In 1989, the Berlin wall was dismantled and by the next year, Germany was once again one country. That meant consolidating East and West Germany, and often the West’s laws and culture prevailed over those of the East.
University of Oklahoma International Studies professor Rebecca Cruise is an expert on Eastern Europe.
“There was such momentum towards unification that a lot of the old policies the policies of Communism were considered completely antiquated,” Cruise says. “These were not policies of the new unified Germany. We essentially took all Western concepts, policies, ways of doing things and got rid of the Eastern way of doing things.”
One of Dr. Cruise’s focuses of study is the role of women in Germany before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. According to Cruise, during the communist period in East Germany, women were given work opportunities, daycare options and a day off every month to fulfill the “double burden” of being a worker and a mother. Re-unification caused many of the policies of Eastern Germany to be scrapped which meant a loss of certain rights for Eat German women.
“Because this emancipation of women, even though it was somewhat only on paper,” Cruise says. “It got tied up with this idea of communism and for a period there was a rejection of all things associated with communism so the focus on women’s rights or gendered concerns fell to the wayside throughout Eastern Europe.”
Other aspects of East German culture were also cast aside during the rush to re-unification. Oregon State University professor of German, Sebastian Heiduschke was a teenager in West Germany during re-unification. He says it’s a shame that East German cinema is so often overlooked in Germany today because it had such a unique perspective.
“It’s not necessarily what we would think of a communist or a socialist country. Especially in the beginning the films were pretty much what we would expect from West German movies,” Heiduschke says. “Very entertaining musical comedies, melodramas, what was called the Indiana film that look at the life of the Native Americans, or science fiction films that bring out the accomplishments of international solidarity, so a space crew that consists of many races and of course all of the genders, so we have all of that in these films.”
The literature of the time also shows a worldview, both distinct but in some ways familiar. OU professor of German, Bob Lemon says that the communist guidelines were manipulated by authors to produce groundbreaking art.
“You have an official sort of credo, a specific kind of system for how you are supposed to depict the GDR and that’s called socialist realism. And often in literature its dismissed as “boy meets tractor” which is that idea that you’re supposed to show how the socialist system is growing and how society should progress into the future,” Lemon says. “But of course over time, writers negotiate that system work within that system and they develop their own interests so you have major figures coming out of East Germany like Christa Wolf and you have also dissident voices that continue to be contrary even after the wall has come down. I have been working on a poet called Volker Braun who as a true believer in socialism was convinced that when the Monday demonstrations started in Leipzig that that would lead to a proper peoples revolution and was bitterly disappointed when the West in his view colonized the East and just came in and took over.”
As historians studying the cinema, literature and culture of East and West German and the unification after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Professors Cruise, Heiduschke, Lemon and others are discovering that over the last 25 years, there may be a deeper integration of those two cultures that takes the best of each for the unified country.