When German unity was established, one of the many questions that had to be answered was what should become of the East German elite. In my mind, one of the biggest mistakes of the unification process was that a decision was made, for understandable but ultimately unjustifiable reasons, to replace the elites in the East German part of society; a step that has had grave consequences.
At the crux of it, the same problem underlies the extensive exclusion of East German elites, on the one hand, and the “phaseouts” in industry, agriculture, science, health care, culture, and sports, on the other hand. The Federal Republic of Germany was a self-contained system. It had everything that it needed and would have been able, without significant difficulties, to provide for the East German citizens who were added to it, even if all GDR enterprises had ceased to exist at the moment of accession. If one can survive without something, then it makes perfect sense to “phase it out.” What remains in spite of this remains not out of necessity but rather as a result of gracious concessions.
The Berlin CDU politician Klaus Landowsky explained to me in a conversation that there had been no real need for Berlin to keep the Charité [hospital], since the Virchow Clinic could have taken over its tasks.* “However,” he added, “we couldn’t just go and close the Charité, too.” This sounds as though law was tempered by mercy, and of course the employees of such institutions felt that. Thus, at times, the takeovers felt more humiliating than the closures, and the way in which such takeovers were carried out also served to discipline the workforce, which was reduced on a regular basis. Those who remained knew perfectly well that no one was absolutely dependent on them, that they owed the continued existence of their jobs to a certain magnanimity.
In this respect, the GDR differed significantly from the other Eastern European states. There, the enterprises, the scientific, cultural, and athletics facilities had to be taken on essentially as they were; otherwise there wouldn’t have been any. No such situation existed in the new federal states. The FRG had enough of everything. This is the flipside of the fact that the East Germans gained a relatively wealthy partner through accession, a partner who more or less cushioned all processes of social upheaval, and who was able to finance the building of infrastructure. The other Eastern European states had no such partner.
[ . . . ]
* Charité was the main hospital in East Berlin and belonged to Humboldt University. The Virchow Clinic, on the other hand, was part of the Free University in West Berlin. The two merged in the mid-1990s – eds.