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Thursday, August 13, 2020

Not a republic, just a zone

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My father, born in March 1920, was 12 years old when Adolf Hitler came to power on January 30th, 1933. He later admitted that to a certain extent he had been indoctrinated, but his monarchist parents were not very fond of the National Socialists, which they considered parvenus.

They made sure that he received a solid classical education, both on their little farm and at school in nearby Berlin, without planting any religious ideas in his head. Before age finally took its toll around the turn of the 21st century, he could be called a very rational person.

For his generation, he was also very mobile: maybe not a true man of the world, but at least of Europe, which he travelled extensively, even during the Cold War. He had learned good French while still a boy, which he used extensively in German-occupied Paris and Lyon. When he was over 30 years old, he also achieved proficiency in English and Spanish.

On the other hand, that didn’t mean that he wasn’t a pragmatic patriot and ever accepted the division of what was left of Germany after World War II. Although my mother was born in West Prussia, I guess that he knew that the stolen East German provinces were lost forever. He kept them somehow alive through his stories and often funny expressions, which are becoming obsolete as the memory of a much bigger Germany fades into history.

He very rarely used the absolutely hypocritical name German Democratic Republic (GDR) for a totalitarian state he never took seriously and that had caused much harm to our family. He just called it “Zone”, a rather pejorative term derived from the word “Besatzungszone” meaning (Allied) “occupation zone”. Well, the Federal Republic of (West) Germany was also occupied land, but that’s a different story.

For myself, I adopted the word “Zonis” for post-war East Germans, to which due to my background I always felt much closer than to my supposed West German countrymen, and I rejected the idiotic “citizen of the GDR” (“DDR-Bürger”), invented by the Communists once they had decided that they weren’t Germans anymore.

For my father however, they was no difference-they all belonged together! He never liked the clear differentiation between East and West, between “Ossis” and “Wessis”. To me, the difference was and is very obvious, and can be observed in a very divergent voting behavior. Considering that as a teenager he had been under the influence of an ideology that emphasized solidarity even with ethic Germans outside the borders, that’s natural and understandable.

As he slowly became detached from reality, he wasn’t able to realize how much 45 years of partition had affected the people’s character on both sides of the Berlin Wall, which had actually divided a nation, not just a city. I’m glad for him that he lived to see how at the end it came down very fast and the hated GDR suddenly almost felt like a bad dream that was over at last.

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