation. It is loudly lamented in the public area. Secretly, people have fun with it, especially those from the old schools of anti-communism and anti-capitalism. For the distribution of power can thus be described more precisely. As hitherto: if you don’t like it here, then go over there! Karl Heinz Bohrer concluded his reflections from the ivory tower with the English saying, “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” Thus, either liquidate or accept. You can’t have both. It’s just that simple.

* Klaus Hartung, “Die Wiederkehr der DDR” [“The Return of the GDR“], Die Zeit, No. 2, January 3, 1992, p. 5.
** Karl Heinz Bohrer, “Deutsche Revolution und protestantische Mentalität” [“The German Revolution and the Protestant Mentality”], Merkur, vol. 46 (1992) 522/23, pp. 958-59.
*** Karl Heinz Bohrer, p. 962.

Source: Hans-J. Misselwitz, Nicht länger mit dem Gesicht nach Westen. Das neue Selbstbewusstsein der Ostdeutschen [No Longer Facing toward the West. The New East German Sense of Self]. Verlag J.H.W. Dietz Nachfolger: Bonn, 1996, pp. 26-32.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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