Volume 4 Number 5
The Help the Unified Germany Needs
01 May 1991
`Where do we go from here?' or, to be more exact: `Where do the Germans go from here?'
By PETER PETERSEN
History is made by dreams and hopes that grip the hearts and minds of millions of people. Victor Hugo's famous dictum, `There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come', was dramatically proved true in 1990 when German longings for a free, united country were realized.
Now the whole world is asking: `Where do we go from here?' or, to be more exact: `Where do the Germans go from here?'
I believe that we can predict with some certainty that the Germans are going to hold on to democracy. It is true that we did not invent democracy - in fact, it was given to us twice this century after we were beaten by our enemies in war. We believe, however, that in the past 40 years we have proved to ourselves and to the world that we are committed to a way of life based on the rule of law and the dignity of man.
In East Germany, the former DDR, something else has been proved - the total bankruptcy of the communist ideology. The extent of the problems there is only just emerging.
East Germans are fed up with those products they have been able to buy for the last 40 years. Now they only want Western products.
Near Berlin there is a huge farm producing flowers, a luxury in the old days. These flowers would no longer sell under their German brandname. But when the producer printed a Dutch name on the boxes - and doubled the price - the flowers sold out in hours.
East Germans used to wait 14 years to buy their dream car, the Wartburg. It became even more desirable a few years ago when Volkswagen from West Germany supplied the engine. Now people will buy a secondhand Ford or Opel in preference to a new Wartburg, which they could have tomorrow. The Wartburg factory will have to close, and many thousands will be made redundant.
Today it is much easier to call Bangkok from Bonn than it is to get a friend on the phone in Dresden or Greifswald. There are no reliable telephone links to or within eastern Germany. Roads and railways are in terrible shape - and everybody knows that up-to-date communications are indispensable to modern industry. This is one of the main reasons why we have not seen as much investment as might be expected in a country of such immense potential.
It will cost billions to build up a modern infrastructure in the East - and we West Germans are spending that now. We can build good roads and telephone lines. But there is another challenge which will be far harder to meet.
Last year I stayed in the home of a clergyman in what used to be East Germany. He had seven children and every morning we had breakfast together. Two of the daughters were twins and had just finished high school. One morning they told us about one of their teachers. Unlike the others who confined themselves to communist propaganda this woman always had time for the children. They could talk about everything with her. There was nobody they trusted so completely. Now it had emerged that this teacher was an informer for STASI, the communist political police. The girls were devastated, in tears: they would never trust anybody again.
We learned that the teacher was married to the manager of a sugar factory. Like every other manager who wanted to get machine parts for his factory or who needed to get repairs done, he privately sold sugar -`the people's property' - in order to bribe the people who could help him. Everybody did such things, and everybody knew about it.
One day STASI came and told the couple that unless the wife told them everything she could learn about her students and their homes the husband would be jailed for five years.
The more time I spend in East Germany the more such stories I hear. How can we heal the resulting hurts and bitterness in people's hearts? I am not sure that our churches have recognized what a tremendous task they have been given - for these wounds can only be healed through the central message of the church.
We Germans can build our own roads, but we need help in this greater task.
Peter Petersen was a Member of the German Federal Parliament for 25 years until December 1990.