33 years of reunification – an experience report

33 years after unity, the desire for the differences between Ossis and Wessis cannot be killed. Or is it? Our columnist has a suggestion.

It always started 15 to 20 kilometers beforehand that the air in our light blue Renault 14 began to charge and felt increasingly electric. I already knew the passage, recognized it by the hilly landscape and the spruce trees that covered it. From here it was only about an hour before the air would transport this very special, unforgettable smell into the interior of the car. “Plaste and Elaste from Schkopau” was written on a stone bridge under which we drove.

But first there was the point that made my parents so tense at the front and we children at the back were well advised not to cause the slightest anger. Don’t do anything stupid now, they’ll tell us from the start. The flashing brake lights on the broad front in front of us indicated that the border at Hirschberg was about to be reached.

My parents came from the former GDR. Or as they said back then: the eastern zone. Every year at least three times we went to visit relatives near Halle. In a small village, Zappendorf. I really liked it there. A farm over which the chickens ran, a dung heap in the middle, straw in the barn where we children looked for and found scattered eggs. Easter for real.

There was often a basket on the stove in the kitchen that beeped loudly. If you lifted the lid, yellow to white fluffy balls cuddled up underneath. I loved this sight. For him, I was happy to accept that my kind-hearted aunt pounced on me with a shrill scream of joy and placed a very wet kiss on my cheek. After the shock absorbers of our Renault had swallowed the approximately 1,500 seams of concrete slabs placed together (“btong-btong-btong-btong…”) on the motorway and the cat’s head pavement of the access road and the car had arrived at the farm in Zappendorf.

Frosty coolness from outside

Then everything was fine again. Almost forgotten, the frosty coolness from outside when my father rolled down the window and handed out the ID cards. The faceless border guards in their gray uniforms began rummaging through the trunk. I hated that gray box with the long slot. Every other time, treasures of mine disappeared into the slot. Sometimes a pack of beloved Asterix magazines, sometimes a self-recorded compact cassette. It was advisable, although sad or angry, to be very quiet.

Once I was overcome by fear, really fear. They didn’t take my comic books with them, but my father. What a moment of happiness when, after tens of minutes, he came out of the control booth with a stone face, got in and started the engine without a word.

That was almost 50 years ago. Half a century, more than half a life. Today I’m going to Jena the same way I went to Freiburg. Both cities have their charm, even a comparable one. One is just a little further away from Berlin than the other. One is on the Saale, the other on the Dreisam. Both beautiful.

Thuringian Forest, Kaiserstuhl? Both beautiful!

Here people speak Thuringian, which sounds like the mild version of the glottal Saxon in Zappendorf, and there Badisch, an Alemannic dialect. Here the mountains of the Thuringian Forest arch around the city, there the Kaiserstuhl on one side, the Black Forest on the other. For a moment in Freiburg or Jena I don’t think about whether I’m in the east or the west. Not even our daughter, who is studying in Jena.

But every year around this time, when October 3rd approaches, like that time with the light blue Renault at the border facility, it starts again: Is the big ditch still there? The wall in our heads, is it growing again? The gap in pensions and salaries? Is the East still left behind? Do the Wessis know too little about the Ossis, and don’t want it at all, and if so, then only better? Are the Ossis whiners and not real democrats? It’s been like this for 33 years.

The world is full of admiration

Honestly, I can’t listen to it anymore. My God, yes! There are terrible places in the East, real shitholes, but also in the West. And there are wonderfully beautiful ones, here and there. It’s the same with people. So what? Is that a reason to obsessively search for the separator on the anniversary, to practically conjure it up or to preserve it? While the whole world admires us for how this country, which has been divided for decades, has managed to put its two parts back into a whole. Delegations from South Korea visit Germany every now and then to look for the secret recipe and to find out how this can be done so peacefully – just in case.