The Future Belongs to the Young East Germans
Everything was perfectly laid out for Anna: first Abitur, then one of the sought-after places at the university in Potsdam, two semesters abroad in the Soviet Union. And after five years of study, a guaranteed job as a Russian teacher with an above-average salary and a good pension. Anna chose that future when, having just turned 15, she applied to the Special Russian School in 1987. Her country, the GDR, had planned her life path for her. What hadn’t been planned was the Wende.* Suddenly, Russian teachers were no longer in such high demand.
It’s a popular pastime to proclaim a new generation every few years. Look at what we’ve already seen: the 68ers were replaced by the No-Future Kids, followed by Generation X, and later Generation @. The latest name for Germans between 25 and 35 is “Generation Golf.”** That has a nice ring to it. Except: what about the East?
Young people in East Germany have had a unique experience. They [are old enough to have] consciously lived through one system – the GDR; they still belonged to the Young Pioneers,*** they went through military education and the “Fair of the Masters of Tomorrow” [Messe der Meister von Morgen].**** Then they experienced the radical upheaval. They went to demonstrations and saw for the first (and last) time live broadcasts from the Volkskammer. Eventually, they found themselves in the world of McDonald’s, MTV, and Milchschnitte.***** And all of this in one and the same country.
Today, these people – much like “Generation Golf” – are around 25-35 years old. Yet there is nothing that their lives resemble less than the “sluggish immobility of a well-cushioned Sunday afternoon” (FAZ editor Florian Ilies in his book Generation Golf). They have experienced more than the agony of choosing “between a green and a blue Barbour jacket.” It is a generation that may have grown up with years of waiting for a Trabi, but without a Golf and West German prosperity. There are young people in the East whose lives are far removed from the arrogance and ceaseless irony of the self-celebrating (Western) “Generation Golf.” And who don’t care about the salon-mindset of the young snots from the arts section of the FAZ. In the upheavals of the nineties, they acquired a fine sense for social tensions and changes.
* The German term Wende refers to the events that led to the downfall of the Communist regime in 1989/90 – eds.
** Named after the popular Volkswagen brand Golf (marketed in the United States as Rabbit and Jetta) – eds.
*** The youth organization of school children aged 6-14 – eds.
**** The Messe der Meister von Morgen (1958-1990) was an annual youth competition sponsored by the East German youth organization Free German Youth [Freie Deutsche Jugend, or FDJ] – eds.
***** Popular candy for children – eds.