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.