F i r s t T r y C o m p a n y

Historical Background to the Triptych

When Germans refer to the "Wende" they think of the autumn of 1989 when the wall came down. The denotation of the word "Wende" is "turning point" but there are lots of connotations of the word like change in exterior as well as in interior (mental) conditions,
9 November 89, etc.

After the second world war two German states were founded in central Europe. One, the German Federal Republic, known as West Germany, was supported by the Western allies: the United States of America, the United Kingdom and France. The other part of Germany was the German Democratic Republic, known as East Germany, which was founded in the area of the Soviet Occupation Zone as an outpost of the former Soviet Union. The G.D.R was founded on 7 October 1949 and its existence ceased on 3 October 1990 when the two German states were offically reunified.

It is not difficult to imagine the problems, some of which even today remain unsolved, that might been encountered when two completely different states with completely different working and living conditions are unified. For those people who grew up in East Germany reunification meant the beginning of a second life, it was like a rebirth. For those brought up in West Germany it meant learning to share their wealth with the poorer eastern part of their country. In East Germany church and state worked separately and sometimes appeared to be strong opponents of one constitution the practice and the promotion of religious beliefs was severely restricted. Atheism was encouraged. As you can see in the name German Democratic Republic, East Germany called itself a democratic state. However, there was only freedom neglected as being of minor importance. The people had to subordinate themselves to the state.

The administration as well as the state were ruled by the SED, the Socialist Unity Party. There were four other parties representing different social classes as well as attitudes. All the parties were dominated by the policy of the SED who set limits for the activities of those parties. The leadership of the SED in all spheres of life and its domination of life was laid down in the constitution. The state machinery was systematically filled with party members of the SED. Enterprises and estates were owned and run by the state until reunification. The Soviet Union had a strong influence on all aspects of production, profit and policy. Between 1945 and 1949 economic and social changes were carried out which resulted in agricultural reform, judicial reform, expropriation of factory and landowners and nationalisation of industry. In agriculture the farmers were forced into cooperative farming to follow the example of Soviet agriculture. The political target of the G.D.R. was the creation of a "workers and peasants" state supervised by the SED who put pressure on the people with the help of a strong army and a highly developed secret service. The people were not provided with any of the freedoms we are now used to. There were travel restrictions; people were not allowed to visit West European or other Western countries. The people were not given a currency that was accepted on the world market. This resulted in an illegal market where people changed their money for "Western hard currency" like the Deutschmark and the Pound. This was necessary because the state was not able to meet the growing domestic demand for consumer goods. There was a certain range of goods sold at special shops for hard currency.

But on the other hand there was no unemployment, no homelessness and nobody had to be hungry because the state provided for almost everything, even for nursery places and for mothers who wanted to return to work and to qualify. There was social security on a low level for all and the state cared for the people from the cradle to the grave as long as they stayed obedient to the SED. With the run down of the old industries economic problems intensified and people had to face lots of shortages. This led to pressure for change which encompassed new solutions to problems which were not talked about by the SED like environment pollution, individual freedom, freedom of information (people living in the G.D.R were not allowed to listen to or watch western broadcasting stations), democratic elections, etc. The SED was not able to solve any of the problems and neither was the Soviet Union and so the whole state fell to pieces and so did its allies, the wall was torn down and a completely new democratic life started. With this came democracy, consumerism and the quarantee of civil liberties but at the same time unemployment and the collapse of the social security system of the G.D.R.

Two different German cultures clashed even with different words and different usage of language. Many dreams and hopes have not yet come true. The East Germans had to learn to take their life in their own hands and to face new challenges connected to competition in a free market economy. The young generation has learned it already and will watch out that dictatorship will never be allowed to be established on German soil.

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