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A Different Wall Divides Berlin These Days


We turn now to Holger Teschke. He was raised in communist East Germany, and in 1978, as a 20-year-old, moved to East Berlin to write poetry and plays. When the wall came down in 1989, he was working at Bertolt Brecht's old theater, the Berliner Ensemble. Holger Teschke says, even as a young boy, he knew that trying to cross the wall could get you shot. He vividly remembers traveling to East Berlin with his parents when he was 7. That was when he first saw the Wall.

MONTAGNE: You actually could see the police and the army, and you could see the barbed wire. And you could see parts of West Berlin behind that wall. And for me it was like a daily nightmare. And I could not imagine to live in a city like that.

MONTAGNE: As a writer and a theater director, I want to ask you about a bit of language that's come into use around the Berlin Wall. People often speak of it as having fallen.

MONTAGNE: Yes. I have a problem with that, because, you know, the Wall did not collapse during an earthquake or any other natural disaster. The wall was opened and was opened because of the pressure of thousands and thousands of people who put their lives in harm's way during the demonstrations against the governing party, against the state security and so on and so forth. And that is, I think, very important to remember.

MONTAGNE: When Germany was reunited, certainly the sense outside of Germany was that Germans were Germans and they would all come together. And pretty quickly after the initial jubilation, it became clear there were very big differences between the East and the West. Just remind us of those, sort of, divisions.

MONTAGNE: And with freedom and with democracy, there are also many, many challenges, and you have to learn to face this. And you have to learn to think and to act for yourself. And I think that was one of the things that was taken away from the people over the 40 years of party dictatorship in the East.

MONTAGNE: You mean it wasn't just an immediate gratification of the basic human need to be free...


MONTAGNE: ...as I think the most idealistic people would think...


MONTAGNE: ...that emerging from communism wasn't that simple.

MONTAGNE: No. A very good old friend of mine - Thomas Mann's daughter, Elizabeth Mann-Borgese - once said, you know, it is actually not very easy to learn to be a free person. And that sounds very simple and banal, but it is not if you have not learned it from your childhood on.

MONTAGNE: Although I gather that there is a German term that's emerged since reunification: Ostalgia, as in nostalgia. Only in this case, we're talking about the German word for the East - Os.

MONTAGNE: That's right. Yes.

MONTAGNE: So it's a desire, a nostalgia for the East and what the East used to be. Tell us about that.

MONTAGNE: Well, there is a tendency now - and it has something to do, of course, with the economics in the East - to glorify the situation in East Germany, to glorify the situation in the workplace, but also in education and so on - to look back to the East and say, well, it was all for free, and it was much better. But, of course, that came with a bill. At the end of the GDR, the state could not afford these luxuries anymore, and that was clear to the people, too.

MONTAGNE: What about the more maybe amusing things or mundane things? There was an East German car.

MONTAGNE: Yes, an old, a well-known famous Trebant.

MONTAGNE: The Trebant, they wish they had their Trebants back.


MONTAGNE: No one wants the Trebants back, except for the tourists in Berlin.


MONTAGNE: I mean, that's part of the tourist industry, you know. No one wants the Trebant back, and no one wants a shopping mall from the former East back.

MONTAGNE: What was that like?




MONTAGNE: Long lines?

MONTAGNE: Long lines. You know, it's not true. It was not empty. But, for instance, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables, things like that. That was always a problem.

MONTAGNE: It's been over 20 years since the wall was brought down between Eastern and Western Berlin. Is it still a factor in the identity of Germans, whether they were raised or come from the East or the West?

MONTAGNE: It is, indeed. And I've just read in the newspaper that there are still people from West Berlin who have never set foot into the East, and vice versa. I could not imagine that that is the fact, but it is. Some people argue that the gap has even widened. I think that is true.

MONTAGNE: Given the divide, how long do you think it will take before East and West are no longer a factor in the identity of Germans?

MONTAGNE: I think it will take another generation, to be honest, because my son - who was 10 years old when the wall is opened - he grew up only for 10 years in East Germany. But he still sees himself as an Ossie, as the kids say. And I thought...

MONTAGNE: An Eastie. An Eastie.

MONTAGNE: And I had hoped and I thought it would only take his generation. But I'm now convinced it will take another generation before that is really gone.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much, Renee, for having me.

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.