Thursday, November 19, 2009

Auf die Dauer, fällt die Mauer

As Joe Jackson put it, “The walls are coming down between the west and the east, you don’t have to be a hippie to believe in peace. That’s obvious.” And the walls did come down, specifically the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. A monumental date in history for many people all across the world, it paved the way for the unified Germany that we know today and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. With the recent celebration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the progress that has been made over the past twenty years is still fresh in our mind.

And a lot of progress has been made since 1989. The former GDR is a very different place now than it was 20 years ago and is now very much a part of the unified Germany. With the recent celebration we think of accomplishments and progress that has been made, for instance, me being able to study in Rostock, but it’s easy neglect that this is a process that takes a very long time and as much as we’d like to think otherwise, the east and the west are still very different places.

I have been in Rostock now for a little over a month and a half, and until last weekend I hadn’t left the city the whole time I’ve been here. Being in one place for that long, you’d begin to get used to almost anything. Rostock is many things, but nice is not a word I would use to describe it. Don’t get me wrong, so far it has been a great and very interesting experience, but it is very drab.

After the war when almost everything was destroyed, very few, if any of the old buildings were restored to their prewar conditions. The communist government didn’t allow them to do so because there simply wasn’t money to do so. Instead of being beautiful old small brick buildings, they have been replaced sheer concrete buildings. Following the war there was also a severe housing shortage and the GDR’s solution, like many other communist countries, was to erect these massive prefabricated concrete monoliths called Plattenbauten. (This picture is of a residence hall for the university on my street.) This in combination with the constant overcast skies and relentless rain is enough to make a fairly depressing place.

This all became very apparent after a trip I took to Lübeck, a city two hours west of Rostock that also happens to be in the former west. (The picture at the very beginning is of Lübeck) Lübeck is also a hanseatic city of about the same size as Rostock, but one of the first things we notice when we arrive is how many restored churches there are. Lübeck was hit just as hard during the World War II, but the old city center has been beautifully restored with all of its narrow alleys and small buildings. It was just a beautiful city.

Whereas the anniversary of the fall of the wall is very important for the entire world and a huge reason to celebrate in Berlin, out away from the center of it all, it’s hard NOT to notice how big of a difference there between the west and the east, even 20 years later. "That's obvious."

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