Why German divisions remain, 30 years after fall of the Berlin Wall


JUDY WOODRUFF: As we reported earlier, this
weekend marks the 30th anniversary of one of the most important historic events of the
20th century, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The East German dictatorship collapsed, and,
shortly afterwards, so did other totalitarian regimes across the former Soviet Bloc. As the wall fell, so then did the Iron Curtain. But, as special correspondent Malcolm Brabant
reports from Berlin, Germany may have been politically reunified, but, in many ways,
it is still divided. MALCOLM BRABANT: Thirty years after its demise,
just a few hundred yards of the Berlin Wall remain, as a reminder. PETER SCHNEIDER, Author, “The Wall Jumper”:
The Berlin Wall wasn’t only a separation between the two city halves. It was the separation of Europe. ALEXANDRA HILDEBRANDT, Checkpoint Charlie
Museum: As long as Berlin Wall was here, it did represent the dictatorship. VERA LENGSFELD, ®MD-BO¯Former East German
Human Rights Campaigner: It made East Germany, the so-called German Democratic Republic,
a huge prison. MALCOLM BRABANT: Nearly 2,000 people were
killed by communist guards as they tried to breach the wall, erected in 1961 by the Soviet-led
Eastern Bloc to protect their ideology from Western values. Alexandra Hildebrandt runs the Checkpoint
Charlie Museum, which honors the courage of people like this Czech family who crossed
the Iron Curtain in a homemade hang glider. ALEXANDRA HILDEBRANDT: The wish of the people
to be free is stronger than all the walls in the world. MALCOLM BRABANT: Former Soviet President Mikhail
Gorbachev was a principle catalyst for change, with his policies of perestroika, meaning
listen, and Glasnost, meaning openness. In the autumn of 1989, Gorbachev visited East
Germany and urged its hard-line leaders to reform. Anti-government demonstrations intensified,
offering hope to East German historian Stefan Wolle, frustrated by his inability to travel
outside the communist bloc. STEFAN WOLLE, Former East German Historian
(through translator): In the autumn of ’89, we first of all wanted freedom, and the fall
of the wall was a surprise that took place faster than most of us had expected. OLIVER BERLAU, Former East German Civil Servant:
My heart was beating faster. And I thought, is this true? This is madness. MALCOLM BRABANT: Oliver Berlau became a history
maker 30 years ago. A former tank commander and Foreign Ministry
official, Berlau’s exuberance and that of tens of thousands of East Berliners fashioned
one of the most important events of the 20th century. OLIVER BERLAU: All of a sudden, people said,
do you want to climb up? And hands stretched out, and I was given a
leg up, and I’m standing on top of the wall. And I thought, like, this is impossible, this
can’t be happening. And I jumped down on the other side of the
wall, and I said, I’m standing in the West. I’m in the West. VERA LENGSFELD: This photo was done by the
Stasi when I became a prisoner. MALCOLM BRABANT: Vera Lengsfeld’s credentials
as an East German human rights activist helped her become a lawmaker in Angela Merkel’s center-right
party after unification. VERA LENGSFELD: I know of nobody who thought
that it might be able to get rid of the wall and to get rid of the socialist system, so
it was a victory of which we had never dreamt. MALCOLM BRABANT: To reinforce that victory,
Western consumerism has engulfed Checkpoint Charlie, once a tense frontier crossing in
the no-man’s land of mutually assured destruction, now an essential stop on the selfie bucket
list. The Berlin Wall may have been a symbol of
dictatorship, of repression, of communism, the antithesis of democracy. But, for the West, it also represented certainty,
because it defined global divisions. PETER NEUMANN, Director, International Center
for the Study of Radicalization, King’s College: For sure, during the Cold War, the world was
easier. Everything was related to the conflict with
the Soviet Union. And, sometimes, that didn’t actually make
sense. MALCOLM BRABANT: Peter Neumann was born and
raised in Bavaria, in what was West Germany, and lectures on security, terrorism and war
studies. PETER NEUMANN: The West supported the Mujahideen
in Afghanistan because they were fighting against the Soviet Union. But, by doing that, we inadvertently created
the people who are now fighting us as jihadists. We didn’t realize that at the time, because
our only thought pattern, our only way of conceptualizing these conflicts, was in terms
of the Cold War. So, whilst it was easier, that doesn’t mean
it was always correct. MALCOLM BRABANT: In common with other experts,
Neumann doesn’t believe the reunification of Germany has been a total success. The East German economy was moribund, and
many of its labor-intensive industries collapsed once exposed to free market forces. Author Peter Schneider has documented the
changing fortunes of his home city, Berlin. PETER SCHNEIDER: I had thought that it would
take one generation to unify the Germans. It will be more than two generations. People around 50, if they left their job,
they had no chance to find another one. And their kids saw that. Many of them see the unification as an act
of imperialism. STEFAN WOLLE: And, suddenly, an enormous amount
of people lost their jobs. And, naturally, they were disappointed about
it, and said, so this is the unification? What good are freedom and democracy, if I
have no job and cannot buy any of the nice things I always wanted? MALCOLM BRABANT: Successive German governments
have spent heavily in the former East to try to raise living standards, but Peter Neumann
says, financial investment alone can’t counter divisions in outlook. PETER NEUMANN: East Germany never really confronted
Germany’s past. In Western Germany, we were from the very
beginning taught that we inherited the legacy of Nazism, and that we had to make up for
it, whereas, in East Germany, people were told, you are actually the successors of the
people that the Nazis fought against. You are the successors of the communists. So there is nothing you have to atone for. MALCOLM BRABANT: Anti-Semitism resurfaced
last month in Halle, the birthplace of composer George Frideric Handel. Close to his statue in this eastern city,
mourners honored two people shot dead by a neo-Nazi after he failed to enter the city’s
synagogue on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. WOMAN (through translator): With our history,
it’s, like, a shame that now things like this can happen. MALCOLM BRABANT: At the synagogue, community
leader Max Provorozki feared Germany may no longer be a place that Jews can call home. MAX PROVOROZKI, Community Leader: We have
a problem in Germany, and I think it’s not a question to Jewish community. It’s a question for politicians. It’s very important that governments in all
countries find the special medicine. MALCOLM BRABANT: It isn’t just Jews who feel
under threat from the hard right. Richard Khamis came from Sudan 35 years ago
to study at Leipzig’s Karl Marx University. Khamis was here when the wall fell, and settled
in what he thought was a welcoming country. Now he’s too scared to go out at night. RICHARD KHAMIS, Germany: They insult you simply
because you are black. People are being beaten up, chased from places. You — as a black man, you can hardly go to
a pub on your own to have a pint of beer, because you get so scared. You don’t know what will happen to you. MALCOLM BRABANT: Khamis says attitudes changed
in 2015 after Chancellor Angela Merkel threw open Germany’s borders to more than a million
migrants. The influx appalled Merkel’s former ally,
Vera Lengsfeld. VERA LENGSFELD: Too many of them detest the
Western way of life. They don’t respect democracy and its rules. They don’t respect the women’s rights. I fear this will in the long run destabilize
our society. MALCOLM BRABANT: Mass migration has fueled
the rise of the right-wing AFD, or Alternative For Germany Party, in the east, where many
felt like second-class citizens after unification. The AFD’s European affairs spokesman is Hugh
Bronson. Is the party’s anti-immigrant stance responsible
for inflaming racism? HUGH BRONSON, Alternative For Germany Party:
I don’t think it’s true. We are just taking the worries of the people. We take them seriously, and we respond to
that. You can’t even discuss issues about immigration
in Parliament. Immediately, you are branded a racist. And this is a very unfair situation, just
asking, how much this country can accept, how much can we take in? MALCOLM BRABANT: But after the fall of the
wall, international borders lost their aura of permanence. ALEXANDRA HILDEBRANDT: The lesson is, there
exists no wall which stays forever. The lesson is that everyone, every person
in the whole world can be free, must be free. MALCOLM BRABANT: But if the wall’s specter
means that East and West Germans won’t fully embrace for at least another generation, then
immigrants have their own Iron Curtain to negotiate before this complex nation accepts
them, if indeed it ever will. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Malcolm Brabant
in Berlin.




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