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Not everyone remembers the DDR as the horrible administration depicted in the West. Thus when you use a pedestrian crossing in Berlin you still see a little walking man from the Eastern sector, sometimes adjacent to the walking man from the West, as in Potsdamer Platz. Berliners love Ampelmann and he's on many tourist souvenirs.
Berliners love Ampelmann
So former Große Frankfurter Straße is still called Karl Marx Allee and Berliners have resisted calls to restore the old name. There is also a separate Karl-Marx Straße in Berlin and neither is some little back street. Emily's local U-Bahn station is still decorated with communist-era murals depicting stages in the People's struggle.
Magdalenenstraße U-Bahn station
But in town there is a DDR (GDR) Museum that sheds a dim light on the previous East Germany.
Strangely enough quite a few of the infamies on display, like primitive kitchen appliances and waiting lists for cars and phones, also applied in the West in the 1950's. Britain still had rationing then and my Grandmother who died in 1982 never owned a refrigerator.
The impression given of the DDR is of a country caught in a 1950's time warp and some Berliners are nostalgic.
They still rip off their clothes and go natural, when swimming on hot summers days, as they did in the DDR as a kind of social rebellion: resisting conformity; or perhaps an expression of pure classlessness.
Resistance to conformity or classlessness? But it still goes on (photograph in the DDR Museum)
Old cars are a never-ending expression of nostalgia. There is an active Trabant car owners club some of which can still be seen around town, like Morris Minors in Australia and Britain.
Trabants - they go on and on and on (No sorry! - That's the slogan of those pollution free ones)
There was one respect in which the DDR surpassed the West. Their domestic secret service, the Stasi, managed to extend the 1950's intrusions into private lives of the Hoover led FBI to new levels and probably blackmailed politicians too; not to mention mimicking the paranoia of Senator McCarthy and our own ASIO.
There's a Stasimuseum two blocks away from Emily's place that shows how they were protecting the DDR from the dead hand of capitalism.
Exhibits in the STASI Museum:
hidden cameras; Freie Deutsche Jugend (Free German Youth) FDJ, military and social duty;
Western Imperialism; CIA spying, terror, torture and brainwashing
They had to be ever vigilant against crimes against the state, predominantly involving paranoid surveillance of anyone suspected of not being a good citizen. Youth culture was of particular concern.
|A list of 'Subversive attacks on the State' (by young people)...
'in particular political-ideological diversions of hostile institutions, organisations and other forces:
- doubt about the correctness of our policies party and government
It goes on to list additional crimes: 'modern' haircuts; listening to western music stations; truancy
The overwhelming impression is of bureaucratic incompetence as to targets and laughable lengths, in the light of present technology, to get a fuzzy illicit photograph of someone. A camera in the radio (in the photograph above) is about the least ridiculous.
But it was their doctrinaire pigheadedness and abuse of power that led to Berliners rebelling and overthrowing the whole incompetent crew. At the end of 1989 communist regimes were in trouble across Europe. In Berlin young people took heart and there was a civil uprising against the Stasi with demonstrators demanding that the Ministry of State Security be disbanded. Then on November 9th the DDR announced that citizens could visit the West
Crowds of young Germans from both sides promptly climbed onto the Berlin Wall and embraced each other. Over Christmas the first breaches in the Wall were made by enthusiastic citizens using hand tools.
Sacking the Stasi Offices
Once the Wall was breached German reunification was only months away, on October 3rd 1990.
The Wall was not removed to the present extent until 1992 and some sections remain as a reminder.
West (or East - I'm not sure) of the Wall
In this the Berlin experience is totally unique. Other cities were bombed close to destruction but no others were then occupied by polarised former allies in quite the same way. No other city has been so symbolic, in the struggle between market economics and institutionalised communism for a world view, as Berlin.