D.I spent the first half of my life in the GDR, the second in reunified Germany. I welcomed the end of the GDR and the unification with all my heart. My circle of friends and acquaintances consists of roughly equal numbers of East and West Germans. As the editor of the FAZ, I worked in a West German environment. I have often had to hear from readers of the newspaper how bad it is with the East Germans, how ungrateful, how incompetent they are. The readers could not imagine that the unity had reached us in the newspaper as well. I smiled quietly to myself and let it go.
My wife is also from the west. However, it may be that I would not have met her if she had not worked in the East. Even if, conversely, I worked in the West for some time, in Marburg, before I went back to the East as FAZ editor, to Berlin. To my surprise, those were terrible years in the West. I realized how East German I am. So much so that I get homesick west of the Elbe, even though I admire the west. Crazy, right?
For me, the East-West issue is always present, whether I want it or not. Even in my marriage. A dialogue taken from everyday life: “Your mother probably didn’t teach you how to peel oranges?” – “You can tell that you are from the West.” – “How did you get that?” – “In the East there was there are no oranges. And when they existed, they were called oranges. “
Sometimes a joke helps
Whenever I start a conversation with someone, I keep checking myself: East or West? I also experience this from other East Germans who ask me directly: “East or West?” Not because it would be uncomfortable to deal with a West German. East Germans only have so many common experiences, yes, a common language, which facilitates the exchange. LPG, consumption, racing cardboard, FDJ, Jägerschnitzel – nothing needs to be explained. For me, it is more difficult to talk to a West German of the same age without any closer knowledge of the East than to the Mecklenburg SPD influencer Lilly Blaudszun, who counts the GDR-typical Jägerschnitzel with macaroni as one of her favorite dishes. Blaudszun is twenty. What’s wrong with that?
For my self-defense I can say that I never used the word Wessi as a dirty word. I have no reason for it either, on the contrary. Others have fewer concerns. Of course, the East Germans can self-ironically describe themselves as Ossis and in no way mean that as self-praise. In general, I would even say: Ossis have more humor than Wessis.
If you cannot find out in conversation whether someone is from the East or the West, there are tricks. Like a joke. What is the difference between forty years of the Federal Republic and forty years of the GDR? The answer: forty years. My Lübeck wife did not understand that (“You always with your boring East German jokes”), while East Germans laugh. And that is where the crux of the matter lies. This brings us closer to what the Federal Government’s Eastern Commissioner said a few days ago: Many East Germans have not arrived in democracy even after three decades. As a FAZ editor, I had to deal with Marco Wanderwitz again and again. He is a CDU member of the Bundestag from Saxony, Chemnitz area, Ore Mountains, politically hardcore from a western point of view. I appreciate him and share his view.
Difficult growing together
Forty years! East and West have developed completely differently in the forty years of division, or more precisely: one has developed and the other has not. And yet one could not believe the other: We are Germans, we belong together. The old Willy Brandt saw the problem and repeated the sentence over and over again during his appearances in the East: “Now what belongs together is growing together.” He did not simply say: Now what belongs together comes together. Something has to grow first, indeed. But does it take more than three decades?