This morning the second episode of the BBC Radio 4 programme, Germany: Memories of a Nation, was aired. Below, Janine Noack (JN) and Tiia Sahrakorpi (TS) provide commentary on today’s episode, entitled “Divided Heaven”, which takes a peek into divided Germany.
JN: A bit skeptical after yesterday episode, I am completely convinced and fascinated by the second one. Neil MacGregor takes us for a walk along the Berlin Wall. He takes Christa Wolf’s book “The Divided Heaven” (or “The Divided Sky”) as a metaphor to explore the history of both German states. This episode concentrates on East Germany explaining how different the everyday life of East Germans was from their countrymen in the West. In historiography, the reunification is often described as a “wholesale takeover [of the East] by the West” – in other words, a process of replacement.
Being born into a GDR (German Democratic Republic) family I often realised that the socialisation my parents and grandparents experienced differed fundamentally from the experiences of FRG (German Federal Republic) citizens. I personally feel the fact that a great amount of Germans were socialised under completely different social, political and cultural circumstances is not yet part of a German cultural and historical memory. In historiography, the history of the GDR and FRG are addressed separately. There needs to be a greater tendency towards one German history including both narratives to transform “The Divided Heaven” into a common German memory.
TS: Having visited the Brandenburg Gate and gone from “East” to “West” Berlin, it is hard to image what it must have been like for the citizens of Berlin to have a huge wall in the place where I walked through. Even the concept that the underground and above-ground rail systems were separated is mind-boggling today, as a tourist in Berlin. We take it for granted that we have access to anything that we need and until it is taken away from us, we do not always realize how much freedom we have. This idea is essentially highlighted by MacGregor through the items of today’s broadcast. Is freedom something we can capture in an item or thing?
Life in the GDR, as Neil MacGregor suggests, was a life unfulfilled for (some?) citizens but life in the East was not necessarily an evil as it is played out to be. While it was necessary to at least pretend to conform in the GDR, many liked its free health care, education systems, and day care. Once the wall fell, things such as job security provided for by the state and access to day care were limited. There are still huge differences between the East and the West, which remain problematic for Germany. As Janine points out, both narratives of divided Germany should be brought together, but how is it possible when the social realities of both states were so different?
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