Thursday, 11 April 2013

East Germany - Wasn't It Cool? Err, no.

"So...!, said one of the many new Anglo-American apologists of a brutal regime in broken German - "what's YOUR experience of the GDR then??" Thinking of course I would say ooh err, none I'm afraid.

Thinking they could impress me with their touristy ideas of how great it had all been, how civilized, how fashionable and cool.

But if you spend parts of your childhood growing up whilst East Germany still existed - it will have infiltrated every corner of your existence.

School, for a start - all lessons would refer in some way or other to what was going on in the other part of Gemany (apart from biology maybe).

I grew up only about 40 km from the border. I knew the horrendous sight of spiked barbed wire, endless ploughed fields, dotted with watch towers, search lights scanning the ground in the night so that no suspicious movement would go unnoticed. The watch towers were manned by brutalised officers of the National People's Army who would not hesitate to shoot anybody trying to flee the "socialist republic".

I had an uncle who was so bothered about Gemany being a divided country, he went round putting up placards to protest against it. He also gave lectures in town halls about it all.

I had cousins who hated the regime so much they never called it DDR (GDR) but only ever spoke of "the zone". Meaning it was (Russian) occupied territory.

Although we didn't have any relatives over there, loads of other people did. They made up parcels with foodstuffs for Christmas, with old clothes during the year, and if their relatives were elderly, they were actually allowed to visit the West. Not everybody was totally enthusiastic about this.

I went there and shuddered at the decay and grottiness. It was like leaving behind a technicolour world and entering a monochrome grey zone.It was also like travelling back in time - about 60 years.

The food was so bad there (in restaurants) I couldn't eat anything. It was really low-quality, badly prepared stuff. The meat was particularly disgusting. I remember they also had their own brand of cola which was vile.

The entire time I spent there, I lived off chocolate you could buy (at hugely inflated prices) in one of their "Intershops" where Western goods were available.

I once saw a box of discoloured lemons for sale (an absolute rarity) labelled "Fraternally from Cuba".

The whole place was decorated with giant posters re-affirming the eternal friendship with the Soviet Union.

People were shabbily dressed and looked extremely poor. Suspicion and  fear were written in people's faces. I couldn't shake off the feeling that people were keeping tabs on one another.

Crossing the inner-German border was a frightening, humiliating and heart-stopping event. You simply can't imagine the rabid roughness of the controllers, and the hatred in their eyes.

Later on, in Hungary, I had an East German boyfriend for a while. He came from the furthest Eastern region of the country where they couldn't even get Western TV or radio as it was too far away. He was involved with the dissident peace movement, sewed up his own jeans, and other clothes so as to look Western. He told me horrendous stories of intimidation and prosecution of so many other dissidents.

Still later, I watched the long snaky queues of little trabbis making their way over to the west. Was I pleased? Not really.

So.... touristy apologists - that's my experience of East Germany. Forgive me if I'm not that interested in yours.

Here's a Wikipedia article on East Germany if you're interested

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