Berlin Wall/German reunification: Still believe in the myth of the “freedom-loving” capitalist west?

A short history of the Berlin Wall. The very fitting song is “Wind of Change”, by the Scorpions–a German band. Who the hell needs those fucking U2 poseurs and their new, CAPITALIST wall of shame?

Sometimes, it pays to be on the Internets bright and early of a Saturday. Look what just landed in my mailbox, from the National Security Archive in Washington:

Washington, DC, November 7, 2009 – The fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago generated major anxiety in capitals from Warsaw to Washington, to the point of outright opposition to the possibility of German unification, according to documents from Soviet, American and European secret files posted on the Web today by the National Security Archive.

Solidarity hero Lech Walesa told West German chancellor Helmut Kohl on the very day the Wall would fall that “events in the GDR [East Germany] are developing too quickly” and “at the wrong time,” that the Wall could fall in a week or two (it would be a matter of hours) and then Kohl and the West would shift all their attention and aid to the GDR, leaving poor Poland “in the background.” And indeed, Kohl cut short his visit to Warsaw and flew back to Germany as soon as the news arrived of the breach of the Wall.

British prime minister Margaret Thatcher earlier had told Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev that “Britain and Western Europe are not interested in the unification of Germany. The words written in the NATO communique may sound different, but disregard them.” Top Gorbachev aide Anatoly Chernyaev concluded that Thatcher wanted to prevent unification “with our hands” and not her own.

Gee, what a surprise. All these “freedom-lovers”, from Lech Walesa to dear old Maggie, were really opposed to reunification, because it interfered with their own glorification. Color me so shocked!

Well, not quite. Being German myself, I know full well that the German people–MY people–always wanted reunification, ALWAYS opposed the building of the Wall, and that on both sides of the divide, they were chomping at the bit to get the damn thing down again. The wall was the work of politicians, not the people. The people, regardless of ideology, did not EVER want it. It literally pulled families and friends apart; it was not merely political, but deeply personal for an untold number of Germans. It was a trauma that stayed with many of them for decades, and even now, the psychic wounds it left still run deep. There is even a saying that describes that trauma, in German: Die Mauer im Kopf–the wall in the head.

This confirms what I’ve always felt in my gut to be true–that when reunification happened, as it inevitably would, it would not be the work of any leader, communist or capitalist–it would be the doing of the German people. (Duh–who do you think was chipping at that wall the entire time?)

On a related note, I was watching a documentary last night on Vision TV about a group of Germans–let’s not draw any artificial lines between West and East, because THEY didn’t–who undermined the whole thing by laboriously hand-digging a tunnel from West Berlin into the East Zone, less than a year after the Wall went up. It started out as the work of a handful of people, then grew to more than forty diggers as word of mouth spread clandestinely through West Berlin that a tunnel was being dug. Many of the newcomers did not know the original diggers personally; they had simply heard a rumor and had to find out, first, if it were true; then, what they could do to help the project, and finally, get their families across too. The project was the subject of an NBC documentary that later won several awards; the crew was able to film the tunnel construction in progress, thanks to some wheeling and dealing and a $50,000 cheque. (Incidentally, the West Berlin CIA station soon learned of the project, too–but did nothing to help it in any way, although they surely must have had some construction experts on hand somewhere. All they did was spy, spook and sit on what they knew. Yeah, talk to me some more about how THEY were defending freedom from the big red menace of communism…)

One of the stories really caught at my heartstrings. A man from the east had managed to duck through the wires of the fence that preceded the wall, but his pregnant wife and small daughter had to stay behind, because the soldiers patrolling the fence had just shot another runner dead. This man was one of those who later joined in the digging; he actually dared to face arrest for trespassing when he found the place where the tunnel began and nosed around trying to see if it was real. The diggers feared the worst; they thought he was a spy. But when it became clear that he only wanted to reunite with his family, the West Berlin police let him go, and the diggers, after a long argument, were persuaded to let him help with the tunneling. In the meantime, his wife gave birth; their son was four months old before they were finally able to crawl through that filthy, waterlogged tunnel to the west with a group of others. The NBC cameras caught one muddy, matted-haired figure after another, emerging from the dark and climbing the ladder to safety and hugging their loved ones. The women’s clothes and high-heeled shoes were ruined; their stockings were shredded at the knees. The babies were crying.

What this story made clear to me was that the wall, right from the start, was a terrible mistake–and that a small but determined group of people were able to undermine it even before it was fully built. For many months they sacrificed time, energy, money and so much more to build their tunnel, reconnecting what a wall had divided.

Another thing that I realized–but only now, as I sat here writing this–was how nobody in the documentary talked about which was better, communism or capitalism. Stands to reason–none of them cared! All they wanted was to be together with their families, to live and work in peace, without political police of any stripe breathing down their necks. Freedom, for them, was independent of theoretical ideologies; what mattered was that they were the masters of their own lives. One could truly say that these were the first Germans to punch a hole in the wall, more than 25 years before it finally fell.

This is why it’s so instructive to unpick the hypocrisy of the “pro-freedom” leaders who claimed credit, quite undeservedly, for the fall of the Wall. If the Western leaders had wanted to, they could have demolished that wall, sabotaged its building, dynamited it repeatedly. They did nothing! And for a very good reason: The Wall was worth more to Reagan, Thatcher, Walesa, etc. when it stood than when it fell. They didn’t stay away from it because demolishing it would have unleashed World War III; that’s just a convenient excuse. It would have done no such thing. No, the Wall gave them something to point to, something that would silence their own critics–especially those of the repressive Reagan and Thatcher administrations. It was something that they could point to and say, “Don’t call US oppressive–THOSE people are worse!” In its way, the Wall served the capitalists; it granted them bragging rights. It also gave them a convenient smokescreen on which to project their false visions of freedom.

But with the Wall gone, so too was capitalism’s last bulwark, although nobody seems to have thought of that at the time. We were being carefully (and falsely) instructed to see it as capitalism’s hour of triumph. While the media hype focused on how the poor oppressed East Germans could finally buy whatever co
nsumer goods they wanted, the uncomfortable truth has emerged only slowly over the years that they lacked the means–that capitalism costs too much. The physical wall is gone, but there is still an economic wall around the east-zone of Germany; the place is economically retarded. And no, communism can’t take all the blame for this one. If capitalists really cared, if they were as industrious and hard-working as they claim to be, and if their ideology was worth all the trees killed to print it, the deficit could have been made good within a decade. That hasn’t happened. The trickle-down economics so touted by Reagan/Bush and Thatcher have failed to bring about the “rising tide that lifts all boats”. The little boats of Eastern Europe still sit, slowly rotting, on mud that will not float them anywhere.

And yes, die Mauer is still very much im Kopf.

So the next time you hear some wingnut blatting on about how Ronald Reagan was a saint, how he brought down the wall, just keep this in mind. The real freedom-seekers of Berlin weren’t out in front of the wall with megaphones; they were digging quietly underneath it, sometimes with their own bare hands. They served no ideology, because no ideology served them. They did not wait for capitalism to save them. They put in the sweat equity all on their own, with no expectation of any gain except a little freedom and unity. (A quarter-century later, again, it was ordinary Germans who did the hard work in bringing the Wall down.) The media, the CIA, the western governments, all merely stood by and watched–and, hypocritically, applauded. Later, they turned this humble independent effort into self-serving propaganda. They basically left the refugees to risk their lives and muddle through–literally–on their own.

A fine lot of freedom-defenders they turned out to be!

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This entry was posted in Confessions of a Bad German, Do As I Say..., Isn't It Ironic?, Karma 1, Dogma 0, Socialism is Good for Capitalism!, Teh Russkies, The "Well, DUH!" Files, Who Forgot Poland?. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Berlin Wall/German reunification: Still believe in the myth of the “freedom-loving” capitalist west?

  1. Polaris says:

    Escape tunnels tend to be just big enough for a human body to barely get through. While the work is in progress there is usually not enough room for diggers to turn around so they must crawl out backwards. Precautions must be taken to be sure you are digging in a reasonably straight line and it can be a challenge to accurately calculate forward progress.
    The heavy dirt or mud has to be hauled out and disposed without being noticed. Tunnel collapse is common often because of rain even when there is shoring up and near death suffocation rescue is frequent. It really means such tunnels are dug multiple times.
    Diggers must cope with poor light, insects and other critters, ventillation and temperature difficulties, and inadequate drainage while digging in an agonizing prone position, with inefficient and improvised tools.

  2. Yep.
    And add to this the fact that the water table under Berlin was not far below the surface–maybe a metre, no more–it meant that the tunnel had to be dug quite shallowly, too. The diggers said they could feel the rumble of the streetcars just a foot or two overhead as they worked. It was very claustrophobic work. And in the end, the tunnel was only usable for a very short time–it soon filled with water. Meaning, all this work was only good for a couple dozen escapes at most. And those few had a hard time getting through–the one woman I mentioned could not make it while pregnant, so she had to wait until her son was four months old before making the trip! It took such a long time to do, and was so dangerous on so many levels. There really is no amount of money that could compensate that kind of work. Fortunately, they didn’t expect any. The only thing on their minds was the big reunion.

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