Actually, I get the sense that this 30th anniversary is more meaningful: I think we, as East Germans, are becoming who we are. I find it is noticeable, especially these days, and it feels healthy. Less victim of circumstances and world history, more confident.Wir sind der Osten is just one of the shapes this has taken.
This goes back to a Facebook nomination chain post, which I shall simply replicate here. Now, since I’m somewhat unruly, I did provide commentaries (contrary to the request), but refrained from nominating anyone – I’m actually not a big fan of these requests and I usually opt out from them.
So, if you like, see ten of my favourite travel pics. It’s not a top ten or anything, just a start in roughly chronological order. In this recap, I made it up to 1994. Now that’s a few months ago, so to say, and I reckon I’ll do this “10 choice pics” thing more often.
1988, Kaluga – then Soviet Union, now Russia. As the East German schoolkid that I still was, I had sucked up the slogans about our “big brother”, the Soviet Union. “To learn from the Soviet Union is to win” (Von der Sowjetunion lernen heißt Siegen lernen). When I went there at the end of the eighties for a one-week school exchange trip, I saw actual poverty for the first time, and even the family I visited, who was not poor, lived way below the standards I was used to. I saw beggars for the first time of my life, in Moscow. And yet, there was the Perestroika going on, Michael Gorbachev’s reform movement. For us East German teenagers it was almost shocking to see, and as the relationships between the East German government under Honecker and Gorbachev started to sour, they were refreshing. The slogan in the picture calls upon on Kalugans to put all their strengths into the Perestroika, more Democracy and economical reforms.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m a married man! My partner Chimwemwe “Chimz” and I got married on Valentine’s Day this year. Four and a half years ago we first met at Lake of Stars in Malawi, stayed in touch, met up when I travelled Africa in 2017. After that, Chimz would come to join me in Jo’burg as often as was possible (here and here and here), and we’d travel quite a bit through Zim and Zam (here and here), and of course through her homeland Malawi, last in September 2019. Two trips to Germany later (here and here and here), we’d made it happen – against all odds. For us.
We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and now that we’re happily married it may seem strange to go back to all those obstacles that were raised by one authority or another, by all those snide remarks that were thrown at us, racist micro aggressions which people here in this country are still largely unaware of. Although some of my friends avoided the trouble of getting married here in Germany and went to Denmark where things are easier, I didn’t want that to become a wedding tourist. I find as a citizen of this country I can expect service delivery re what the laws entitle me to get. I didn’t want the local authorities to get away with making it sound difficult. I wanted to make them work for us!
Thirty years ago, I was one of those who for the first time in East German history were allowed to do Zivildienst, an alternative service instead of the compulsory military service. I received the letter around 15 March 1990, three days ahead of the national elections that were my first (I had turned 18 in January) – and due to to the victory of the CDU were known to be the last of an independent East Germany. Months later, in the night of 23 August 1990, the East German parliament decided to join the jurisdiction and political structure etc. of West Germany. They submitted (sic!) their decision to the West Germans after monetary union had already become effective by the end of June, and a decision for re-unification had been agreed on between the governments. At midnight 3 October 1990, East Germany a.k.a. GDR seized being an independent political unit, and until then we were her first and last Zivildientleistenden.
October and kingdoms rise And kingdoms fall But you go on And on. (U2 – October, 1982)
I have two beginnings for this blog post. I’m not sure I have a suitable ending.
Opening one: I’m just back from a discussion, with Naika Foroutan, about East-German migration analogies and prejudices against East-Germans, here at the local Literarisches Zentrum. “Here” means: Göttingen, West-Germany, for me, an East German by origin, my home of seven years now. Diaspora as well as home. “Here” also means: amongst an audience of, primarily, West-Germans. Naika Foroutan and host Robert Pausch are West Germans, too. They (“they”) speak about East Germans (“us”). Some of “us” are in the room. Their safeguard is the “objectivity” of the (social) sciences. “Objectivity” implies an object. An object implies a subject. Who’s who? I can feel I am one of the objects here, regardless whether I want to or not, and someone else assumes the role of the subject-agent. I observe.
Only one of the seeds of African Giant Calabash actually grew big enough so I could plant it in the garden. Now with a few of the fruit grown pleasantly big, it looks like I can go all industrial next year, producing truckloads of shekeres 😉
30 years ago today, the “Wende”, the peaceful revolution in East Germany, truly started. After the brutal crack down of police on protesters and bystanders alike in Magdeburg two days earlier, everyone knew that something would happen. October 9 was a Monday, and hence I was at school (EOS Humbodt) in the morning hours. Directors and staff leaders in pretty much every institution and company approached their staff or students or even children at kindergarten, threatening that if they went out into the streets tonight their (or their parents’!) safety could not be guaranteed.
30 years ago today, the German Democratic Republic was meant to celebrate her 40th anniversary. There was little to celebrate, though. Thousands had fled the country in previous months, and illegal demonstrations happened in every major town, notably on Mondays. This though was a Saturday afternoon, and Sandow were playing in Magdeburg, by the banks of the river Elbe. Heavy rains delayed the soundcheck, and in the meantime lots of police trucks had pulled up and the police surrounded. Men that were much too old for punk music in groups of two or three infiltrated the crowd.
August 1989, and we were the “last legion” to be trained in one of East Germany’s paramilitary camps – one of the things that had become part and parcel of growing up in East Germany. Now we were there for a last time, though we didn’t know that yet.