Germany, 20 years united: growing together or falling apart?

Saturday 31 October, 12.15pm until 1.15pm, Henry Moore Gallery Lunchtime Debates

The reunification of Germany in 1989 marked the end of the Cold War. The collapse of the Berlin Wall was widely celebrated as step towards more freedom and progress for all Germans, as well as a sign of hope for the rest of the world. Many things have indeed changed for the better: politically, socially and economically. The Aufbau Ost redevelopment programme has poured £843bn into old East Germany. But large parts of the former GDR are still economically weak. In a popular song of 2005, Rainald Grebe expressed the solitude felt by many: ‘I feel so empty today, I feel Brandenburg’ (the state surrounding Berlin). Although Wolfgang Tiefensee, Federal Minister for Transport, Building and Urban Development, can say the gap between East and West is ‘closing’, this is as much a matter of West Germany’s export-led economy racing down to meet an East German economy where unemployment is at 20% or higher, and which 1.7m people have left since 1989.

Opinion polls show there still exists a kind of ‘wall’ in people’s minds, with significant social and cultural divisions between the two Germanys. Some 75% of East Germans still believe that Marx’s critique of capitalism has more to offer than free market ideology, while the party system in the West has been falling apart since the Wall came down, and the renewed Stalinist party Die Linke has not only regained influence in the East, but increasingly in the West too.

Germany’s reunification also had tremendous symbolic resonance across the world, signifying the promise of something new, but also uncertainty about a world without the old ideological sign posts. As Barack Obama put it to the crowds in Berlin in 2008: ‘The fall of the Berlin Wall brought new hope. But that very closeness has given rise to new dangers – dangers that cannot be contained within the borders of a country or by the distance of an ocean.’ So what is the true legacy of 1989 for the world, and for Germany itself? And what is needed for the people of the two Germanys to really unite? To make Willy Brandt’s words come true: ‘At last, what belongs together can grow together’?

Speakers
Jurgen Kronig
UK editor, Die Zeit; broadcaster; author, The Secret Face of Nature

Professor Jan Palmowski
head, school of arts and humanities, King's College London; author, Inventing a Socialist Nation: Heimat and the politics of everyday life in the GDR, 1945-1990

Sabine Reul
translator, Textbüro Reul GmbH

Chair:
Thomas Deichmann
editor, NovoArgumente; author, Die Steinzeit steckt uns in den Knochen: gesundheit als erbe der evolution


Produced by
Angus Kennedy convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination
Thomas Deichmann editor, NovoArgumente; author, Die Steinzeit steckt uns in den Knochen: gesundheit als erbe der evolution
Recommended readings
Germany: still divided after all these years

The fall of the Berlin Wall, far from heralding a unified future, ushered in a new period of discord between west and east.

Sabine Reul, spiked, 12 November 2009

The Greengrocer's Revenge

The fall of communism in 1989 was a great relief to most citizens of the eastern bloc. But in parts of the region many people now feel that only the elites were truly liberated—and now populists are playing on people’s dismay.

Ivan Krastev, Prospect, October 2009

Die Linke is riding a wave, but for how long?

The strange foundations of Germany's surprisingly successful leftist party make its long-term future uncertain.

Jan-Werner Mueller, GuardianComment is free, 25 September 2009

Germany's Election: Divided They Stand

In the run-up to the election, there has been no grand new mission, no ambitious vision of remaking Germany — or Europe, or the world — on view.

Catherine Mayer, Time, 21 September 2009

Why Thatcher defended the Berlin Wall

Secret Kremlin minutes from 1989 reveal that anti-communist Western leaders were privately terrified about the demise of the Soviet bloc.

Mick Hume, spiked, 17 September 2009

Thatcher and Kohl clashed over unity after Fall of the Berlin Wall

Former Chancellor’s memoirs offer an unsparing account of a Prime Minister revealing her prejudices about an old enemy

Roger Boyes, The Times, 11 September 2009

After the Berlin Wall: Putting Two Germanys Back Together Again

In Germany, politicians had to put East and West back together again, marrying a totalitarian, atheist, communist system with a democratic, Christian, capitalist one. How did this marriage affect the everyday life of ordinary Germans?

Christopher Hilton, The History Press Ltd, September 2009

Stasi tried to stop King of Pop’s music drifting over the Wall

It took a lot to frighten the Stasi, East Germany’s notorious secret police, but a moonwalking pop star named Michael Jackson managed to do it.

Roger Boyes, The Times, 31 July 2009

It's 20 years since reunification but is Germany still divided?

The fall of the Berlin Wall was a seismic event in European history. But as Germany prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of its reunification, many are asking: Is there really much to celebrate?

Tony Paterson, Independent, 27 June 2009

Majority of Eastern Germans Feel Life Better under Communism

Glorification of the German Democratic Republic is on the rise two decades after the Berlin Wall fell. Young people and the better off are among those rebuffing criticism of East Germany as an 'illegitimate state.'

Julia Bonstein, Spiegel Online, 7 March 2009

Political Landscape in Flux ahead of 2009 Votes

The year 2009 is full of elections in Germany, with voters in five states set to cast their ballots and a nationwide vote scheduled for September. The result may be a fundamental shift in the country's political landscape.

Charles Hawley, Spiegel Online, 15 January 2009

Eastern Germany Between Boom and Bust

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the social and economic hurdles facing eastern Germany are by no means cleared. The cities may be booming, but it's a different story in smaller towns and in the country.

Oliver Samson, Deutsche Welle, 5 January 2009

Citizenship and National Identity in Twentieth-century Germany

By considering how Germans defined themselves and others, the book explores how nationality and citizenship rights were constructed, and how Germans defined - and contested - their national community over the century.

Geoff Eley & Jan Palmowski (eds.), Stanford University Press, 15 December 2007

Disenchantment with Market Economics: East Germans and Western Capitalism

The life-worlds and personal experiences of workers and employees in three enterprises in East Berlin at the moment of political and economic upheaval stand at the centre of the book.

Birgit Müller, Berghahn Books, 25 September 2007

Brandenburg

Rainald Grebe, YouTube, 2005

Session partners