It has been a quarter of a century since the fall of the last symbol of the Cold War / Some German citizens based in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria express their view on the milestone event
LA PROVINCIA / LAS PALMAS DE GRAN CANARIA, 9 November 2014
For some people, it was the end of an injustice; for others, a great cost to rebuild a divided country. The fall of the Berlin wall on a day like today, 25 years ago, meant that the last symbol of the Cold War disappeared, and it opened a door to the reunification of the two Germanies with Europe: the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) or West Side, where Capitalism was prevailing, and the Democratic Republic of Germany (DRG), or East Side, controlled by Communism. As in the rest of Spain, throughout October Las Palmas de Gran Canaria has joined the commemoration of the milestone event at three main German schools: Colegio Oficial Alemán, Colegio Heidelberg and Escuela Oficial de Idiomas (Language School). Some German citizens, based in Gran Canaria, lived that historic event for Europe’s 20th century from both sides of the fortification.
Born in Stuttgart, in the south of Germany, but based in Gran Canaria, Susanne Bothmann, 53, has been working as a German teacher at Colegio Heidelberg, in Barranco Seco, for nearly three decades. The historic night of the collapse of Berliner Mauer [Berlin Wall in English], on November 9th, 1989, Susanne was already in Gran Canaria, pregnant from her first child, and she perfectly remembers that moment, as though time did not pass. She was 28 years old then and she was taking part of the foundation of Canarian Association of Germans with other colleagues. She was surprised by the event. “I was at home with my husband watching the news and I was gobsmacked and excited, it was beautiful. There were people crossing the wall in our West Side, awaiting with champaign glasses, flowers and embracing whoever was coming, my eyes started watering because it was so intense”, Bothmann affirms. She was born in the West Side in 1961, just in the moment when the wall was built, ordered by Communist authorities of DRG, it was just an excuse of anti-fascist protection, but what they really wanted was to prevent a brain drain, so scientists, artists and the rest of citizens could not emigrate to FRG. Susanne grew up in a divided country, where German from the East Side were forbidden to pass to the Capitalism side, but not viceversa for Western citizens. “I always studied that there two Germanies, for me it was normal, and moreover I lived the Cold War all my childhood. We never thought this could come to an end”, the German teacher points out.
Bothmann noticed the social and economic contrast between both sides when one day she visited the museums located in East Berlin. “I was amazed as I came from a capitalist country, full of colours, shopping windows, advertisement, and I passed to a city with impressive buildings, but not all of them. We were dressed in red, blue, yellow, but they were in grey and brown”, Bothmann recalls. She have no relatives in the other side of the wall, in the East one, but some friends among the thousands of people that could emigrate to other countries in the summer 1989, framed by some protest marches against Erich Honecker’s Soviet regime.
Bothmann: “For us it was the end of a big injustice and a painful era”
Protests in summer 89′
“Thanks to Perestroika [Mijaíl Gorbachov’s economic reform], East countries, such as Hungary and Czechoslovakia, began to open their borders, so people from East Germany left everything, their home and memories, and moved there, in order to enter Austria then, and West Germany, to start a new life”, Bothmann explains, who considers that massive fleeing and the freedom claimed from the East accelerated the end of the separation. The defense of Berlin wall, 50-kilometre long and over 3-metre wide, was so iron that jumping over was an impossible mission and even deadly: mine explosions, alarms, barbed wire fences, police dogs, surveillance towers, among other border measures. “Above all, soldiers were trained to kill anyone in the area”, Bothmann asserts, who has close friends that still keep a little piece of the wall.
“For us it was the end of a big injustice and a painful era, but not every German citizen was happy with the situation, because the reunification was so expensive, to rebuilt DRG that was outdated, and lots of companies unfortunately had to shut because they could not keep being competitive with the Western ones, and unemployment turned up for the first time, never before”, Bothmann points out. She has a positive view on the fall. “It was a dream, I see nothing negative on that”, she affirms.
Coined as Die Wende (The Change), the wall opening and the reunification nearly one year after had an economic impact on West Germany funds. According to digital newspaper Deutsche Welle, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) invested an obscene amount of money in the RDA, roughly two billion euros, and 65% out of them was addressed to social issues, and 300.000 million euros strengthened the infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Thorsten Heinsohn, a German financial adviser who is already retired and based in Playa de Las Canteras for three years, lived that historic moment on television in Munich in 1989. From his point of view it was “a great end” and he cites Willy Brandt’s phrase, a former Chancellor of the FRG government: “Nun wächst zusammen, was zusammen gehört“ (“Now it’s growing together what belongs to everybody”). Heinsohn, who was born in Bremerhaven and studies Spanish at Escuela Oficial de Idiomas (EOI -Language School-) in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, affirms the wall “ambivalence” : for Eastern citizens, there were no advantages, and for Western people, it meant to pay, with their taxes, the reconstruction of another country (DRG). Likewise, Peter Hubertus Kleine, who was born in Coburgo -north of Baviera- 55 years ago, also lived the event in the distance, but in a more intense way. He could not believe when the news came up while he was in a bar in Brussels, where he did some work placements as a German teacher. “I was saying good bye to some friends, and a customer in the bar, that I did not know, went in shouting that the Berlin Wall had fallen and then crowds of East Berliners had left to the West. Therefore, the owner of the bar switched on the radio to confirm the news and everybody listened to it and I invited my friends to a round of half pints of beers, we toasted and organised a party”, Kleine remembers. He has also studied Spanish at the EOI for nearly 5 years.
This German teacher arrived at his hometown the day after the collapse of the wall, where Eastern people that approached the place could not stop exclaiming ‘unvorstellbar’, (‘incredible’ in German). He toasted with his friends with champagne and chocolates in one of the checkpoints “already opened” and the following day he returned to Berlin. “My house was 100 metres away from the ‘Oberbaumbrücke’, which was one of the checkpoints. In West Berlin you could barely move owing to all the people from the East that were there. It was nearly an impossible mission to go in a shop, bank o public library”, Kleine detailed. “For them everything was brand new and they had to get quickly used to capitalism sophistication: cars, insurance, small print of contracts… That wasn’t easy and sometimes people from the West took advantage of their inexperience”, he added.
Kleine points out that “the fall of the Berlin wall was a visible act of the end of Communism and bipolar system in the world”, but he expresses his disapproval towards the success of Capitalism. “Since then, the breach between poor and rich people has increased, and it doesn’t seem there is someone who stops this unfortunate development”, Klein asserts.
Happiness in the East
Meanwhile, in the East side, German and Russian teacher Barbra Schenk, 61, who has been working as a teacher at Colegio Oficial Alemán de Las Palmas for 8 years, also kept abreast of the milestone event in the distance. She was returning to her home in Klütz (north of Germany) from a meeting with some colleagues at the Wismar school, because of the social protests that were being held against the communist regime. When she arrived at home, her two daughters let her know the news: “Mum, the borders are opened”. “We switched on the telly and I was static, I understood nothing, I couldn’t sleep”, Schenk explains excited. She was 36 years old then.
Despite the lack of freedom of speech, of variety of clothes and food in the East side where she used to live, Schenk looks on the bright side. “I was happy with just a bit, I had a family, when I was a youngster, I received a good education, got good friends and we organized trips inside East Germany”, Schenk asserts. She never justifies the construction of the wall to retain talented citizens like singer and poet Wolf Biermann, but she lived it with resignation. “I did not like the situation, but I accepted it, there was no choice, and we had arguments with close friends of what we could do to change things”, the German teacher states.
Moreover, Schenk points out the fast social and economic changes triggered by the fall of the Berlin wall turned out to be a drawback for quite a few people in the West Side, elderly people, adults nearly retired, people that was not ready for that. “Well, they have already freedom, but there was unemployment, and with no money, where could they travel to? Everything was too hectic”, Schenk stresses. She remembers those 100 German marks that the West Side gave to each of the Eastern citizens to welcome them. She is fond of a memory of a famous gynecologist, Von Maltzahn, imprisoned in the 70s, after he tried to cross the border in the north of Germany. “My female students and their mothers were sad because they said: ‘He left and he is the one that knows our bodies the best!”.