Holger Teschke on the Unification of Germany

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 - 12:00pm

Questioning Authority recently asked Holger Teschke, visiting professor of German studies and critical social thought, about the twentieth anniversary of the unification of Germany. Teschke grew up in East Germany and gave a talk on November 10 entitled "Landscapes of Remembrance and Oblivion: Reflections of United Germany 20 Years After."

QA: What did you do when the Wall came down 20 years ago? What memories do you have? Did you celebrate?

HT: I was at a writer's meeting, where we discussed how to reform the East German PEN Club. It was a heated debate and went on long after midnight. When I came home, I found a note in the kitchen table: "We are in West Berlin. Please come and join us."

I switched the TV on and saw people dancing on the Wall. Half an hour later, my wife and ten-year-old son came back. He said: " Dad, you really missed something. But don't worry, I’ll take you there tomorrow after school." Which he did, and we went to see the Brandenburg Gate from the other side.

QA: You grew up in East Germany. What was it like when the Wall came down? Did your life change in any immediate way?

HT: My life changed soon in many ways. First and foremost, I could travel to readings and theatre projects I was invited to in the West and the U.S. without long bureaucratic procedures. And my world changed: no more censorship in publishing and directing. All the books in the world in the bookstores, all the movies in the cinemas, all the news of the world in the papers, on radio and TV, were no longer censored. Which meant that literature and theatre all of a sudden were no longer the only place where people could voice their critique and opposition. A lot of people thought that this change belittled the status of the arts, but I was rather relieved. One could focus again on the actual tasks of our profession--whatever one thought these might be.

QA: Now that 20 years have passed, is the reintegration complete or are there still vestiges of the split?

HT: In my opinion, the reintegration of East Germany is not complete. It needs one more generation. The global financial crisis has widened the gap between the East and the West yet again, but there are also still the old mental walls in the East and in the West. They are harder to knock down than concrete walls and need much more time and patience.

QA: Are you happy with the festivities taking place in Berlin today? Do you think it's too much, or not enough?

HT: From a theatrical standpoint, the festivities are political kitsch and mere distractions to the real problems in East and West Germany. But the Germans love anniversaries; so be it. A great theme would have been the combination of the twentiethh anniversary of the opening of the Wall and the fortieth anniversary of Sesame Street, since the characters of this show created a longing for a funnier, more colorful and open society in generations of East German children, too. I am sure that they would have put on a better show at the Brandenburg Gate; they all deserve the highest German decoration.

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