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freemanjud
Boston, US
Posts: 154

Today's post has been created by Mr. Markus Schirmer, teacher at the Reuchlin-Gymnasium in Ingolstadt, Germany.


We are very happy to share some of Germany’s recent history with the students of Boston Latin School and engage in a fruitful discussion about the current political situation in Germany.


Last weekend Germany commemorated 30 years of the unification between east and west. Politicians wanted to celebrate. But those plans were thwarted by the Covid-19 pandemic

There was a small get-together of about 200 guests, mainly politicians and public figures from the federal level and from the 16 states. They convened in a big hall in Potsdam (near Berlin) where 75 years ago the Allies against Nazi Germany met at the Potsdam Conference and laid down the postwar order, with Germany divided in four occupation zones: the Soviet/Russian zone (in the East) and the French, British, and American zones (in what would be described as the West).


The division of Germany grew stronger the more it became clear that the West and the East were no longer willing to cooperate. Eventually in the summer of 1961, the Berlin Wall was erected between the western sectors and the Soviet sector of Berlin, becoming a symbol of the Cold War.


German unification took place in 1990 as a result of peaceful protests in East Germany and the agreement among the former allied powers that Germans in east and west should be granted the right to make sovereign decisions about the future of Germany as a whole. This also marked the end of the Cold War.


To understand this history and to hear several voices on the current state of the country’s unification, watch this video (Germany, The Berlin Wall And 30 Years Of German Reunification | Meet the Germans; 6:00 min.):


Also, please take a look at the first two pages of the English translation of what our president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said in an October 3, 2020 speech. Toward the beginning of his remarks, he compared the different ways German unification was achieved in 1871 and 1990. After reading the first several passages, you should have a sense of the general tone.


Reuchlin-Gymnasium, our school, is located in Ingolstadt, the geographical center of Bavaria in the south of Germany. This area was part of the American Occupation Zone after WWII and became part of the Federal Republic of Germany (aka West Germany) in 1949. Today it takes about two and a half hours to drive to what used to be East Germany. The students from our school have taken school trips to Weimar (in Thuringia, about 3 ½ hours away) and to Berlin (about six hours away). Very few have traveled to former East Germany on their own. In this year’s class, there are four students with relatives linked to the area of East Germany that joined the West in 1990. One student told the class that his grandfather fled communism in East Germany and broke relations with his family who remained there.


[Note from Ms. Freeman: This is not all that different from students here in Boston. It’s somewhat unusual at Boston Latin School for a significant number of students to have spent any length of time in other parts of the United States, such as the southern states (Georgia/Alabama/ Mississippi/Tennessee) or the Midwest (Missouri/Kansas /Nebraska/IndianaIowa/the Dakotas). More often than not, we lack familiarity with how people from those parts of the United States see the nation and politics.]


Two of the Reuchlin students, Jonas and Jakob Hulin, shared their perspectives on German unification today:


After 30 years there are still some big disparities between the east and the west in Germany. The federal states in the east such as Thuringia or Saxony are not as developed as western federal states such as Bavaria. In these states the people are poorer, get lower wages and unemployment is up to 7.5% compared to 5.9% in the west. One reason for the financial disadvantages for the people living in the east is that none of Germany’s big companies (DAX-companies) are placed in the east. Also, the east is underrepresented in the German government. For example, in 2018 only one of 16 members of the cabinet had an East German background. Thus, it is not surprising that many East Germans feel like second class citizens.

Another big problem in the east is the stark contrast in political opinions of the people. Far right parties like the AfD or the NPD on the one hand and the extremist left parties such as the Left Party get more and more support, which leads to a division in the population. These points led to a migration movement from east to west. In the period between 1990 and 2017, roughly 1.7 million people migrated from east to west. To prevent this extent of migration, the German government introduced the solidarity tax (“Solidaritätsbeitrag”) to make an extra effort to support the east financially. Because of government support, the big cities in the east like Berlin, Leipzig, or Dresden are booming right now and more and more people move to these cities. But especially the rural areas in the east lag far behind West German standards.

The topic of German Unification does not seem to be very relevant for young Germans (in Ingolstadt) today because they didn’t witness it. In conclusion, it can be said that there is still a lot to do on a political and economic level to bring the east “into line” with the west. Despite all the negative news, the East also has beautiful sights. For example, the town of Weimar in Thuringia with its literary giants Goethe and Schiller of the period of classicism and the modernist Bauhaus school of architecture: it is one of the culturally richest towns in Germany. Furthermore, there is the distinct Saxon dialect or the buzzing capital of Berlin.

Here are some questions to think about as you write and include your perspectives on our online discussion forum. You don’t have to cover all aspects in your post:

  • Which aspects of the last 30 years of German history are most interesting or surprising to you?
  • What affects the cohesion of a nation?
  • What did you learn about President Steinmeier’s general attitude? Is there anything in his speech that can be applied to or reinterpreted for the current situation in the US?
  • How can you understand regional identities that you have little contact with? Can you think of other examples (besides east and west) in Germany or the US?

If you still want to learn more about this year’s national holiday in Germany, you can click here.


PS: Other topics the Reuchlin students consider important in the context of recent developments in Germany are the following:


  • The rise of the far-right political party Alternative for Germany (AfD)
  • Right wing ideology among members of the German government's executive (counterintelligence service, police, military)
  • Dealing with Covid-19
  • Refugee policy
  • The poisoning of Russian political figure Alexei Navalny, his treatment in Berlin, and Russian-German relations
  • Possible successors to Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose tenure as Chancellor began in 2005 and whose fourth and final term concludes in 2021.

If any of those topics interest you, please let us know.


We from Reuchlin are looking forward to reading your thoughts from Boston Latin about our most recent history and the current situation in Germany.

Imposter
Posts: 4

Local differences

Of course there are many differences between East and West, as there are between North and South, Bavaria and Saxony and everywhere in Germany. And to make it short: This is wonderful. I love the different cultures, different dialects and customs. So differences in itself are a good thing and should even be stopped from disappearing as it happens with some dialects right now, but we have to be careful if one group is for example economically weaker as East Germany is right now. I was very surprised to learn that some of them see of themselves as "second-class citizens", which is something that should definitetly not happen.

ernest.
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 13

Facing History: The Germans Do It Best

First off, I want to thank Mr. Schirmer and the students at Reuchlin for sharing your history and culture with us, and for giving us the opportunity to engage on this important anniversary! It was really interesting to learn more about German Reunification, especially the lasting impacts it has had into today.

A few things struck me the most upon reading the information provided and the President’s speech, most of which revolve around this idea of dealing with history— pretty relevant to my class, and in general a difficult thing to do. I have to say that, at least from what I know, the German government and people really seem to have done a stellar job dealing with their past history, specifically the Holocaust and East/West split. I don’t know of any other country that has been so direct and clear in condemning atrocities it committed in its past and actively seeking to redress them. This issue of not just facing a nation’s history in theory, but then actually dealing with it in practice (through policy, rhetoric, and active remembrance and study), is an especially bitter one for me because it is unbelievably frustrating to see how unwilling my own country has been to confront the many low points in its history, such as slavery, the extermination of Native American peoples, institutionalized racism, sexism, and nativism, and so forth. Here, to even fixate a little bit on America’s many historical wrongs is considered “unpatriotic” by some.

This is a bit off topic but frankly, I think part of my admiration for how Germany has handled its history comes in part from an appreciation for German politics in general. A perfect example is the President’s speech that Mr. Schirmer linked, which praised the merits of humility and modeled a productive kind of pragmatism. Humility and pragmatism— two values that seem extremely remote from American politics today, at least for a teenager who’s come of age politically under the Trump administration. And Angela Merkel is literally a trained chemist!! Science today seems so drastically undervalued in our government, it seems almost like fantasy that a political leader could have such a strong scientific background. Wish we had a leader like Angela Merkel :( .

Anyways, the point is that politics and pride have overwhelmed any attempts in my own country to literally just acknowledge and address the historical problems the US has had, and I’m impressed that Germany has been able to avoid that more, though I’m sure there is still complexity to the situation and I know that those historical problems are nonetheless still ongoing for them, too.

Some other new information I connected with was the rise of extremist political factions. Though of course that is concerning and never desirable, I did actually take a little comfort in knowing that America isn’t alone, and that other countries are struggling with this kind of division and extremism too. In terms of my thoughts on the cohesion of a country, I think your President Steinmeier said it best:

“If people feel they are always ignored, if their views are never reflected in political discourse, if they lose their belief in their own ability to shape their future – this is, simply put, not something we can respond to with indifference. Because then our cohesion starts to erode, people lose their trust in politics, and the breeding ground for populism and extremist parties grows and grows.”

This quote could not be more applicable to our current situation. Trump is a populist leader who has deftly capitalized on the grievances of a great many Americans who apparently did not have faith in the system and did not feel heard. That so many people voted for him is cause for serious reflection for the rest of us Americans. What are we doing wrong? How did these people come to arrive at the kind of values that endorse a disregard for longstanding norms and democratic institutions, and fear- and hate-based politics?

Learning about German Reunification prompted a lot of thoughts about our situation here. Interested to hear what others have to say about this major anniversary.

speedyninja
BOSTON, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 7

Trying to Unify

In such a turbulent world and time with the pandemic, climate change, and other global issues, there is a great need for unification. However, it seems this is one of the hardest things for humans to do, with people struggling to cooperate all over the world. It was interesting to learn more about the people of east and west Germany’s unification process, and draw connections to the situation in the United States.

After learning more about the unification of east and west Germany, I found a couple things especially interesting. The first is that Chancellor Merkel was one of the East Germans who crossed over to West Berlin in 1989. Having lived through and even participated in this important time in Germany history, she must have an incredible understanding of the lasting effects of a divided Germany. I would be interested to hear more about her story and thoughts on the current conditions in formerly east and west Germany. Also, I found the similarities between Germany itself and the state of the entire world at this time to be very interesting. A divided Germany with both Communist and Capitalist controlled areas in many ways was a microcosm of the perspective of Communist and Capitalist powers on the entire world. Territorial disputes and power struggles over the political and economic model that people should follow led to a heated rivalry between countries like the United States and the Soviet Union. This included proxy wars like in Vietnam, and very nearly direct conflict between global superpowers. It is interesting to think about what our current world would look like if there was a global conflict between Capitalist and Communist societies.

I also found the comments from Germans asked about cohesion and unity in their country to be very interesting and insightful. The overall sentiment seemed to be that while Germany has come a long way to being unified, there are still differences that need to be worked on until this becomes a reality. One particular comment that struck me was about the need to reinforce unification by considering how it can be realized everyday, rather than just having a holiday celebrating the reunification. I agree that while coming together to celebrate is not a bad thing, much more truth is revealed when it comes to unity in the day to day actions and mindsets of people. Similarly, in the United States, while there are many celebrations for different groups of people such as Black History Month or Hispanic Heritage Month, I think these are relatively meaningless when it comes to determining whether or not these often underappreciated and overlooked groups are truly accepted. Rather, people’s day to day attitudes and interactions with other people are the true indicator of unification. It is important to note, as @Imposter said, “Differences in itself are a good thing and should even be stopped from disappearing.” I entirely agree that our differences are part of what makes life interesting. Therefore I think the mindset and actions that reflect seeing yourself as not necessarily no different, but rather no more important than or deserving than others is what truly affects the cohesion of a nation or any group of people.

Reading President Steinmeir’s speech also was an interesting insight into the situation in Germany. From my reading, I found Steinmeir’s overall attitude to be one of pride in what Germany has accomplished in unification so far, but also a warning and encouragement to keep this process going. President Steinmeir seemed to be very proud of the Germans achievements in peacefully unifying east and west Germany, despite the challenges it created with integration, especially for east Germans. However he also made it clear that it is important to continue unifying efforts or else extremism and division will just as quickly arise. I agree with @Ernest who noted that this warning is necessary in the United States as well, where extremist groups are becoming more and more prominent behind leaders who fail to denounce and sometimes even seem to encourage their behaviors. Also, whereas Germany seems to be on the road to further cohesion, the United States is essentially split up into a red and blue team behind the Democratic and Republican Parties. Unfortunately, these parties continue to become more and more divided, with no signs of stopping.

This political division also relates to the overall challenge of understanding unfamiliar regional identities. Although this is a challenge, I think the best way to get some form of understanding is to try and realize that things are different in other places. Often I think people including myself forget that there are other ways of life, experiences, and perspectives, and our way of living and thinking is not “right”. There are many examples of these different regional perspectives, even when it comes to within our own city of Boston. Different towns such as Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, West Roxbury, and others all include slightly different experiences, and it is challenging but important to try and understand each other. I’m sure this is also true within cities of Germany, where different neighborhoods have different lifestyles and perspectives, as well as throughout the entire world

BLStudent
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 7

Unification

Though the united states is often viewed as a collective, we are often not very unified or unified at all for that matter and like Ms Freeman said in the note that is most amplified in our different regions; the North East, the Midwest, The south, and the West coast where we completely differ in culture and politics. Based on the article and the video it seems like this is fairly true for Germany as well, despite being unified and having many shared values there is still a cultural divide replacing the once physical divide between the East and West. The East doesn't stand up to the West in Infrastructure or political influence and because of this many East Germans or Ossies feel like second class citizens and are often treated like second class citizens by westerners. Despite these sentiments though its inspiring the progress that Germany in just 30 years to become whole again and that the nation is able to unite behind the president and one of the few East Germans in politics, chancellor Angela Merkel. The cohesion of a nation isn't created by policy but rather of the shared community of the people within the nation so in the future as the old scars of the cold war fade it seems hopeful that the next generation with unify Germany even more than it already has and maybe in the next 30 years it will be like there was no divide in the first place. While Politicians like President Steinmeiers and his motivating speech can help to inspire change and unification the best way to understand those different then you is to interact with them on a very basic human level and to realize you have more in common than different. Im a little concerned about the rising far right wing movement in Germany given the countries history but this doesnt seem to unique to Germany but rather seems like a Global movement wich has affect us in the US as well with Donald Trump and the emergence of the Alt Right.

thesnackthatsmilesback
brighton, ma, US
Posts: 9

How Long Does Unifying Take?

I want to preface this by saying that I knew little to none about German history before reading about this today. My knowledge before today was the extent of the Berlin wall being a main turning point for Germany after the tragedies of WWII.

The most surprising fact was that there was and still is discrimination around where a person is brought up. Being in the United States, where descrimination is so prominent racially, it surprised me that there was descrimination from the east and the west even within the same ethnicity. Although I understand that in Southeast Asian countries, it is very likely that people in the North have a higher status than in the South due to the idea that the more you work in the fields (which are mostly near the southern waters which creates fertile land) so I see the patterns of wealth paying a huge contribution. However, Germany is different in that it involves certain characteristics, such as Eastern Germans being classified as penny pinchers. I also found it interesting that there were people who were questioning democracy and the system and that the president had to set down standards in order for everyone to be safe. I found it confusing that people would use a protest in order to create chaos throughout Germany. I understand that this unification, although it may seem like a lifetime to a 16 year old American highschool student, is not at all a lof of time to ultimately create full change. Like one of the interviewees had said in the video, “thirty years isn’t much all that time, so it's definitely present in people’s minds.”I don’t think it is reasonable to say that in a span of thirty years the ideas of democracy and the unification of Germany to every citizen was the right choice. Looking at the state of America, descrimination and racism is alive and well to the Black community especially even after over 300 hundred years after the end of slavery. So the question in my opinion is how long will it take for unification and tolerance to form through everyone.

I think that no country has ever fully said that they as a country are unified in every single way, which brings the point, when is the cohesion of a nation stated? I think that the cohesion of a nation is tolerance throughout the area. No one will have the same views as everyone else, but practicing tolerance of other people's views is very important. It is also important to not judge before you meet. Germany already has these connotations through different parts of the country and the characteristics of people from the east to the west. With that prejudice already instilled in the minds of the suppressor and the supressee, the system of being suppressed will never change.

I will never say that my understanding of any region will be sufficient because the world continues on and there will continuously be different problems and ideas and systems that arrive. However throughout history, patterns occur. There's always one region that's above another, there is one problem which both sides have trouble agreeing with (usually in government), and it controls the way they see each other as people creating prejudice against many. Although I hate to say that history repeats itself on a cycle, there are many instances where it has deemed to be true. In Southeast Asian Countries, such as Vietnam, where the poverty gap between the North and South creates disproportionate regions of wealth, characteristics are heavily inferred and there is a biased on the North.


boricua1234
Roslindale, MA, US
Posts: 8

What does Unification even look like?

First, I would like to say hello to the students of Reuchlin-Gymnasium. Before reading the summary posted by your teacher and the various articles they provided I knew little to nothing about German anything really. I know some people who are from Germany but besides that I don’t have any connections to the country. When I was reading over the articles what stuck out to me the most was how it had been 30 years since the Berlin wall came down. Although I am only a little more than half of 30 years old I found that 30 years seems like such a short amount of time. I immediately compared the wealth disparities between the eastern and wastern germans to those of poc in America and it seems that both the easterners and poc here are going through similar struggles although poc struggle is more systemic. For Germany I have a lot of optimism that the future relationships between the easterners and westerners will improve and eaterners will not feel as second class. And I hope that the president and residents are proactive in making easterners feel unified and on equal footings. I am curious though as to what the last 30 years have been like and what unification efforts to really bond the two previously divided sides have been like… do you have a lot of friends whose parents or themselves were originally from the east or do you continue to be separated? How do you view easterners? How do you view yourself as a westerner, is that a big part of your identity?


After reading the speech by the president I remained to be optimistic for the future of Germany. He seems to strongly believe in the unification of the east and the west and I hope his actions reflect this. He sent out a very strong message of community to me and I was wondering how you all feel about that, do you feel that you are connected to the east and really are one big happy family, or are they like the black sheep? It seems that cohesion was a very important theme as well and I’m curious what that would exactly mean in a society. To me it feels like in America there will never really be cohesion or it won't be for a very long time but for you guys it seems like this could be attainable soon if all are willing to try. I understand it must be difficult now due to the growing right wing groups but the president verbally denouncing them seems like a step in the right direction to me. Thank you guys for reading and I cannot wait to continue to collaborate and discuss these topics with you all.


P.S. I am super curious about the refugee policy, again I know virtually nothing about German policy so if someone could explain a little bit of that that would be appreciated :)

BlueWhale24
Boston , Massachusetts, US
Posts: 9

Drawing Parallels between German Reunification and Modern America

First, to Mr. Schirmer and to our fellow students at the Reuchlin-Gymnasium, thank you so much for inviting us to engage with you all in discussion regarding this topic. To echo @ernest., it’s a pleasure to have this opportunity to both learn more about the German Reunification, and to delve into the current state of German politics.

Taking a look back in history can provide understanding as to how the current state of the world came to be. Although I was not yet born at

the time, it’s remarkable to reflect upon the period of the Cold War, during which the struggle between capitalist and communist ideologies drastically affected the world. Nowhere was this more present than in Germany, where the Berlin Wall separated societies worlds apart from one another. As West Germany began to pick itself up after the devastation of World War II with the help of it’s democratically elected government, East Germany fell into socialist economic despair, with its main influence coming from communist superpower USSR. As political affairs in the United States become more polarized than ever, it’s fascinating to learn about a country, once divided, coming together.

Growing up, I had always heard mentions of the Berlin Wall and the separation of Germany, but never understood the cause behind it. Even recently, as I learned about the impact of the Cold War in prior history classes, my focus leaned toward places like Cuba and Vietnam, where more outright and violent struggles between capitalism and communism were taking place at the time. Nevertheless, as I consider the state of Germany post WWII, it amazes me that the ideological split within the country was in essence an unintentional result of coincidence. East Germany was swayed towards communism by the Soviet Union (assigned to that region by the Allies), while West Germany followed in the footsteps of the capitalist Western powers that remained in their area. This however leads to the question of which ideology Germany would have chosen to pursue had the country not been divided among the Allied forces? The answer to this question is almost impossible to determine now, but it’s fascinating to speculate which side Germany would have leaned towards, and how it would have shaped the Germany of present day. Nonetheless, the separation, and later reunification, of Germany has been one of, if not the most, defining event in the country’s recent history. It’s only rival in historical importance, as Federal President Steinmeier mentioned in his speech, might be the founding of the German Empire in 1871. President Steinmeier mentioned in his commemoration speech that this monarchy, lasting from 1871-1918, was brought about by devastating warfare and horrific bloodshed. He makes this point in order to draw stark contrast to the reunification of Germany in 1990, which he describes as coming about via strong but peaceful protests. While this was an elegant contrast painted by Mr. Steinmeier, I would argue that the road leading up to German unification was much more difficult that he made it appear in his oration. As I researched further into life in East Germany during the Cold War, it was apparent that the experience was bleak and harsh. It’s inhabitants have described it as feeling trapped in their country with no way out. Shortages of goods and commonly-used items were frequent, and spying took place everywhere. For this reason, many East Berliners attempted to escape their living conditions across the Wall. Some were shot as they crossed over and others sent back. While the fall of the Berlin Wall may not have come about directly as a result of violence, the road leading up to reunification was anything but amicable, being marked rather by extreme difficulties for inhabitants of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

In modern times, Germany still faces the issue of lack of cohesion between the residents of it’s Eastern and Western regions.

While the economy of large Eastern German cities has recovered to rival its Western counterparts, rural areas of the East trail far behind. As Jonas and Jakob Hulin mentioned in their perspectives of German reunification, it is evident that living in East Germany is still unappealing for many to this day. In addition, the German government’s efforts to rectify these issues have largely been unsuccessful; while they introduced the “Solidaritätsbeitrag” (solidarity tax) to support the East financially, this only provides benefits for large cities such as Berlin, Leipzig, and Dresden, while rural areas continue to struggle. This begs the question, what can the government truly do to encourage residents to move to those areas? I don’t have a definitive answer, and neither does the German government, it seems. Along with the lack of East German representation in the government and remnants of animosity left behind from the German Cold War era, the divide in the country still prevails after many years. Negative connotations and stereotypes are also made of each region by the other, further adding to the societal and national barrier that lingers. To me, this draws parallels to the current political state of the US. In the 2020 Presidential election, Democrats and Republicans have become more polarized than ever before in recent memory. The schism between the two parties grows wider and wider as America faces new issues such as COVID-19, the BLM movement, and a struggling economy. Similar to Germany, American political parties are predominantly located in specific regions, with right-leaning Republicans being concentrated mostly in the Southeast and Midwest, while left-leaning Democrats are primarily located in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and West Coast. These geographic patterns seem to correlate with America’s history relating to the era of slavery and the Civil War, with more liberal and progressive populations focused from the North while the South held on to conservative remnants of the antebellum era. Nonetheless, I’d also like to add that while geographical regions dictate the trends of political affiliation in America and Germany, I believe that there are still a good number of people in each region who identify themselves with the opposing side; trends are not always completely accurate. To paraphrase @speedyninja, I believe that the best way to overcome such regional divides is to “put yourself in the shoes of the other”. Often, a lack of understanding and social stigma are the reasons behind the collective opinion of a certain region. While it’s challenging to overcome the environment and mindsets of those surrounding you, it’s important to remember that whether in Germany or America, the good of the country and its people is what every citizen should be fighting for. Instead of seeing the other side as the quote on quote, enemy, we should all strive to understand why those who disagree with us see the way that they do, and how we can come together to promote the common good for all of us.

As I reflect upon the current state of both Germany and the United States, it’s apparent that both countries still have ways to go before it’s

population can become somewhat cohesive in mindset. But, it’s also important to remember that while cohesion of a country’s national identity is valuable, different sides and different opinions can challenge the way we all think and grow. Finding the middle ground between complete political division and total political cohesion can be difficult, but ultimately it should be the utmost goal. To echo @thesnackthatsmilesback, history has a tendency to repeat itself. America should look towards Germany, where not that long ago the Berlin Wall stood, representing the danger of polarizing politics and a divided country. The parallels between Germany’s separation and America’s political schism are not coincidental. We as a country should learn from history, and understand the need to come together to face adversity, instead of allowing adversity to pull us apart, as it has in 2020.

Thank you again to Mr. Schirmer for providing us the chance to learn about this important topic, and to our Ingolstadt peers! Glücklicher Tag der deutschen Einheit!

iluvcows
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 8

The Unification of Germany

I knew very little about the division in Germany and had minimal knowledge of the Berlin Wall and reunification of Germany. Before watching the video and reading the article I was not aware of the remaining split East and West Germany continued to hold. One thing that stood out to me while watching the video was that although Germany at the surface was unified and together, there was still division between East and West Germany. There is still some discrimination that takes place and there are many deep rooted differences and contrasts between the two communities. They talked about how celebrating the holiday to rejoice the unification of Germany although okay, should be recognized on a daily basis rather than on only one day. I agree with @speedyninja that this relates to certain holidays we celebrate in the United States. One month or day should not be the only indicator that these events or individuals matter and are respected. They should be celebrated and appreciated everyday through interactions and actions to truly demonstrate genuine unification.


Within the United States, there is much division in various aspects of life. Some of this conflict is due to location where people are judged based on where they are from. We house many different regions, the West, Midwest, the South, and the North East. These regions each have differing beliefs, traditions, and culture which places an invisible barrier between them. Additionally, throughout history there often has been discrimination against people who simply look different or are from somewhere else. Even today we are experiencing racism and injustice towards others solely based on the color of their skin. Although everyone has the same rights, African Americans still face prejudice and are treated like they are still lower class and not equals to those around them. Individuals are being denied the same opportunities that others were just handed. This is similar within Germany and although they are united there are still cultural barriers between the East and the West seemingly replacing the physical barrier of the wall as @BLStudent mentioned. The Ossies aka people from Eastern Germany feel like they are less than the people from the West because of their successful economy and sense of freedom that they themselves lacked. To this day the people who originated from East Germany feel like they don't live up to the Wessies standards and are looked down upon as if they are lower class. Many negative connotations and assumptions have surrounded the aspect of living or being from East Germany. There is a major lack of representation of Ossies in many parts of German life including sports teams as well as political aspects.


Fruit Snacks
Boston, Massachusetts , US
Posts: 9

German Union

It’s so crazy that it’s only been 30 years since the union of east and west germany. For some reason it feels like it was a century ago. To think that Germans still feel the divide to this day is crazy. Does the fact that it happened so recent change how yall learn german history. Other than that it makes sense that there’s still divisions between both parts because 30 years isn’t enough. Both parts grew up with different leaders and values. Both parts weren’t advanced the same. Simply creating pathways along the wall isn’t enough to call a nation united. Nations should stand roughly the same in economy and political freedom. President Steinmeier is being really condescending. He is stating that the main divide is just politics, but I’m sure the citizens don’t feel that way based on the video. He needs to find a way to get rid of the distinctions.

Cookie Monster
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 9

Thank you, Mr. Markus Schirmer for inviting us into the conversation with your students in Germany. It is great to gain the perspectives of people who are across the world from each other and learn from other people's opinions in the process. Every nation or state that has ever developed on a global scale has faced dilemmas with how to unify their citizens who are divided into subcultures and who lack exposure to each other. The Civil War, which occured more than a century ago here in the United States, has defined many of the cultural fault lines that are present in American society today. However, your country, Germany, has experienced a much more recent development with geographical and cultural fault lines that has defined the political conversation there for decades.

After World War II in Germany, the western part of Germany was occupied by the allies and while becoming a capitalistic society, experienced an economic flourishing. However, East Germany or the GDR, which was occupied by the Soviets, became a communist society where individualistic expression and critique of norms was not tolerated. After the reunification 30 years ago, many in what was formerly East Germany were ecstatic to live in a nation where capitalistic ideals were celebrated, which they thought would equate to a more prosperous life. But what I thought was most interesting about German history in the last thirty years was how fabricated the image of capitalism and commerce was to these people who have never experienced it first hand before. While salaries and wages were much higher, unemployment was in constant presence for East Germans because of the low supply of jobs relative to the demand. While purchasing power was high and one had the ability to purchase or rent property, prices always fluctuate because of privatization and it wasn't handed to them like it was in East Germany. While I don't believe in full fledged communism, I do believe that the government should supply ample and generous benefits to citizens to make sure that everyone is living sufficiently. Unfortunately, the glorification of capitalism leads many people from more developing nations to come to western societies for a better life not being aware of the implications of how much of a disadvantage they are at.

Because of this disadvantage, many in East Germany have looked back to their past in support of right leaning, authoritarian political groups over the establishment that has been in power for decades, which President Steinmeier mentions in his speech. In the speech, the president depicts this group as an outlier, but he must address these people's concerns or else this tide will continue. I am not saying give into the authoritarianism they espouse, which will not actually benefit any of the people in support of it at all unless they are in power. I mean address the economic disparities between Eastern and Western Germany that are still prevalent today; many in the eastern side of Germany just feel forgotten and looking for any disruption from the regular way of doing things. In America right now, we face a similar problem. The political world right now is deeply polarized between blue states (more liberal leaning or Democratic) and red states (more conservative leaning or Republican). The populations of blue states are heavily concentrated in large, dense, and urban metropolitan areas that are much more diverse culturally. Our nation's economy is largely concentrated in these urban centers as well, meaning that there are more high paying jobs and a larger emphasis on education beyond grade school. However, much of the geographical land area of America is encompassed by states where the populations tend to be much more rural, older, and less diverse. Many in these areas, much like East Germany, feel forgotten by the government and are looking for any way possible to shake up the system. Donald Trump is the manifestation of this. Much like Eastern Germany's lean into right-wing authoritarianism, Donald Trump has exemplified many dictatorial and undemocratic tendencies not just in the last four years as president, but over his entire life.

In order to fix these sorts of cultural, economic, and political disparities, we must communicate and expose ourselves with people who aren't like us. For example, an exchange program would be an interesting way to immerse yourself in another way of life that one may not be particularly aware of. I know people who have lived in both more conservative leaning, rural areas as well as spending time in their life in more diverse urban areas. All in all, cultural unity, not just geographic unity, is very important for a country with Democratic norms because if we resent each other for our disagreements, we lose the ability to collaborate.

user1234
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 6
First of all I just want to say thank you to Mr. Schirmer and the students at Reuchlin for sharing some of your history with us because I think that especially as Americans we sometimes get lost in our own bubble, and forget that there are so many things that we don’t know about other places and cultures. It was so shocking to hear that the reason that the Berlin Wall fell was because of regular people peacefully protesting. I always thought that it was a decision that came from the government, but it’s so cool to hear about real life examples of normal people performing their civic duties and getting such an amazing result. Also the video we watched was interesting because it highlighted the fact that the unification of a country doesn’t just have to with land, but also with the people itself. Although Germany is unified a lot of people that came from the east still feel like outsiders even 30 yrs later. The cohesion of a state doesn’t happen until all the people feel like they are equally represented and have the same opportunities as everyone else. President Steinmeier’s attitude was very optimistic, yet he wasn’t afraid to point out all the work that still has to be made in Germany. I thought that was a good way of looking at things because so many politicians and civilians in the United States think America is sunshine and rainbows because everyone is “free” to be and do whatever they want, but in reality that isn’t always true for everyone. The minority groups in the U.S. do not have the same opportunities as other people do. I think that the politicians in this country should take a page from President Steinmeier’s book because maybe if they were willing to acknowledge these disparities and try to find solutions for them, rather than acting like they don’t exist, maybe in the future there could be more equality. The U.S. is supposed to be one country, but in reality it’s almost like a bunch of countries that are stuck together. There are so many different regions with people that have many different ideas and belief systems, but I think it’s important to try to get out of the bubble that you’re in because you could learn so much more by hearing other people's perspectives. It’s important to listen to what other people have to say before you judge them.
yvesIKB
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 10

Comparing Our Divisions

Hello, friends from Reuchlin! Thank you for proposing such an interesting topic for discussion. While the Berlin Wall has been a global symbol for the value of unification, I can’t say I’ve ever considered the following impacts on the east and west of Germany before now. I look forward to discussing this all with you!


How much does our country really impact our values and customs? We are all fundamentally the same as human beings — can our environment actually affect our views and perspectives? Yes, I would say, they do by quite a bit. And those first few clues come directly from our nation’s leaders. I can’t say I have much practice listening to political or commemoratory speeches, but I was nevertheless amazed at President Steinmeier’s speech, celebrating Germany’s 30th annual day of reunification, at the way he addresses his country compared to how our President does. When, for instance, recounting his nation’s history with war and conflict, President Steinmeier rejects their nation’s past glorification of military affairs and states that “the founding of the German Empire [soon led] to the catastrophe of the First World War.” Although I am not certain that we can definitively say the German Empire solely caused this war, I was still quite astonished to read that line. Our President, to my knowledge, has never allowed the United States to take credit for shortfallings, and certainly not global atrocities, unless under the leadership of the opposing Democratic Party. Many Americans cannot even recognize the history of the United States as an empire, much less the damage it has done to other countries.


Additionally, a part of President Steinmeier’s speech that struck me were his words: “Coronavirus has taught us humility. And climate change poses a fundamental challenge to our way of life.” In merely these two sentences, I think the German President has demonstrated more understanding than some Americans can do in a whole speech. President Trump, as we know, has refused to see the evidence of climate change. President Steinmeier reminds his citizens that while they are strong together in the pandemic, that demonstrating responsibility during this time is valuable. President Trump is encouraging careless actions and the return to normalcy in order to stimulate the economy, prioritizing his election over the health of his citizens. When pressed about his response to COVID, he offers little guidance and, either self-aggrandizes, or condemns China. My albeit limited experience with President Steinmeier makes me think he is a person with a wealth of understanding and humility. I wonder how this sort of leadership would impact a nation — if its openness allows Germany to learn and process the past, and progress to a brighter future.


Before reading this speech, however, I watch the video on Germany’s reunification, and I was very surprised to learn about the prejudices between the east and the west still apparent, in the sense that I just assumed with Eastern Germans migrating to the Western-occupied areas, Germans would be fully integrated and one wouldn’t be able to discern between these origins. Then, of course, I realized this was shortsighted — as @Imposter pointed out, there are still linguistic, cultural, and economic diversities which stay with us from our lineages, there are families who stay in a region, just as many have in the states. It is interesting to learn about these differences between the east and the west from President Steinmeier’s speech because I don’t really feel that in the United States there are overwhelmingly different customs for big regions — mostly just stereotypes and varying political views. Cultural and linguistic differences, in my opinion, mostly come from the various ethnic and racial groups in America, as well as identifiers of wealth, privilege, gender, sexuality, and where you fall on the urban v. rural scale. These differences I think can be affected by one’s region, but I don’t think the “5 regions” of America alone would define the way I see someone, at least not in the way it might be so in Germany. I wonder why east and west have become main determinants, what the demographics are in Germany compared to the United States, and if, perhaps, a different ethnic make-up would affect the categories that exist.


The final point which really interested me was a fleeting, yet striking, mention by President Steinmeier of those who “wave the black, white and red flag of the German Empire… in front of the democratically elected Bundestag.” How much imagery a flag can hold, and it is certainly something I can relate to in the states — not only the Confederate flag, but also the American one have become indicators, for some, of intolerance and hate. I am just as appalled as President Steinmeier that there are those who still advocate for neo-Nazism in both countries. In this way, I think customs in America can be associated with large regions, as the Confederate flag remains a symbol in the south of nationalistic and white pride. I wonder if it is that same, in Germany, where this flag is associated with a region today. Truly, I think the cohesion of a nation is mostly disrupted by biases, and what is preventing union is always those who, as President Steinmeier said, “want a different state, one that… marginalizes in an aggressive manner.” Until we learn the beauty in diversity and seek not to alienate and suppress others, I am doubtful that this cohesive nation can be built.

cherryblossom
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 9

Unification of Germany: America needs to follow

I greatly enjoyed learning more about the Unification of Germany and found it so inspiring. One of the aspects of the German unification that interested me was the fact that it was set in motion by a series of protests led by Eastern Germans. Their efforts brought about the fall of the Berlin Wall, a symbol of division. This goes to show the impact and power that citizens have. All people have the potential to initiate the change that they want to see in their country.


President Steinmeier’s speech was truly uplifting. I admired his remarks about togetherness and listening to each other, especially in the challenging circumstances brought by the pandemic. Even though he spoke about the positive changes created by the German Unification, President Steinmeier was able to acknowledge the social and economic disparities that Eastern Germans faced after the unification. It was so refreshing to see a leader that could recognize issues in their country and the work that must be done to ensure a brighter future. In addition, he also addressed several times the importance of protecting freedom and democracy in Germany. As a citizen of a democracy, this resonates with me, as I deeply value the freedoms and democratic values that come with America. However, in our current political climate, I feel that my country’s democracy is being undermined. To reiterate what @ernest. has said, the United States could learn a lot from Germany. The country has a president that appreciates the values of humbleness and pragmatism, and a chancellor that has experience in the science field, allowing her to bring a unique perspective into Germany’s political arena.


Another point that stood out to me was hearing Eastern Germans say that they feel like second class citizens. Like @boricua1234, I believe that many citizens, especially minorities, in the United States feel the same way and can empathize with Eastern Germans. Both of them deal with discrimination expressed in words and actions, and policy-based discrimination. The pandemic has triggered more racism and discrimination, as minorities are disproportionately affected by the virus and are unable to manage the financial burden caused by it. With people’s efforts to advocate for justice and equality, I hope that people of color will be considered on the same scale as their white counterparts. I also trust that the plight of Eastern Germans will improve significantly in the future. Personally, I would like to know in more detail about the hardships that Eastern Germans experienced and the policies that were against them. I still have much more to learn about Germany’s history and politics, and I look forward to more interactions with the students at Reuchlin.

yvesIKB
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 10

Originally posted by thesnackthatsmilesback on October 08, 2020 15:08

The most surprising fact was that there was and still is discrimination around where a person is brought up. Being in the United States, where descrimination is so prominent racially, it surprised me that there was descrimination from the east and the west even within the same ethnicity. Although I understand that in Southeast Asian countries, it is very likely that people in the North have a higher status than in the South due to the idea that the more you work in the fields (which are mostly near the southern waters which creates fertile land) so I see the patterns of wealth paying a huge contribution. However, Germany is different in that it involves certain characteristics, such as Eastern Germans being classified as penny pinchers. I also found it interesting that there were people who were questioning democracy and the system and that the president had to set down standards in order for everyone to be safe. I found it confusing that people would use a protest in order to create chaos throughout Germany. I understand that this unification, although it may seem like a lifetime to a 16 year old American highschool student, is not at all a lof of time to ultimately create full change. Like one of the interviewees had said in the video, “thirty years isn’t much all that time, so it's definitely present in people’s minds.”I don’t think it is reasonable to say that in a span of thirty years the ideas of democracy and the unification of Germany to every citizen was the right choice. Looking at the state of America, descrimination and racism is alive and well to the Black community especially even after over 300 hundred years after the end of slavery. So the question in my opinion is how long will it take for unification and tolerance to form through everyone.

I think that no country has ever fully said that they as a country are unified in every single way, which brings the point, when is the cohesion of a nation stated? I think that the cohesion of a nation is tolerance throughout the area. No one will have the same views as everyone else, but practicing tolerance of other people's views is very important. It is also important to not judge before you meet. Germany already has these connotations through different parts of the country and the characteristics of people from the east to the west. With that prejudice already instilled in the minds of the suppressor and the supressee, the system of being suppressed will never change.

I was also thinking that it is quite a different experience to see discrimination within the same ethnicity. Your point about Asian countries is very interesting, and not a topic I thought of for this conversation, but I certainly see the parallels. I wonder, then, if the regional divisions mostly are rooted in and caused by ethnic and economic discrimination. Perhaps these differences all trace back to those original bigotries.

I also agree that tolerance is needed for a region to be cohesive. I think the scale which you brought up, "throughout the area," is crucial, and not something I'd thought of before. It can be a scale from divisions in Boston, where individual neighborhoods and districts must find acceptance, or in the country as a whole, where all states need to agree and follow the laws of the nation. When there is animosity and discord in one part of the area, no matter how small, I think it's hard for the whole to function properly.

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