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East Germany, long gone from the map, now gone from identity

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  September 3, 2013 03:04 PM

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The war in Syria is another reminder of how intractable sectarian divides can be. In that light, it's interesting to read about a form of national identity that has proven to be far less durable: the idea of being an "East German." As an article last week in Der Spiegel discussed, 23 years after reunification, the East-West divide has little remaining salience in German political and cultural life.

After the Berlin Wall fell, Der Spiegel reports, there was an expectation that the "eastern Germany" identity would last for generations. There were also practical differences to smooth over between the reunited countries, mostly involving the different political and economic structures East and West Germany had lived with for the forty plus years of the Iron Curtain. But now, many of the highest profile reunification initiatives have become obsolete. The article reports that the "solidarity tax," which was meant to help East Germany catch up economically, no longer has a purpose, while the Office of the Federal Commissioner for the Files of the State Security Service of the Former GDR- which screens prospective public employees for past connections to the Stasi- is on its way to being shuttered.

In short, knowing someone is an eastern or western German no longer tells you very much about their place in Germany society. The achievement is particularly notable when you compare it to our country (though the two situations are, obviously, far from fully analogous): Nearly 150 years after the end of The Civil War, the north-south divide remains one of the biggest fault lines in American life.

H/T The Browser.

Image of the Berlin Wall by Thierry Noir via Wikimedia Commons.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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