JLH has translated an interview (published last winter) that focuses on the persistent East-West divide in the minds of Germans.
The translator includes this prefatory note:
This interview is with Frank Wolff, an “historian and academic associate at the Historical Seminar (recent history) and at the Institute for Immigration Research and Intercultural Studies at the University of Osnabrück, Lower Saxony.” In other words, a (converted) Wessi academic, whose doctoral thesis, to be published this Fall by Suhrkamp is entitled “The Wall Society: The Social History of the German-German Migration 1961-1989”
Note how the “before-and-after the Wende” experiences emphasize the older generation’s embrace of the authoritarian GDR, and that the younger generation are traumatized by economic reality in the West.
When Easterners move to the West, they acquire the term Ossi, says the interviewer. Yes but, replies Wolff and proceeds to say that when the newly joined East acquired new leadership, then “suddenly” the term Wessi arose, along with “Besserwessi.” So, no matter what the Ossis may think, they and their leadership are even more responsible for the split feelings.
There is also the problem of City vs. Country, and the almost inescapable conclusion that rural = yokel = rightist = Ossi. Especially since apparently the author had a very uncomfortable youth, when everything around him was overwhelmed by rightists who took over clubs and centers in a way that is reminiscent of the leftist “march through the institutions.”
His suggestion for concentrated German history, especially of the Cold War era, has real possibilities, but his own, well-meant attempt to be objective is weighted in favor of the West, and it is difficult for me to imagine how to identify and assemble the truly neutral people for a commission to agree on a curriculum.
The translated interview from Cicero, the monthly German magazine of politics and culture:
The Wall in (Our) Heads is Being Rebuilt Right Now
The Journalist Chiara Thies interviews Frank Wolff
February 13, 2019
Thies: Mr. Wolff, we are now in the super-election year 2019, with three state legislative elections in the East. Many parties are campaigning with supposedly “East” issues. Does the much-evoked “wall-in-the-head” still exist, West here, East there?
Wolff: It is being built again right now. The Wall is no more, except in various worlds of recall. That is both the advantage and the disadvantage of the discussion. With a leap into the present, we automatically jump forward two generations. Multiple levels of experience are mingled in the present perspective. On one side, that of the older generation which grew up in the GDR and — we must not forget — were to some extent positively inclined toward the state.
And the generation after?
They are on the other side; they grew up in the nineties, and therefore in this extreme economic disruption. They experienced it directly, seeing their parents having trouble finding their footing. The Wall’s fall was less the problem than that the new states were the first subjected to the extreme new liberalization (deregulation), which then occurred later in other European countries. This strongly shaped identities, and so before-and — after-Wende experiences overlap in today’s perspectives.
How did this “Wall-in-the-head” begin?
It was a long process that had begun before the building of the Wall. The division became evident for the entire society with the building of the Wall. In the process, the border — East and West — was forcibly acquired, and with it, a certain pattern of thought. And there was more, for example, in the Cold War, separation as a way of thinking by the West about the East. But this is not just a history of division. At the same time, an increasingly intensive communication developed between West and East. Travel increased greatly after the breaks caused by the Wall. So these two processes of separating and moving toward one another happened simultaneously.
Many people who moved from the East to the West report that they had never before identified as “Ossi,” but in the West they were made into that. So the problem of the East was made by the West and thus made a problem for the East. Can you confirm this subjective perception with you research?
Definitely. But there is also its opposite. As the new positions of leadership in the East were freshly occupied — that is, government, economy, etc. — suddenly the Wessi was created. Then it was the “Besserwessi.” We have these two pictures circling around each other in our heads. What we should not forget in this discussion is that people were very much on the move at that time. It is not only those who live in the East and see themselves as East Germans with a specific experience who actually represent the East German experience.
How do you mean that?