Today is the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember it on the nightly news when I was a kid. Not well but guys standing on a big concrete wall with sledge hammers and a lot of people who were all happy and stuff. I think the impact of the Cold War (certainly best symbolized by the Wall itself) upon Germany is at least to those in my approximate generation completely under rated.
To me prior to coming here if you had to list things which were significant and involved Germany you would mention the World Wars, and Beer and maybe David Hasselhoff. Specifically I tended to focus in on WWII and The whole attempted takover of the world and genocide bit. I think elements of those things are significant but less so than the Cold War.
I say this because the effects of the Cold War were more significant and longer lasting. Yeah Germany tried to get a bigger piece of the colonial pie which Britain, France and to a far lesser degree Spain had pretty much divided amongst themselves. They pretty much took over Europe for awhile and killed a whole bunch of Jews, Gypsies and other folks. However not that long after the war their situation in relation to the war wasn't that different from that of their neighbors on both sides. A whole generation of young men were pretty much gone, lots of innocent people were dead and the national infrastructure was wrecked. The story of a German woman was probably not that different from that of a Belgian woman or a French woman. Times were hard, her sons went off and some or all of them died, for times food and fuel was limited and things generally sucked. At some point there was some bombing or shelling in the area and at some point strange young men in weird uniforms occupied the area and may or may not have done some bad stuff.
The one thing which makes Germany's national experience vis a vi WWII different is a broad sense of national shame. They let a real asshat gain power and then their country tried to take over Europe and killed a whole shit ton of people. The jewel in their crown of guilt is the holocaust. However the way this is expressed is in a sense of real reluctance at wide military action which for different reasons (mainly the shell shock of loosing a huge part of two whole generations of young men) pretty much all of Europe has.
Attempting to disconnect WWII and the Cold War into discrete events is something of a tenuous operation but not entirely undoable if some imagination is used. The war on the Eastern Front (Russia vs Germany) could well have gone differently (more that it could have gone slower for the Ruskies not so much the end result) or the Allies could have moved a little faster and Germany would have been left to recover and rebuild from the war with out a bunch of commies waiting to storm through the Fulda Gap. Interesting what if's aside the two issues can be somewhat seperated.
A good comparison for how Germany rebuilt after the war would be Japan.
It is almost impossible to imagine a country being suddenly cut in half with almost no travel (at least for average folks) in between. The image is particularly stark when you consider Berlin being cut into pieces. Your Mom lives across town, too bad maybe you can see her in a few decades.
To make the contrast between West and East Germany all the more distinct one side got massive aid to rebuild and the other got systematically stripped of anything useful and was run down. The West generally was a decent place to live and the East was not so nice by really any measurable criteria I can think of.
While Germany could have recovered from the war within the time it takes to age a good Burbon the Cold War lasted about 45 years depending on which events you count or where you were. I would submit that Germany is still feeling the after effects of reunification. The East has far higher unemployment and hasn't generally caught up to the developed and productive Western part of the country.
This quote really sums it up best " It was expected that stronger growth would begin reducing the numbers of unemployed by 1995 and that Germany would return to its postwar path toward prosperity. But the absorption of eastern Germany, and the methods by which it had been accomplished, had exacted a high price throughout all of Germany." I would submit that this price is still being felt.
In any case the damn commies (not to be confused with our kind though slightly stern Social Democrat allies:) lost which is always a good thing.
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