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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.

Gefion
Posts: 4

30 years after unification

Many people think there are still disadvantages for the people in the East. And there ARE disadvantages, but I think there are mostly economicaly than of human origin. Maybe it's because I am from the South and didn't know any other times. For me it was always this way and I didn't lived at that time, but I never saw any big differences between the people in the South and in the East. Sure, the dialects are different and also the way of life, but it's an normal progress in a country, isn't it? I think it's in the US the same. There are certainly differences between the east coast, west coast and the south. Nevertheless it's one country. How is your experience with differences in the US?
dewdropdoll
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 8

30 years and still divided

First off, I think it’s pretty surprising that the reunification was only 30 years ago, as for some reason in school, it always feels like the Cold War is taught like something that happened a really long time ago. Even though I learned about it a lot last year in AP World History, I still forget sometimes that it only happened 30 years ago and Germany is still recovering. I honestly didn’t know much about the divide between East and West Germany, besides the Berlin Wall, and it’s pretty crazy how even today, there are so many differences between them. I think a big part of what affects the cohesion of a nation is definitely the differences in politics. It was mentioned how the political parties in Germany are very extreme, and that caused a big divide due to the contrast in opinions, and especially when the East is not really represented in the government. In a way, this is similar to America with our Democratic and Republican party. Like Ms. Freeman mentioned, most of us, including me, don’t know much about the South unless they have family there or they go for vacation. Most people would assume that the South has a lot more Republicans than Democrats because of what we see on social media, and there’s definitely a lot of arguments there when it comes to political differences. This would be similar to what I just learned about Germany where they also have a divide with their far right and left parties. I feel like every country has these divides as well, but definitely none are as drastic as Germany with the East and the West.


In terms of the topics, I am really interested in learning about the COVID-19 situation in Germany. Obviously, I would say it’s pretty bad here in the United States, but I would like to learn about how other countries have dealt with the pandemic. How much better is Germany’s situation compared to the United States? How did Germany respond to the pandemic compared to how the United States responded? I'm looking forward to learning more :)

Heyo8
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 7

How is it?

It is hard to believe that the reunification of Germany was only 30 years ago. The division according to history was extremely bad. Like America, Germany was divided over intense political differences (i.e Democracy and Communism). In America, there are still prominent divisions that are felt everyday between Conservatives and Liberals, felt even post Civil War which was 150 years ago, I can’t imagine what it feels like in Germany. Is it hard to get along with others? Do people associate themselves or take sides with East or West Germany?

This is a big problem here still dividing the United States. We have many divisions and they play a really big role in our lives. Politically right now, they are Democrats and Republicans with the upcoming election.


Covid-19 response has been slow here in the US in my opinion and could use a lot of improvement. I would love to know how it differs from here in the US and how school is going for you.

The Imposter
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 10

Wow

Firstly, I just want to echo what everyone else is saying by agreeing that it certainly does not feel like the unification of Germany was only 30 years ago. It honestly does sound, though, having such a divisive and contentious culture and home since there are clear disparities between East and West. It's interesting to see the similarity in economics in that, the side with all of the companies, essentially monopolizing business, tends to have a more bustling economy than the East. That divide alone must be only widened by the political divisiveness over there as well. I also see our (America's) current political climate right now on a trajectory for a migration to more "radical" ends of each side of the political spectrum. As socialism gains more and more popularity across the youth, the more conservative parties emerge to try and cancel it out. With this upcoming election, its conclusion will definitely be the first step in a much more divisive America in the near future,.

slothman
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 6

Say again?

I know that I should probably know more about German political and your situation, but I unfortunately don't. I am blown away, along with several other of the responses, that Germany was only unified 30 years ago. You also mentioned how your country still has problem and issues in regards to the East and West. Although I don't think America is completely separates with regards to location right now, but the North and the South were definitely an example at a point in time. I personally am not German, although it always catches my interest as an intriguing country and I hope one day to visit. I was not aware of the intense political separation in your country, but it is somewhat similar to democrats and republicans here in America. I wish to know more about not only your political stance in your country, but also the people, the customs, the habits. I'm sure that there are some similarities, but I am very curious about the differences that you guys have.

JokerBra
Ingolstadt , Bavaria, DE
Posts: 3

Business as usual - for now.

Originally posted by Heyo8 on October 07, 2020 20:34


Covid-19 response has been slow here in the US in my opinion and could use a lot of improvement. I would love to know how it differs from here in the US and how school is going for you.

To be honest school is not much different for us in comparison to the pre-corona time. Of course we have to wear masks on the hallways but don’t need not wear them in class, but since the numbers are rising again in Ingolstadt we might have to wear them also in class again, If the corona numbers exceed 35 cases per 100000 inhabitants (as of today we’re at 32 cases). As you might know, we are going to write our final exams, the Abitur, in April and therefore really fearing another school shutdown. Closed schools were nice for like 3 days but then it began to become unpleasant. Home schooling cannot be compared to “real school”. It’s much harder to comprehend the topics we’re supposed to learn, because the communication trough e-mail and online class simply lacks the personal contact. So we hope another school shutdown won’t happen and we will be able to prepare ourselves accordingly for the finals in April.

In exchange I would also like to know about your current situation and what your experience was like.

plaidplatypus
Boston, Ma, US
Posts: 6

prejudice caused by seperation

I (just like everyone else) cannot believe that it has only been 30 years since German reunification. I think it’s crazy that so many people who still live in Germany today experienced that, and how much it must shape the cultural and political divide. I feel like the political divide in America that still exists today can be dated back to the civil war more than 150 years ago. I think many people here in the northeast, including me, have a bias against the south. My mom especially loves to talk about how the south is dangerous, and full of gun toting, racist lunatics and that has shaped my views. I think the fact that I, 150 years after the civil war, have prejudice against southerners that stems from the civil war says a lot, and I couldn’t imagine how being divided only 30 years ago creates separation.

JokerBra
Ingolstadt , Bavaria, DE
Posts: 3

Understanding the still existing "division"

There are still differences between the west and the east of Germany but in my opinion this is not very surprising, because, like many of you mentioned, only 30 years have passed since the present time and the unification of Germany. If you take a look at history, you will see that 30 years are not a lot of time. Germany has been divided for 40 years and to expect a completely united Germany after only 30 of unity is kind of naive. It’s very easy and often only takes little energy to destroy something but to repair or to create something new takes a lot of energy and is often the harder thing to do. I think this can also be applied on the example of Germany’s reunification. It took only some treaties and propaganda to divide Germany in the 1940s but to achieve reunification took a lot more energy and also a complete nation standing up for themselves. To get an “equal” Germany will then again take a lot more time and this will not be done in just another 10 years. Please don’t get me wrong here, I do think the “division” of Germany today is wrong and needs to be abolished, I just think it’s only logical that it still exists.
fignewton11
Boston, MA
Posts: 8

How Truly Unified Is Germany?

I honestly did not know much about German reunification before watching the video and reading President Steinmeier’s speech, so I found it all very fascinating. I knew about the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I knew that President John F. Kennedy had given a speech there, but beyond that, I did not know much. I found it interesting how the tensions between East and West still persist today. While it has only been 30 years since reunification, the disparities between the two regions seemed pretty large. I wonder how long it will take the division between the East and the West to truly heal. Once East Germans made it to the West, there was a huge adjustment from a communist society to a capitalist society. This made it very hard for the East Germans to financially succeed, and the effects of this might still be felt in the region today. It seemed that in Germany there is still a feeling of superiority in the West, which is perpetuated by the stereotypes the East Germans listed in the video. The adjustments and stereotypes in the East are causing a political divide, which I think must impact the cohesion of the nation.

A large part of the cohesion of a nation is the equal treatment of everyone, which is related to politics. When people in the East say they feel like second-hand citizens, they may seek to radicalize their views in order to feel heard. The evidence in the video shows that living conditions, unemployment rates, and wages are also worse in the East than in the West. There are also disproportionate representations of East Germans in positions of high political power. If East Germans feel they are not equally represented or equally cared about by the government, this will just increase divisions between East and West. 30 years is not that long of a time, and the effects of the Berlin Wall are still being seen through this division.

There are definitely examples of a similar division within a country in the United States. Beginning in the age of slavery and the Civil War, there has been a divide between the North and South. The cultures of the two regions seem entirely different. For example, I am not sure I’ve ever seen a confederate flag flying in Boston before (though I’m sure they exist), but the flying of Confederate flags is commonplace in the South. The divide between the North and the South can often create a feeling of being entirely different nations with entirely different views and cultures.

Gefion
Posts: 4

Originally posted by Heyo8 on October 07, 2020 20:34

It is hard to believe that the reunification of Germany was only 30 years ago. The division according to history was extremely bad. Like America, Germany was divided over intense political differences (i.e Democracy and Communism). In America, there are still prominent divisions that are felt everyday between Conservatives and Liberals, felt even post Civil War which was 150 years ago, I can’t imagine what it feels like in Germany. Is it hard to get along with others? Do people associate themselves or take sides with East or West Germany?

This is a big problem here still dividing the United States. We have many divisions and they play a really big role in our lives. Politically right now, they are Democrats and Republicans with the upcoming election.


Covid-19 response has been slow here in the US in my opinion and could use a lot of improvement. I would love to know how it differs from here in the US and how school is going for you.

In fact it isn't that hard in my opinion. I never met someone in my hometown who associated himself as an "Wessi" (=people from West Germany). Mostly I hear people from the East dividing in East and West. I think it's because they feel still locked out of the society. 30 years are a very short time and there are still things to be done but Germany is on a good way, I think.


At this time school is normal for us. We just need to wear masks in the hallways. We can be quite happy that we live in Germany during this time and aren't as badly affected by the virus like other countries.



Gefion
Posts: 4

Originally posted by fignewton11 on October 08, 2020 15:56

I honestly did not know much about German reunification before watching the video and reading President Steinmeier’s speech, so I found it all very fascinating. I knew about the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I knew that President John F. Kennedy had given a speech there, but beyond that, I did not know much. I found it interesting how the tensions between East and West still persist today. While it has only been 30 years since reunification, the disparities between the two regions seemed pretty large. I wonder how long it will take the division between the East and the West to truly heal. Once East Germans made it to the West, there was a huge adjustment from a communist society to a capitalist society. This made it very hard for the East Germans to financially succeed, and the effects of this might still be felt in the region today. It seemed that in Germany there is still a feeling of superiority in the West, which is perpetuated by the stereotypes the East Germans listed in the video. The adjustments and stereotypes in the East are causing a political divide, which I think must impact the cohesion of the nation.

A large part of the cohesion of a nation is the equal treatment of everyone, which is related to politics. When people in the East say they feel like second-hand citizens, they may seek to radicalize their views in order to feel heard. The evidence in the video shows that living conditions, unemployment rates, and wages are also worse in the East than in the West. There are also disproportionate representations of East Germans in positions of high political power. If East Germans feel they are not equally represented or equally cared about by the government, this will just increase divisions between East and West. 30 years is not that long of a time, and the effects of the Berlin Wall are still being seen through this division.

There are definitely examples of a similar division within a country in the United States. Beginning in the age of slavery and the Civil War, there has been a divide between the North and South. The cultures of the two regions seem entirely different. For example, I am not sure I’ve ever seen a confederate flag flying in Boston before (though I’m sure they exist), but the flying of Confederate flags is commonplace in the South. The divide between the North and the South can often create a feeling of being entirely different nations with entirely different views and cultures.

You summed it up very well and I go along with your trains of thoughts. At this time we can not know how long it will take to heal the wounds of Germany's dividing. Maybe it will take only a few more years and maybe it's still not done in 10 years, but we can give our best to gain equality as soon as possible.

I'm very interested what you are learning about Germany at the USA. In our english lessons we learn quite much about your country, your history and your political situation. Do you learn about Germany as much as we are learning about th USA or is this the first time you learned about Germany?

berry
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 6

Divisions

I had some family that were born in Germany, so it’s crazy to think that when they lived there Germany wasn’t even unified. I wish I knew what experiences they had living in Germany when it was divided. I would love to learn more about Germany’s history, and visit it one day. I see many similarities between the United States and Germany when it comes to division. In both cases, the division stems back a large amount of years ago. In Germany it's between the East and West, and in the US it's the North and South. In one of my other classes today, I was learning about the divide between Northern and Southern Italy. It’s interesting to see how many countries have this sort of division between its people. It seems to be a common theme in history, whether its divisions in race, religion, culture, politics, etc. I think that when people have opposing political views and beliefs, it tends to lead to a divide between them. It’s hard to be unified when you have two different political parties that think negatively of each other. I think this negative attitude of opposing opinions or beliefs affects the cohesion of a nation. This can lead to different regions in the same country having different cultures and styles of life, similar to Italy. I’m curious to know what you think about Chancellor Angela Merkel stepping down after many years of service, and maybe who you hope to see take on that position in the future.
SleezMoth
boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 5

East and West

Western Germany, or the Federal Republic of Germany and east Germany or the German Democratic Republic, were each erected after world war 2. Berlin, although surrounded by east Germany, was split into two halves, one belonging to each side of the former country. The west was doing much better than the east economically because the socialist government of the east was trying to control parts of peoples lives. People would flee to west Berlin, and to combat this people built a wall around west Berlin.

An interesting event happening recently is the prime minister of Germany attempting to help with the poverty in modern day east Germany by attempting to get people to move there.

I would love to study and learn more about the stereotypes on the people in the two different sides of Germany, because i understand that there would have to be some sort of discrimination if they were physically separate. If anyone has any information please respond to this post.

cabbage
Boston , MA, US
Posts: 6

Germany's unification

Wow 30 years is not a long time. This makes all the differences and divides understandable, but it is hard to completely change. The political divide is interesting because a lot of people probably feel like they have to change their ideas to be heard. The different politics in the U.S could feel like we’re living in two countries sometimes because politicians make it so hard to come to a compromise. I learned a bit of the divide in Germany in my AP World class, but I was not aware of how recent the unification was. The video spoke about East Germans feeling like second class citizens and how it was related to politics, however I personally don’t feel like equal treatment is political, but it is a basic human right to be treated the same because we are all humans. I think more people in the U.S should learn about foreign affairs because we do not have it all figured out and there are so many more countries than just the U.S which a lot of people here do not realize.

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