Today I’d like to share a guest post by Florian Wittig. Florian was born in 1987 and grew up in East Berlin – he has some amazing insights from the Eastern side. He already co-wrote this article on the differences between East and West Germany with me. Thank you for another excellent post, Florian!
The East is an area where most villages and cities date back roughly 750 years ago and really flourished during the Prussian era. A typical town there looked like this:
Keep that in mind while you drive through the countryside: 50 years of socialism could not destroy what was build through centuries. So, a lot of what’s happening now is only understandable knowing what was there before.
The successor party of SED (GDRs socialist union party) was the PDS which is nowadays called Die Linke (The Left), they are the biggest socialist/far left party in Germany. In East Germany, they are a very much accepted player in the political landscape that was and is part of several local governments while in the west they yet have to reach that status.
On the other side of the political spectrum, the fascists (they might not call themselves that, but that’s what they are, fascist pigs) in various forms, most notably the NPD are also an established political power (but on a much smaller scale). They are part of local parliaments on state and communal level. In the west, they are not.
Two remarks here: A Yes, Nazis are a common sight in East Germany, people who want to tell you otherwise are naive. B Just because the “ordinary people” vote left-wing, don’t think they are progressive. In conclusion, they are very conservative, they just are more reliant on the state to fix problems.
Statistically, East Germany is at about 2/3 of West-Germany in terms of economics. Like in terms of income and economic power and so on. I am not much into numbers, so, I won’t go into detail here.
But let’s get a bit more personal (and subjective for that matter) and maybe you can read about the economics part between the lines.
Feeling part of Germany
Do I feel part of Germany? Phew. I don’t feel part of Germany really, but not because I am from the East, but more because I don’t like the concept of nations and think it’s too arbitrary. Generally, a lot of people have some romantic sentiments about GDR (See: What is Ostalgie?) and I would say that from a mindset and attitude towards life and work etc., most older East Germans prefer their peers to “Wessis”.
For the younger generation, it’s more difficult. First of all, a lot of them migrated to the West because of the horrible economic situation right after the reunification. Second of all, there’s a whole generation of disillusioned mid-twenties/early thirties people who fell in the hole the wall left. They are too young to be part of the old system and too old to blindly embrace the new one.
Quality of Life
This is the core of the whole thing when you ask “how is it to live here?”. This summer I’ve been on numerous weekend trips to Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Sachsen and in Winter I’ve been to Sachsen-Anhalt. Thüringen is still on my list. And I can tell you, it’s wonderful to go there. You have breathtakingly beautiful countryside like this:
Mecklenburg Lake District
and magnificent cities like this:
The quality of roads, the renovated castles (seriously, there is a Prussian castle in almost every bigger village) and old towns, the nature marks and everything blend well together to a magnificent melange that is really unique in Germany and the rest of Europe even.
But there is a catch to that: All of these renovations are paid for through the solidarity fund (Solidaritätszuschlag) or for wealthier people from the West. Because most common people in the East cannot afford to live in extremely remote places, most people in the East cannot afford to renovate an old mansion or farm let alone a castle.
The only economic perspective that a lot of counties in the East have, is elite tourism. So, at the moment, you have a lot of poor areas and residents there while the whole country is becoming a bit of spa/wellness spot or a possible utopia for stressed out city dwellers, wealthy folks from Berlin or other cities.
My weekend trips there were absolutely fantastic, you can completely relax, meet awesome people (who will be much friendlier to you, when they realise you are “one of them” and not some rich dude from Swabia) and I am seriously considering moving there in a decade or so. But if you talk with the residents, they have basic problems like making ends meet on 1000€ or less while working shifts in a senior hospice 120 kilometres away.
Another thing is, that the countryside of GDR is dying out. One of the reasons I love it there, is the vast emptiness of it all. While people are stuck in traffic jams going to the seaside, I am already jumping into a deep blue lake which I am sharing with about 20 or so people at most. But is just a consequence of the aforementioned labour migration and the demographics. Unemployment, no perspective and low wages are not exactly conducive to a booming population. A lot of villages I saw, seem almost deserted except for the next supermarket.
So, yeah. What becomes of a beautiful land that flourished when agriculture and and early industrialisation were taking place? A country that was ruled from picturesque castles and today has to compete with the rest of the EU? I would say something melancholic with a lot of beauty but also a lot of darkness. It depends on what you want to see.
What I left out now is Berlin. It’s right in the heart of the former East and it shares a lot of its problems and past but you cannot simply lump it together with the rest of the East, not even together with cities like Dresden and Leipzig. Berlin is Berlin and is writing its history as one of the most liked metropoles of the early 21st century and to tell you how it is to live here needs to be handled in a different question.