Berlin After the Wall: Decades After Its Fall, History Still Haunts

By Cassie R. Leventhal
2010, Vol. 2 No. 04 | pg. 1/1

The Berlin Wall Game Changer—any person, institution, or event whose action significantly alters the current environment and status quo—for better or for worse.  They come in many different shapes and sizes; from presidents to technological giants such as Apple, or a baseball play where the runner steals home to win the series.  Regardless of their area of concentration, these actions and events shape the course of history.  All of these people and events are memorable in the minds of those affected.  But what about the game changer that has no actual voice or for that matter is in fact, inanimate?  For 28 years the Berlin Wall stood intact as the physical manifestation and symbol of the Cold War.  Surrounding West Berlin, the Wall was more than a physical disturbance and dissection; it was a societal and cultural faction to all Berliners.  An event so catastrophic, something so terrifying to those around it, that the only way to survive was to fight against the Wall through jokes in the East and art in the West.  Though it no longer stands looming amongst the streets of Berlin, more than 20 years since its dismantling the Wall continues to remain a ghost, haunting Berliners in their quest to document history, reunite as a city, and chart a course for the future.

Though the Wall was physically manifest on a mid-summer night’s eve in 1961, Berlin had been a breeding ground of tension between the Eastern and Western powers since the end of World War II in 1945.  The partition of Berlin on May 8th of that year into four occupation zones planted the seeds which would mature in to conflict, as each country—the U.S., England, France and the Soviets—followed different ideologies and thus held conflicting motives entering the city.  Numerous events occurred since Berlin’s initial era of occupation that led to increased tension as the alliances among the Allies quickly disintegrated.  The shooting war between the Allies and the Axis was slowly being replaced by the Cold War between Eastern and Western powers.  Such events include the Berlin Blockade and subsequent Berlin Airlift. 

A part of the economic aid extended to West Germany under the Marshall Plan in 1948 included currency reform to halt the rampant inflation of the Reichsmark, introduced on June 18th of that year.  Following the announcement of the Deutschemark, Soviet guards began to halt all passenger trains and traffic on the autobahn.  The new Deutschemark was never intended for use in Berlin; however, the Soviets’ imposition of the Reichsmark over the entire city provoked the Americans to start issuing the new bills in Berlin on June 24th (Large 401).  As a direct result the Soviets counteracted, and by the twenty-fifth of that month all land, water, electricity, rail, barge, and food supply to the 2.1 million inhabitants of West Berlin was cut off.  On the twenty-sixth Truman gave the orders for the Berlin Airlift began, with American planes flying 5,560 tons in supplies West Berlin, with its peak having planes land every 90 seconds at Tempelhof Airport, and lasted till the end of the Blockade on May 12th 1949 (408).

During the time of the Berlin Airlift, competing ideologies in Berlin and throughout Germany resulted in conflicting nation states, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) founded May 1949 and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) becoming established October 7th 1949.  The partition of Germany, thought initially informal and permeable, became increasingly rigid as the Cold War intensified.  The two vastly different political systems and ideologies coexisted in Berlin side by side, uncomfortably at best.  The potential for higher wages, freedom to travel and overall increased quality of life led the people of Berlin to vote with their feet for their preferable ideology (Héon-Klin 369).  As a result, the East German government took measures to inhibit contacts between the two halves of the city (Large 425).  In 1952 the GDR cut the telephone links to the West and the following year suspended bus and tram service as well as East German leaders realized their citizens were becoming tempted by the fruits of capitalism (Ladd 19).   In May 26th 1952, the GDR government barricaded its border with West Germany, making Berlin anomaly in the Eastern Bloc.

In total, around 2.3 million East Germans fled to West Germany, using West Berlin as their escape path.  In the second half of 1952, 48,831 GDR citizens went from East to West, and in the first quarter of 1953 the number almost doubled, to 84,034 (Large 425).  Most of those fleeing West included young and well-educated youth of the GDR, the “kind of people that no state can afford to lose,” (425).  Moreover, West Berlin was enjoying tax breaks and aid from the West German government through the Berlinhilfe (Berlin Aid) Policy in1953 alongside money from Washington through the Marshall Plan to help the city rebuild after the war.  In contrast, though East Berlin was not as initially poor as its Western counterpart, there was little room for prospects of improvement as “its economy was tightly integrated into that of the new East German state, which in turn was wrapped in the Soviets’ straitjacket of centralized planning,” (417).  The economy was already burdened by agricultural collectivization, nationalization of industry, neglect of consumer goods, unrealistic productivity quotas, and the huge costs of building up a quasi army.  Though the number of refugees entering West Berlin from East Berlin calmed down during the late 1950’s, the mass exodus increased since early 1960, increasing significantly in numbers from month to month.  Most of those fleeing contained the mindset and reasoned that they better get out while they still could (425).  This mass migration and exodus of East Germans over the years did not help, and put a massive strain on the East German economy due to labor shortages as factories in the East were curtailing production for want of workers and some shops closed because their clerks had gone West.

The climax to all of this mounting tension would take place the night of August 13th 1961 under the direction of Communist GDR leader Walter Ulbricht.  Preliminary rolls of barbed wire were stretched across the demarcation line dividing the Western Allies from the Soviet sector in Berlin.  The Brandenburg Gate was closed the following day, and by the 15th of August the first pieces of concrete were put up (Ladd 17).  After August 26th, all crossing points were closed for West Berlin citizens. Though this version of the Wall resembled more of a “backyard fence” compared to the future stages of the Wall in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the effects were immediately felt.  Overnight on August 13th 61,000 people who worked on one side and lived on the other lost their jobs (12).  The shock and awe of the Wall’s construction mainly lay in the sudden elimination of the element of choice and free will amongst Berliners.  Residents were stunned, and people in both parts of the city felt helpless and powerless, watching their physical environment shift right before their eyes.  Families and lovers blew kissed and waved handkerchiefs to loved ones on the other side while others shouted insults and threw stones at the fence-builders (Large 450).  Heinrich Albertz, an aide to West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt, commented “They are cutting up a city, cutting into living flesh without anesthesia,” (451). 

In both the East and West, Berliners felt a deep sense of loss for the other part of the city.  As described by one woman of East Berlin, “I drove aimlessly through Berlin, looking at checkpoints one knew.  For the first time I had the feeling of being locked in forever.  I suddenly had this feeling: I can never get out of here,” (Héon-Klin 371).  The leaders of the formers sectors of occupation—Britain, France, and America—saw “no reason for alarm in the Soviet/East German action, so long as Western rights in Berlin were not challenged (Large 451).  West Berlin overnight had become an island in East Germany, only linked to West Germany through controlled air-, rail-, and roadways.  Initially, many residents felt that the Western government might abandon them.  As one West Berlin woman remembered, “A certain anxiety concerning the GDR was there in the first years of the Wall….One just did not trust the politicians totally and we thought they might sell us to them, us, this little piece of Berlin.  They (Bonn) might give up on us some day.  This anxiety was always there,” (Héon-Klin 372).

Entitled as Operation Chinese Wall, Ulbricht had begun to imagine the Berlin Wall since as early as June of 1961.  On the fifth of that month, Ulbricht “almost let the cat out of the bag” by blurting out at a press conference that “No one intends to build a wall.” (Large 449). Taller and stronger barriers slowly replaced the hastily erected block-and-mortar wall (Ladd 17).  Over the 28 years of its existence there were four versions of the Wall and a fifth being drafted at the time of its demise.  At its final stage before the fall, which was introduced in 1976, the Wall consisted of a 166-kilometer belt that encircled West Berlin, of which 48 of those kilometers ran through the city center.  Those in West Berlin witnessed a wall made from pre-fabricated, high-density concrete segments.  Each of these segments produced a smooth surface at a width of 1.2 meters, a height of 3.6 meters, capped with heavy concrete piping so that no grappling hooks could be positioned at top of it. (17-8). 

The view from East Berlin was, however, radically different; what appeared as a wall in the West resembled a border fortification system for the East.  The divide between East and West Berlin varied in width from six to 500 meters.  In this patch of land between the outer walls held an entire defense system containing raked ground and observation towers every 100 meters.  What later became coined as the “death strip” also contained electrical fences, trip wires, warning devices, dog patrol paths, spotlights, convey paths with vehicle patrols, line markings for border guards, automatic lighting systems, protective bunkers, deep trenches for vehicles, steel nails, and barbed wire (Large 452, Bawey, Héon-Klin 371).  Houses were vacated and even churches were demolished to make way for this beast.  The wall also came to symbolize a set of activities such as “searches, patrols, observation, and identification checks at the crossing points,” (Ladd 18). Easterners had a feeling of insecurity about what might happen to those living near the Wall.

People on both sides of the Wall felt vulnerable.  Consequently, a battle emerged as each political ideology put forth the effort to make the Berlin Wall comprehensible to residents in ways that would justify its cause.  Eastern officials knighted it as the “antifascist protective rampart,” (18).  Their careful diction implies that the newly constructed edifice serves the traditional purpose of a wall, similar to The Great Wall of China, by keeping enemies out and protecting the people.  The Eastern government justified their work as a necessity to define the people against the “atavistic forces of the West,” (23).  For the East, “fascism” was the biggest threat to their goals of social progress.  By the 1980’s, East Germany rarely “referred to any physical structure, speaking rather of “the border” or of “border security”, in addition to the use of the word “Wall” (Mauer), was strictly forbidden (18).

Though the West was initially slow to respond to the actions taken by Ulbricht and Honecker, they began to use the Wall as a symbol of West Berlin’s triumphs under a democratic society. To the West, the Wall was bestowed with a number of nicknames such as “Wall of Shame” and “Inverted Wall”.  In comparison to its Eastern description, the Wall became farcical and comical, falling into disrepute (18).  To calm the mounting fears in the minds of West Berliners President Kennedy visited Berlin June 26th 1963, nearly two years after the wall was constructed.  The former President stated, “There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the Free World and the communist world.  Let them come to BERLIN!  There are some who say communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to BERLIN!....Ich bin ein Berliner,” (Large 462-3).  Hearing President Kennedy speak so highly regarding West Berlin and its inhabitants gave the citizens of the walled off city hope.  Having been praised by the US president in their own language, West Berliners viewed Kennedy and furthermore the United States, as a friend of the Germans.  It instilled in them hope that they would not be abandoned during this time of hardship.

As horrifying as the construction of the Wall was, the citizens of both East and West Berlin had no choice but to become accustomed to its looming presence.  They felt powerless and unable to change the situation at hand, and with time residents became habituated to the Wall.  Consciously or unconsciously, they avoided taking streets that forced them to confront the concrete monster.  As one West Berliner in April of 1989 remarked, “It’s just not a topic anymore.  It’s there and we live with it,” (Stein 86).  Though this wasn’t the case for all Berliners; especially those who had family on the other side of the Wall.  These residents never became habituated to the Wall, or escaped the pain of separation that it brought.  In certain cases, this pain of separation led to depression, extreme anxiety, and even unstable mental states.  A woman from East Berlin explains, “One of my friends had all his siblings in West Berlin.  Only he and his mother were in East Berlin, so the Wall was a terrible thing.  His mother had a nervous breakdown and she was not doing well; she suffered for years,” (Héon-Klin 372).

Not all East Berliners experienced psychological damage from the Wall’s construction, however a social psychological study conducted in 1985 concluded that there were more signs of depression in East Berlin.  Conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, workmen were examined as a case study to determine pessimism and behavioral signs of depression in East versus West Berlin.  The researchers measured depression by observing behavioral signs and measured pessimism in both cultures by assessing the explanatory style in newspaper reports on the 1984 Winter Olympic Games (Oettingen 207).  As for signs of depression, the results indicated that people in East Berlin “showed comparatively more behavioral signs consistent with depression” where as the majority of those in West Berlin “showed upward turned mouths (69%) and upright posture (50%).  In contrast, workmen in East Berlin showed 23% with mouths turned upwards and a mere 4% sat with upright, rather than slumped, posture (211).  As per testing for pessimism, scientists analyzed the reports on the 1984 Winter Olympic Games under the learned helplessness theory of depression.  East and West Berlin reports differed strongly in explanatory style, with newspaper reports comparatively more pessimistic in tone in East Berlin, regardless that the German Democratic Republic won 24 medals during the games, while their Western counterparts won only four (217).  Furthermore, researchers attributed these differences due to the political differences in East and West Berlin.  Though there is no possible way to conduct absolute or clinical standards of analysis, the 13 page report concludes that political differences are responsible for the results “because the two evolving cultures stem from one culture separated by political system since 1945…Differences in standard of living, bureaucracy, freedom of opinion, and privileges are all possible,” (217-8).

For a lot of East Berliners, however, the confinement and entrapment of the Wall was too much to bear.  Escaping the horrors of the East and fleeing West was the only option.  In the beginning the Wall was fairly porous as it consisted only of barbed wire and still contained a plethora of gaps to escape through.  Initially, as the Wall went straight through houses, people climbed to the upper floors of apartment complexes and jumped to the streets below to people waiting with bed sheets.  This was the first casualty of the Berlin Wall, with Rudolf Urban hitting the pavement and breaking his neck (Large 453).  Some of those escaping included members of the police and military squads responsible for guarding the border.  According to historians, about 2,800 border guards crossed the border from 1961 to 1989 (Dempsey 5).  Around 25,605 people were able to escape through the Wall between August 13th and the end of the month as a result of the gaps still within the Wall (Large 453). 

The amount of people fleeing West was clearly an issue, as the initial reasoning for the Wall was because East German leaders “knew that their citizens were tempted by—and had to be protected from—the fruits of capitalism,” (Ladd 19).  In turn the Ministry for State Security, known as the Stasi, told guards at the border that they must “stop or liquidate” anyone trying to cross the border, with the seven page order stating, “Do not hesitate to use your firearm, not even when the border is breached in the company of women and children, which is a tactic the traitors have often used,” (Dempsey 5).  East German officials brought in replacement border guards from other parts of the country, as most of the original border guards were of East Berlin descent and more likely to join the refugees, let alone shoot them (Large 453).  This order resulted in the deaths of over 81 people at the Berlin Wall, and 270-780 people of East Germany (Dempsey 5).  The first East German killed in this manner was not escaping by climbing over the Wall, but rather swimming across the Humboldthafen on the Spree.  On August 24th 1961, East German border guards shot and killed 24-year old Gunter Litfin, the first recorded death by shooting at the Wall (Large 453).  One of the most notorious deaths in this manner was that of 18-year-old Peter Fletcher nearly a year later on August 17th 1962.  While trying to scale the Wall near Checkpoint Charlie with his friend, just short of the final obstacle, Fletcher was shot by Stasi guards and fell backwards injured on the Eastern side into barbed wire.  Rather than helping him, the GDR border guards let him slowly bleed to death, while Western military did nothing, as they were under strict orders to not assist in escape attempts so as not to spark another international confrontation (453-4).

As scaling the Wall directly became virtually impossible as the Berlin Wall evolved, this led East Berliners to develop more intuitive and creative methods of escape.  These measures included homemade Red Army uniforms, hot-air balloons, hiding in car compartments, and even scuba gear.  In total 28 different tunnels were created under the Wall, yet only ten of the successful.

For those in East Berlin who did not escape to the West, and those in the West living with the Wall everyday, the two cultures formed ways to relieve themselves of the burdens and pressure brought upon them by the Wall’s menacing presence.  For the West, the Wall was visible, everyday, and thus not a topic of constant discussion.  In the East, however, the Wall was invisible, everyday and still a topic, which was very much taboo amongst its residents.  These differences played a significant role in the way each side dealt with releasing their “Wall tension”.  As a border between two political systems, the Wall provided as a locus and catalyst for expression.  A study completed by Indiana University during the 1980’s concluded that East Berliners treated the Wall as a subject of humor in jokes (Stein 87).  Freud’s Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious illustrates the interrelationship of aggression, inhibition, and a joke’s function, stating that, “tendentious jokes are especially favored against person in exalted positions who claim to exercise authority.  The joke then represents a rebellion against that authority, a liberation from its pressure,” (Freud 105).

Scholars have also found a correlation between the notion of “obstacle” and repressive political conditions, where “ the political joke thrives bets in dictatorial and undemocratic conditions.  The powerless are able to conquer the powerful with laughter,” (Röhrich 210).  Moreover, Hannjost Lixfeld has acknowledged that political jokes are not only a form of resistance, but also serves as a mechanism for coping, stating, “It is, in fact partly these jokes which make it possible for oppressed people to survive,” (Lixfeld 13).  Such jokes spread in the East between September 1987 and June 1988 amongst border guards (Stein 92).  One included, “Why are the East Berliners dumber than the East Friesans?  They built a wall but placed themselves on the wrong side,” highlighting that those who built the Wall wanted to be in the West but through their own incompetence managed to get on the wrong side (Stein 93).  Another joke spread in the East Berlin to cope with the pain fo the Wall through humor was, “Why was it foolish to build the Wall in order to protect socialism?  If it weren’t for the Wall no one would want to escape to the West,” revealing that the Wall’s main purpose was to prevent East Germans from moving West, despite the GDR’s claims that the Wall was built to protect socialism (Stein 93-4).  The disjunction between the joke question and response highlights the incongruity between political rhetoric and popular perception.

Unlike their Eastern counterparts, West Berliners did have the freedom to come up to the Wall in attempts to try and come to terms with it. They were free to look at it, walk near it, and try to make sense of the situation.  As a result, this privilege of mobility led West Berliners to take out their aggression directly on their aggressor through the act of graffiti.  Graffiti is technically termed as any “ unauthorized inscription, word, figure, painting, or other defacement that is written, marked, scratched, sprayed, drawn, affixed, painted, or engraved on any surface of public or private property by an graffiti implement to the extent that it was not authorized in advance by the owner or occupant of the property,” (Craw et al 423).  What was considered the “antifascist protective rampart” in the East became “the world’s largest canvas” to those graffiti artists living in the West (423).

The writing of the graffiti was at the time a violation of the German-German border and a defacement of East German property, as the Berlin Wall was set back as much as three meters from the actual demarcation line.  The graffiti artist was then invariably on East German territory when completing the “crime”.  Thus all graffiti acquires political significance, regardless of content.  Two of the most famous graffiti artists of the time period responsible for painting over 4000 kilometers of the Wall are Thierry Noir and Christophe Bouchet, with Noir responsible for one kilometer, the world record.  The two Frenchmen came to Berlin and resided in a house at Mariannenplatz for two years, “felt the need to do something against this boring Wall.  A sort of physical reaction against the pressure of daily life near the Berlin Wall,” as their house was five meters in front of the wall in a squatter’s complex in an abandoned hospital (Noir). 

Noir used his painting to keep his sanity, “it was kind of a physical and impulsive reaction against what was nothing more for me than a killing machine,” (Noir)  The fourth and final stage of the wall was crafted with a reinforced concrete, composed of silicate granulate.  Unlike the previous porous concrete used for the Wall’s construction, this material known was Wall 75 was ideal for painting with its smooth surface.  Starting to paint the Wall at the end of April 1984 under a full moon, over 1000 kilos of paint and 100 spray cans later, the artists and friends showed the absurdity of the Wall through their art while also turning the Wall into a tourist attraction, painting with one eye, the other watching for soldiers.  Their goal was simple: To paint the Berlin Wall, to transform it, to make it ridiculous, to help destroy it.  The duo answered questions regarding their work on the Wall with the same answer every time, “We are not trying to make the wall beautiful because in fact it’s absolutely impossible.  Eighty persons have being killed trying to jump over the Berlin Wall, to escape to West Berlin, so you can cover that wall with hundreds of kilos of color, it will stay the same.  One bloody monster, one old crocodile who from time to time wakes, eats somebody up, and falls back to sleep until the next time,” (Noir).  The one extra emotion in the air transformed their wall paintings from art into a strong political act.

Though not directly visible to the naked eye, the acid in the artist’s paint began to slowly eat away at the concrete of the Wall.  The very Wall that Honecker in the late summer/early fall of 1989 bragged would stand for another hundred years finally faced judgment day November 9th of that year.  A day that most certainly went down into the books as historic, as Günter Schabowski’s lack of specific details regarding the GDR’s new travel policy changed history.  Piece by piece, peck by peck, the Wall was eventually dismantled.  Some pieces were sold to tourists on the street, Wall art went up for sale at an auction, and some pieces remained intact in an attempt to preserve the relic in its original state for remembrance.

Germany and the city of Berlin were officially physically reunited on October 3rd 1990, the country’s “Day of Unity”, however the nation-state was far from being reconnected at the seams both mentally and culturally.  The physical wall might have been destroyed, but the mindset over the past 28 years as a result of the Wall remained very much alive.  As novelist Peter Schneider explained in his book The Wall Jumper, “It will take us longer to tear down the Wall in our heads than any wrecking company will need for the Wall we can see,” (Schneider 119).  Negative stereotypes developed and Westerners resented the huge transfer of payments to the east, calling the recipients “dependent, shiftless, backwards and ungrateful,” (Large 559).  In contrast, East Berliners developed hostility towards those in the West, calling them boastful, aggressive and insensitive. The bigger problem, however, lay at the loss of identity in the East Berlin community that continues to divide Berliners.

Since 1945 East Berliners have been subjected to a double colonization, first by the Soviets immediately following World War II, and an almost neo-colonization after the fall of the Wall by West Germany.  After the Wall came down, Germany embarked “on a nation-building process, integrating two radically different and inherently unequal geographical entities into one political, economic, and cultural system,” (Jozwiak 781).  This was prompted by the new government’s sole focus on making a bid for Berlin to host the 2000 Summer Olympic Games (Large 556).  The city started to change physically as construction began in areas like Potsdamer Platz.  East Berliners felt they could not influence the process at hand and must simply adapt to the current environment created by the new political decisions.  Unemployment and competition in the open market increased for everyone, creating feelings of insecurity and inferiority for the unemployed and from some of the employed that feared losing their jobs.  As those in East Berlin were unaccustomed to a free market economy, some people fell into depression and long-term instability. 

A woman from East Berlin explained, “I was fired in 1993 and was unemployed for the fist time in my life….I worked 14 to 15 hours per day [to save our company].  I was physically and psychologically destroyed—so many injustices.  I took two years of therapy to recover.  I suffered from a real psychological breakdown,” (Héon-Klin 372).  Now operating as a single and united Berlin, there was the need to eliminate the duplication of city services such as police, fire, and postal, as reunification rendered the separate systems redundant.  These actions were duplicated in Berlin’s cultural sphere.  During the Cold War Eastern and Western parts of the city competed for international recognition of their cultural facilities, as it was a direct representation and showcase of the success of each respective economy.  When the Wall fell, there was an extraordinary density of duplicate cultural facilities—two orchestras, radio choirs, large concert halls, “national” libraries, museum complexes, and three operas (Grésillon 286).  Many politically oriented cultural institutions in East Berlin were the first to close, including Haus der Lehrer (House of Teachers), Haus der jungen Talente (Home of Young Talents) and Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic) (290).  The cultural geography of East Berlin was so transformed so greatly, and immediately after 1989, that only selective institutions of high culture—two operas, theatres, and symphonic orchestras—survived the upheaval.

Continuing Berlin’s transformation, streets were renamed to erase the commemoration of the socialist system and its heroes, only furthering East Berlin identity crisis.  Lenin Square became the Square of Nations, where as Ho-Chi-Minh Street was renamed Gandhi Street (Héon-Klin 372).  Easterners felt disoriented, unable to give directions in their own native borough of the city, and the imposition of new capitalist street names was a constant reminder that the socialist state had “lost” the Cold War.

Moreover, workers in East Germany were supported by an extensive health care service, childcare, and housing.  Some regretted losing the sense of belonging and stability that went with the fall of the Wall.  In particular, teachers from the former GDR had a hard time readjusting as they were given new textbooks to follow and expected to pursue completely different methodological and ideological guidelines than those they of the past forty years.  Massive educational and societal changes were being ordered by those in charge in the former West, with the expectations that East German teachers would successfully bring about the transition in the schools from below.  This was to be accomplished without their involvement in educational decision-making at the political level and without clarification of their new roles (Streitwieser 64).  In short, many great things were expected and yet there were no guidelines in how to carry them out.

As a result, East Germans, like immigrants, “left their home behind, landed in a strange country, a society they had not participated in shaping, that did not welcome them,” and spoke the “wrong” language, abided by the “wrong” rules, and needed to learn a new etiquette (Jozwiak 781-2).  East German government posts, political parties and cultural institutions were reconfigured, supplanted, or even erased, and West Germans expected the East to simply assimilate.  Sociologist Zygmut Bauman believes that the core of assimilation lay in the desire to make alike, supporting the drive for unity and homogeneity (Bauman 158).  The problem in this specific situation is that the pressure East Germans felt to assimilate directly conflicted with their desire to retain parts of their social and cultural identity.  Consequently, there has been a rise in what has been coined as Ostalgie, a nostalgia East Germans now feel for the former GDR (Boyer 361).  This phenomenon thus catalogues images, smells, sounds, gestures, etc.  It is a “psycho-social expression of melancholy caused by prolonged absence” and an expression of longing for “home” as well as an effect to partially reclaim what has been lost or taken away (783).  Such examples of Ostalgie would be collecting the Trabant or listening to former GDR based musicians.  Moreover, movies such as Sonnenalle in 1999 and Goodbye Lenin in 2003 depict this phenomenon and illustrate it through the medium of film.

The problem with this rise in Ostalgie is that it increases the already fragile relationship between East and West Berliners.  The lack of programs initiated to change the habits of Berliners coupled with the power of Ostalgie led to alienation between resident, in which groups may try to hurt each other passively by withholding goods and services, or actively through confrontational interactions (Héon-Klin 374).  All of these factors impede the reconstruction of social bonds.

It is clear that there is still a high degree of social, political and cultural divergence that had emerged among individuals who were nominally residents of the same city.  The physical separation led way to genetic divergence and partition.  By separating the population, divergent experiences were created which in turn contributed to the formation of distinct socio-cultural groups, with the Wall acting as a screen obscuring the differences.  After the Wall these differences evolved into prejudices, creating the “Wall in the Head” among Berliners.  As seen with racism in the United States, only time and a conscious effort by Berlin residents will be able to reconcile with the prejudices held towards one another.  Until that day, the Wall will continue to loom, harassing residents in their day to day activities, whether they are aware of it or not.

Works Cited

Bauman, Zygmunt.  “Modernity and Ambivalence.” Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization and Modernity.  Ed. Mike Feathersone. London: Verso, 1990. 143-69.

Boyer, Dominic. "Ostalgie and the Politics of the Future in Eastern Germany." Public Culture 18 (2006): 261-81.

Craw, Penelope J., Louis S. Leland Jr., Michelle G. Bussell, Simon J. Munday, and Karen Walsh. "The Mural as Graffiti Deterrence." Environment and Behavoir 38 (2006): 422-60.

Dempsey, Judy. "Germany Says Stasi Ordered Deadly Force At Old Border." The New York Times 13 Apr. 2007, Late Edition ed., sec. A: 5.

Freud, Sigmund.  1905 (1960).  Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious.  Translated and edited by James Strachey.  New York/London: W. W. Norton. 

Grésillon, Boris. "Berlin, Cultural Metropolis: Changes in the Cultural Geography of Berlin since Reunification." Ecumene 6 (1999): 284-95.

Héon-Klin, Véronique, Erika Sieber, Julia Heubner, and Mindy Thomspon Fullilove. "Thhe Influence of Geopolitical change on the Well-Being of a Population: The Berlin Wall." American Journal of Public Health 91 (2001): 369-74.

"Interview with Thierry Noir." Interview with Virginie Desforges. Thierry Noir. <>.

Jozwiak, Joseph F., and Elisabeth Mermann. "The Wall in Our Minds?" The Journal of Popular Culture 39 (2006): 780-95.

Lixfeld, Hannjost.  1978. Witz und Aggression.  Zur Begriffsbestimmung und Funktion der Textsorte.  Zeitschrift Fur Volkskunde 74:1-19.  Translated in Dow and Lixfeld.  1986 German Volkshunde: A Decade of Theoretical Confrontation, Debate, and Reorientation (1967-77).  Bloomington: Indiana Unviersity Press.

Oettingen, Gabrielle, and Martin E. Seligman. "Pessimism and behavioural signs of depression in East verus West Berlin." European Journal of Social Psychology 20 (1990): 207-20.

Röhrich, Lutz, 1977.  Der Witz: Figuren, Formen, Funkitionnen.  Stuttgart: Metzler.

Stein, Mary B. "The Politics of Humor: The Berlin Wall in Jokes and Graffiti." Western Folklore 48 (1989): 85-108.

Streitwieser, Bernhard T. "Some thoughts on post-reunification pedagogical adjustments." European Education 31 (1999): 60-87.

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Latest in History

2022, Vol. 14 No. 02
India was ruled by the Timurid-Mughal dynasty from 1526 to 1857. This period is mainly recognised for its art and architecture. The Timurid-Mughals also promoted knowledge and scholarship. Two of the Mughal emperors, Babur and Jahangir, wrote their... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 02
The causes of the First World War remains a historiographical topic of contention more than 100 years on from the start of the conflict. With the passing of the centenary in 2014, a new wave of publications has expanded the scope and depth of historians... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 11
The Sino-Vietnamese War remains one of the most peculiar military engagements during the Cold War. Conventional wisdom would hold that it was a proxy war in the vein of the United States’ war in Vietnam or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 11
While the Cold War is popularly regarded as a war of ideological conflict, to consider it solely as such does the long-winded tension a great disservice. In actuality, the Cold War manifested itself in numerous areas of life, including the various... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 11
This article analyzes the role of musical works in the United States during World War II. It chronologically examines how the social and therapeutic functions of music evolved due to the developments of the war. This article uses the lyrics of wartime... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 10
Early medieval Irish society operated on an elaborate power structure formalized by law, practiced through social interaction, and maintained by tacit exploitation of the lower orders. This paper investigates the materialization of class hierarchies... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 05
Some scholars of American history suggest the institution of slavery was dying out on the eve of the Civil War, implying the Civil War was fought over more generic, philosophical states' rights principles rather than slavery itself. Economic evidence... Read Article »

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