The Korean peninsula has its own Cold War. The situation there, involving nukes, one million soldiers on both sides of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and a psychopath with his finger on the trigger is probably even more complicated than the actual Cold War was. However, the Koreans might be the only people on the planet, who truly comprehend what it was like for the Germans, up until October 3rd, 1990, when the Reunification took place.
Germans who are 35 years of age or older remember the Allies on their home turf. Due to Germany’s terrible history, the worst ever actually, maybe along with Cambodia and Russia, the country was divided into sectors controlled by the victorious Allies, who finally defeated Nazi Germany in 1945. Then, tensions grew and led to the sealing of the Russian sector, which became the GDR, or the communist part of Germany. In the region east of the so-called Zonengrenze, the border between the two German states, only West Berlin, a small oasis of freedom, was located in the East.
This made things pretty complicated, since there were tensions all along. At one point, Soviet tanks and troops were close to invading West Berlin. Eastern Germans were not allowed to cross the Inner German Border, but Westerners were, if they wanted to go to West Berlin, or if they had special visa. On the transit routes, through Eastern German territory, Easterners were not allowed to communicate with Westerners, unless the later wanted to order a coffee or a snack at one of the service stations along the way.
Western Germany did not recognize the GDR. Neither did most Western countries, who called it an occupied zone. Politicians in the former Western German capital of Bonn kept on talking about a reunification. Hardly anyone believed it was going to happen this fast. But then, the collapse of communism provided a chance, which the Germans used. Big times.
Back then, in the mid 1970-s, my mother took me to West Berlin several times. The sights at the Inner German Border were hard to believe. Two strong fences, a border in the middle of a country, dividing two parts of one people. Anyone trying to escape from east to west would be shot.
Later, in the 1980-s, I drove along the transit routes myself. Weird scenes happened at that border. Those eastern border police officers were asking people “Where are you going?”. Well, it was clear they were not taking a ride to Monaco, but still, they wanted to hear it first hand. Anyone who would say “Berlin” would have to get back in line, think about the right answer, and try again. The right answer would have been “West Berlin”, since Berlin was the capital of the GDR, from their point of view.
On that route, GDR police would try to catch Westerners exceeding the maximum speed, and cash in. To them, this was one way to collect proper currencies. Any drivers who would attempt to warn those on the opposite lanes of hidden “Volkspolizei” officers, by signalling them with their headlights, would be fined as well.
In the early 1980-s, I took two field trips to Eastern Germany with two schools I attended back then. Those journeys took us right into a different world. In Neubrandenburg and Weimar, people spoke the same language and they seemed to have the same mentality, but they were confined, not just physically. Those who refused to be brainwashed by their communist leadership, would have to keep their opinions to themselves. Otherwise they would end up in one of the jails run by the infamous State Security Service.
The communist youth organzation FDJ (Freie Deutsche Jugend) would send some trained people of our age, to discuss things with us. Those were interesting encounters indeed. These FDJ guys tried to make us believe our government was imperialist and exploiting the working class. And we tried to convince them that they were brainwashed and confined. In pubs, we also met people who would tell us that living in the “zone” was bad. There was no perspective, no freedom and no opportunity.
It was pretty hard to get rid of all the eastern Marks (currency), which we had gotten at a rate of 1:7 at banks in the West, while the official rate was 1:1. So, we ate like pigs, went into book stores and purchased the entire spectrum, from Karl Marx to Rosa Luxemburg. The sales ladies were impressed. None of us ever read all the books we took back home.
At the Maxim Gorki Youth Hostel, 10 of us were sleeping in a room, while a class mate, his name was Götz, invited an Eastern German girl over, whom he had flirted with, to spend the night with him. They had sexual intercourse all night long. We just heard them moaning, her demanding more all the time, and did not sleep much. Let’s hope she was not punished by the State Security afterwards.
The impressions we took back home from those trips would not be forgotten. Obviously, or I would not be writing these lines. The smell of brown coal (lignite), the buildings, many of which were falling apart, like in Bulgaria. There were probably quite a few similarities.
After the fall of the Wall in 1989, the German Reunification, something few believed in, happened 26 years ago today. Not only was the German people reunited, but the Cold War was over. To us Germans (yes, to others too, of course) that aspect meant a lot. The Allies disappeared. So did the bigger part of the danger we had been facing for decades. The Inner German Border had been an important part of the Iron Curtain. Pershing II missiles in Western Germany were pointed directly at them, SS-20 missiles in the GDR directly at us. In case of a thermonuclear exchange, absolutely nothing would have been left, in this heavily populated part of Europe.
Sure, the dangers have been replaced by now. Islamist terrorism and Russia’s ambitions are making sure our children do not really live in a safer world, but definitely in a different one. Back then, in 1962, and in other instances, an all-out war with nuclear warheads flying in both directions was avoided, thanks to the Kennedys and some cool heads in the Soviet Union. Let’s hope today’s dangers will vanish at one point too. Let’s also hope Europe’s history will keep people from implementing their dangerous and radical ideas. Regarding the latter, things are not looking so good, at this moment.