Fall of the Wall, thirty years later: For the youth of Erfurt (ex-GDR), the Wall has not completely fallen

Fall of the Wall, thirty years later: For the youth of Erfurt (ex-GDR), the Wall has not completely fallen

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REPORTAGE In Erfurt, a city of 200,000 inhabitants in the Land of Thuringia, in the former GDR, the inhabitants testify to disparities specific to the East

Thirty years ago, the Berlin Wall fell, triggering the process of reunification between the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the German Federal Republic (FRG).

Workers are busy, a crane creaks. A huge & nbsp; colored panel representing two hands, vegetation and tools, is slowly erected. North of Erfurt, Germany. & Nbsp; It is one of the only vestiges of the cultural center which was the pride of this district, showcase of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), with its large theater and its modern metro station . Instead, today, a huge shopping mall. The revolving doors suck in and pour out retired couples, young workers, mothers with their children. All are relatively indifferent to the return of this monumental fresco, thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, a prelude to the reunification of the "two" Germans.

Much older vestiges appear on the brochures of the tourist office of the capital of Thuringia: its medieval half-timbered houses, its famous Epiciers bridge, its museum dedicated to Martin Luther, the father of Protestantism ... But the traces of the communist period are less obvious.

Yet Erfurt, like all of the eastern territory, was part of the communist regime proclaimed in 1949, and disappeared in 1990. There is indeed a "museum of East German products" created by a collector a tad "ostalgic & nbsp;" (a neologism designating nostalgia for the GDR). And a former prison where the Stasi, the political police of the regime, has held up to 5,000 prisoners. Transformed into a very educational museum, it does not attract crowds.

At the exit, we meet Matthias Sengewald, one of the activists who participated in the demonstrations in the fall of 1989. He was 23 years old. Today, with his wife, he collects archives and testimonies to document this historic change. , and feels the “& nbsp; duty to get involved & nbsp;” for democracy, he slips before setting off again by bicycle. This has recently taken the form of a petition against the Alternative for Germany (AfD) campaign in the regional elections. The party, located on the far right, had chosen the slogan "& nbsp; Vollende die Wende & nbsp;", or "& nbsp; End the turning point". A reference to the political transition started after the fall of the wall, while surfing on the feeling that the reunification was done at the expense of the GDR.

The AfD's message was successful in the Land of Thuringia, garnering 22% of the vote on October 27th, in second place behind the left-wing Die Linke. Sign that the speech denouncing an "abandonment" of the eastern regions by the federal state has paid off & nbsp;? & Nbsp; "& nbsp;" Here people seem less happy than at West, and they blame the system, "observes Levin, a 22-year-old student, with reference to the" numerous political discussions between young people that he witnessed before the vote.

It is this "system" that the inhabitants hold responsible for the democratic and liberal transition that began in the early 1990s. "There is a collective trauma linked to the Treuhand", points out Volker Hinck, activist from Die Linke, 39 years old. The organization privatized the assets of the former GDR after the reunification, "& nbsp; and many of the residents here found themselves unemployed & nbsp;". History teacher in Erfurt, Christiane Kuller elaborates: "& nbsp;" & nbsp; & nbsp; & nbsp; reunification was a much more painful process for the inhabitants of the East than it had been wanted to say for a long time. Now the people here want to make their voices heard, tell their story from their point of view, and they want their personal experience to be recognized. "

The historian now collects testimonies from several generations of inhabitants. "& Nbsp; They are a little suspicious, and sometimes feel excluded from official commemorations & nbsp;". To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the wall, the federal government has posted posters tinged with humor in the city about German identity and the unity of the country. "& Nbsp; It's so German & nbsp;! & Nbsp;" reads a photo of feet wearing socks under sandals, and "& nbsp; Germany is a & nbsp;". The image leaves residents relatively indifferent.

Even if it fell just 30 years ago, the wall still exists: & nbsp; wages are lower in eastern regions, as are pensions. The difference in median annual income between the "two" Germany was still 3,623 euros in 2016 *. "My aunt drives an hour each day to work in the West because she is paid much more there than she would be here," said 24-year-old Elisa.

Another discrepancy, pointed out by all the inhabitants of Erfurt that we meet: the East Germans are underrepresented in the economic, political and scientific elites. According to local historian Christiane Kuller, this absence & nbsp; may partly explain the success of the anti-system discourses carried out notably by the AfD against the two traditional parties, the CDU (center right) and the SPD (center left).

However, Erfurt and Thuringia are doing relatively well economically. After 1990, the region developed its automobile industry and optical technologies. In 2017, the unemployment rate was 4.4%, barely above the national average (3.8%) **. But Sebastian, 30, who came from the suburb of Eisenach, 70 km to the west, to work in the restaurant industry, sees the difference with his hometown: & nbsp; "& nbsp;" The big cities are are doing well, but the smallest have damaged roads, bad transport, there is less work… I am very fortunate not to have known the GDR! & nbsp; But I can understand that a lot of people would like to come back at that time & nbsp; ". & nbsp; The older ones, mainly.

According to a survey published in 2018, around 40% of Thuringian people aged 35 to 59 believe that the GDR "had more good sides than bad", and almost 50% of those aged 60 and over more. On the other hand, two thirds of 18-25 year-olds think the opposite, and a third "& nbsp; don't know & nbsp;" or do not wish to comment ***.

As a country child near Erfurt, Elisa became a teacher after studying in New York. Unlike other young people in the East, she wants to work here. “& Nbsp; My parents and grandparents couldn't travel. They learned Russian at school, not English. They had to be on the waiting list to hope to have a car ... I can see how lucky I am. My life is easier than theirs, and I can travel, express my opinions freely, ”she smiles. The city has a financially accessible university, modern transport and many leisure activities.

On campus, many native students from the east and many from the west mix and chat in the cafeteria. If they say they are little concerned with a wall and a regime that fell before their birth, they identify themselves, sometimes in spite of themselves, based on this past. "& Nbsp; When you start talking to someone, and you say which city you come from, subconsciously, we are going to be located in the East or West & nbsp;", says Elisa. Little versed in posturing, she understands that older generations are a little more sensitive to it: & nbsp; "& nbsp;" My parents enjoy their life today. But they also say that before 1989, wage inequalities were less marked and the cost of living was lower & nbsp; ". Like her, Denis, 24, is looking to the future: "& nbsp;" & nbsp; Over time, East / West inequalities will eventually disappear, I think ... I hope & nbsp;! & Nbsp; ".