`Dictator Damage' in East Germany

Article excerpt

IT is a question only a German would think to ask. "Our bank accounts are stronger," said a young East German waiting in line to withdraw his country's new hard currency, "but what about our souls?" Similar doubts grip many East Germans as they take their first steps toward a free market economy. But the breakneck pace of unification with the West leaves them little time to reflect upon an answer.

The race toward union this December threatens to obscure philosophical cleavages between and within the two Germanys. Details of monetary conversion and property ownership leave little time for debate about social problems that could haunt the newly unified nation.

Rifts are especially apparent in East Germany - a people that thought it was one is discovering major differences. The rush toward union has driven a wedge between the artists, writers, scientists, and church people who led last November's revolution and the "Volk" in whose name they acted. After brief unity, resentment and mistrust are palpable on both sides.

Author Walther Petri spoke in nearly mystical terms of the mass rally last Nov. 4 in East Berlin, when intellectuals and workers experienced "the bliss of feeling at one." But his voice grew hard when he recounted bitter experiences since then, culminating in "the realization that it's not permissible to criticize the people."

Many who played a role in the revolution betray a sense of resignation. Conductor Kurt Masur was asked whether he thought about remaining in politics after his success as peacemaker in Leipzig last October. "No," he said with a shrug, "when our parties were so neatly devoured by their big brothers in the West, at that moment we had nothing more to say."

A small group of revolutionaries remains active as members of the opposition in East Germany's parliament. Their Alliance '90 coalition won just 3 percent of the vote in national elections in March and made only a slightly better local showing in May. At Alliance '90s headquarters in the building that once housed the Communist Party Central Committee, Tatjana Bohm sighed when she contemplated the changes since last fall. "The solidarity we felt then is already disappearing. Now it's a Wild West atmosphere: Every man for himself."

The mood was summed up by a mock street sign that West German author Gunter Grass spotted in front of the Nicolai Church in Leipzig, birthplace of East Germany's bloodless uprising. "Square of the Deceived" it proclaimed, with a gentle reminder from the "Children of October" that they are still around.

If the erstwhile revolutionaries are disillusioned with the general public, the reverse is also true. Smeared in red paint across the door of a new art gallery in a rundown East Berlin town house, the slogan "Reds get out" testifies to the anger directed at the intellectual elite. Neo-Nazis have desecrated the graves of playwright Bertolt Brecht and his wife, symbols of that elite.

Artists and writers were a privileged caste in communist East Germany, with access to hard currency, foreign travel, better cars and houses. In the months since the revolution, East Germans report increasingly frequent manifestations of "culture-hate," resentment against a group disdained as having collaborated with the old regime. Intellectuals have become scapegoats for pent-up anger.

Frustration, insecurity, and mistrust are aftereffects of what some Germans have begun to call "dictatorship damage. …