Happy Belated Gute Tag der Deustchen Einheit.
And what better way to celebrate then to blog on this brilliant doco that aired on the Soccer Channel 4 days ago. I love documentaries. It’s like a 1 hour factdump that manages keep me awake unlike university lectures. And I’m fascinated by communism. Up until 20 years ago, millions of people were living their daily lives under a regime where they could only pretend that everything is fine and doozy.
I sometimes imagine what it must have been like to live in the European Eastern Bloc. Hell, I could probably live there. Living in Australia, I pretty much take freedom for granted. Except I’m not really phase by the privilege. Freedom of speech? Not really pissed off about the major issues enough to do something about it. Voting? Seems more like a chore and the politicians right now are more suitable for a clowns’ act at the circus. Religion? Not religious. So where does that leave me? Apathetic and wanting to get on with life. I could probably fit in in the Communist Countries with their ‘shut up, here’s your pie’ policy. But not the Norks with their famines and definitely not rolling cigars and enjoying the sun with Castro in Cuba. But the kind you’d see in the Iron Curtain. Eat some food if it’s available at the store, find some ‘approved’ books to read and drive a Trabant home (unless I’m still waiting for the factory to get on with it)
There’s also the idea of Communism. An ideology that envisioned the ultimate utopia with no inequalities. Except 20 years ago, the countries that built towards that goal hat came crumbling down. And finally the military. Moreso, the Soviet Military. They spent 50 years preparing for ‘The Day’ when jets would cover the air, Tanks drove straight to Fulda while Submarines patrolled the Atlantic and the Pacific. But the Day never came, Gorby and Reagan ‘brought the Cold War to a peaceful ending’ and the Soviet Union is now just a chapter in history. I’d imagine that the Generals must have felt very stupid (or likely pissed off) that they had invested so much in their Army but never got to use it. Or perhaps it’s more likely that it was such recent history? I was born in 1991 and the final heartbeat of the Soviet Union was only two months before my birthday.
The first half of the doco took us back to 1980 and summarised what we probably all know by now, interspersed with interviews with a variety of East Germans; comedians, ex-Stasi, political dissidents, the yong and the old.
The first half tells us the usual story. East Germany was a hellhole and then it came crashing down like the Wall between the Western and Eastern suburbs of Berlin. The second half then takes us to modern day and looks at how rosy things have been since the Wall went down, like a ‘Where Are they Now?’ segment. Main point argued by this doco is that there’s still significant differences between East and West Germany.
Before watching this I had already known the basic facts. I knew about the History of Berlin and the post-wall difficulties Eastern Germany was having. And yes, I was aware of the Stasi and their methods. They say that Germans are fucking efficient at everything they do. So you could expect the to be highly efficient at the Soviet Art of being nosy on your neighbour. And as you can expect, some of the Stasi are far from willing to spit on the GDR flag and memory. When the Stasi Guy was asked about his thoughts on the Stasi HQ, he called it without irony- a paradise where there were dentists and doctors.
I was also well-aware of the Revolution that came in 1989. What I learned from this documentary was uh— Germans went to a Church, made jokes about how much they hated the Government and then they decided they were collectively sick of the Government when they attempted to close the Church. I’m not sure about Germany but it’s been recorded that there was a well-established underground dissident movement in Land of the Iron Curtain. They had been running in the Eastern Bloc Countries printing and spreading ideas the governments in power did not agree with.
And of course I’m aware that when Wall came down, the Pacman that was West Germany gobbled up the Ghost of East Germany. The doco showed that someone losed in this agreement. And they were the ordinary citizens who suddenly found themselves out of a job and out of luck. Churchill talked of the ‘price paid in blood for the liberation of France’. The East Germans paid the price with their livelihoods. What I didn’t know was that the ex-Stasi got the long end of the stick. While the ordinary East Germans are shown being miserable and busking to make a buck while wearing second hand clothes, the ex-Stasi are shown in pressed shirts, sipping latte and are living on a decent pension. For a long time, I thought that the Easterners had formed little legal lynch mobs that forced ex-commies out of their jobs and out of power. Well, not exactly as I found out. And this has been a source of bitterness for the former victims.
But that’s not the only source of bitterness. Through a montage of major corporate brands, we learn that all the good jobs are in the West. This has had two effects. Young East German Kids move to the West after they graduate in search of jobs. And it has led to growing disconnection between the people born in the West Side and on the East Side. West hangs out with West, East hangs out with East and there’s all sorts of stereotypes being spread and tossed around. One German teen even referred to East Germany as ‘Dark Germany’ on the camera.
Although it isn’t all bad news. Communist countries didn’t have a speckless report card on environmental issues. Probably because of the heavy industry. Stalin made steel and coal his dogma for development. As far as I know, many of the new puppets were pulled by the strings to do the same. Build industry, throw in coal, make lots of steel. I’m reminded of autumn season down here. I get cold, miserable from the rain and a nasty cough thanks to smoke from the steel mill. In Summer, when I look out across the beach, I see a disgusting pillow of smoke belching in the background. The Mill may have given people jobs but they ruin the scenery and ruin other people’s health.
With the end of communism, some towns can now enjoy living in a smog free environment. The other positive issue that the documentary raises is that there’s been a revival of Jewish culture in East Germany. I’m not aware of how the regime dealt with the remaining Jews in Germany and I’m mostly indifferent to religion. Although I know that in the 1970s, Brezhnev’s Soviet Union became increasingly anti-semitic in solidarity with the Arabs in their fight against Zionism. Could there have been a similar case in East Germany?
The documentary itself was educational. But it tried to include too much issues into 1 hour. If there’s another thing it did well was that it included humour. I like humour. In between all the gloom, there’s short segments where German Comedians tell communist jokes.
When the credit rolls, the interviewees are asked whether they want the DDR back? Most of them answer no even a angry bald German.
And not surprisingly, the one man who wants it back is the Ex-Stasi Guy.