September 26, 2011

Student Blog by Josh Brumfield: East Germany & the Cold War

We had the opportunity to sit down for an hour with a lady who lived in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) during the Communist rule and the Cold War.  I found it fascinating to hear about Communism from an inside perspective. 
Frau Frederic lived in East Germany for the first 25 years of her life. For the past 22 years, she has been living in reunified Germany.  Looking back, she told us about her life under socialist rule.  After WWII, Germany was divided into four sections:  The US occupied the south (Bavaria), the French held the west, the British the north, and the Russians the east.  The Russians immediately set up their socialist government in their section, which formed the GDR, though it was hardly democratic.
The Berlin wall was erected to prevent the people caught in socialism from escaping to free West Germany.  The rest of the country was divided by a fence.  Frau Frederic said that the Russians set up a dummy fence about 500 yards from the real border, so people who escaped climbed the fence, thought they were free, and then got caught at the real border.  People who were caught scaling the wall or fence were shot at.
Socialism offered 100% job security.  Everyone in the community was guaranteed work, shelter, and excellent medical care.  The Russians created a false sense of security to put off dissent among the people.
Frau Frederic said that peaceful demonstrations against the social order began about one year after it began and continued until the wall came down.  It was the first time purely peaceful demonstration significantly changed history.
People in the GDR were paid well, but had nothing to buy.  Factories only made one or two things at a time, and very little importing was done.  For example, if you wanted to buy a sled for your child for Christmas, you would buy five base pieces one year, ten runners the next year, and then trade around with people until everyone had a complete sled.  It’s crazy!
Another good example is cars.  There was one kind of car, made out of CARDBOARD.   When you were born, your parents placed an order for your car, and if you were lucky, it was ready when you were old enough to drive.
As I said, the people were paid well.  Frau Frederic worked in a technology plant and made 1,600 marks per month.  Her apartment rent per month was 20 marks.  All medical benefits were taken care of. Almost all wages were profit for the workers.  In addition, when reunification happened, the east Germans were given TWO Deutschmarks for every ONE mark they possessed, so they became twice as rich as they already were!  And this time, there were actually products for them to purchase.
However, with capitalism came the loss of 100% job security.  Because of this, many reunified east Germans committed suicide.  They could not handle the stress of insecurity.  After reunification, most east Germans felt more Russian than German, and to this day are still having trouble fully embracing their German kin.
Frau Frederic’s testimony of surviving the communist GDR and reunifying successfully was impacting to hear.  I am thankful for the chance to have a conversation with someone like her.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails