As the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s demise nears, a UBC expert examines its legacy
November 9, 2014, marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – an imposing barrier that divided Berlin and Germany for decades, and served as a potent symbol of the Cold War.
Kyle Frackman, an assistant professor in UBC’s Dept. of Central, Eastern and Northern European Studies, discusses the impacts and implications of this historic event.
The fall of the Berlin Wall happened a quarter of a century ago. What’s the biggest legacy of this monumental occasion?
The legacy for Germans is having their country split in two for almost 30 years. There’s a German expression about the Mauer im Kopf – “the Wall in the head” – that people still have.
Some say that Germans have moved beyond the division of west and east. But the stereotypes still exist. And many demographic figures also persist – for example, unemployment is still a greater problem in the east than in the west. There are also more problems with lower incomes and deficient infrastructure in the east.
What are some of the dominant stereotypes?
There are two terms – the easterners are typically called Ossis, and the westerners are called Wessis.
The easterners are often stereotypically considered to be stoic, stern people, who have a difficult time living in a communist or socialist country – and that’s imprinted itself on how they interact with life.
The westerners are often seen as stereotypically capitalist, kind of consumerist, more open, warmer.
One of the legacies of the unification of Germany is that many easterners felt bulldozed in the process of unification. A lot of the narratives about unification were determined by people in the west. So the stereotypes often put the westerners in a more positive light.
The fall of the Berlin Wall was a key event leading to end of the Cold war. Twenty-five years later, there’s talk of a renewed Cold War. What’s your take on this dynamic?
For Europe, the fall of the Wall represented a political shift – it signalled the end of the Cold War, a time when Germany was ground zero for the conflict. Once East Germans started flooding into West Berlin and the Wall was down, a unified Germany began to take on an even bigger role within what became the European Union.
People have been wondering whether Germany was affected by its role and legacy in the first Cold War. With Russia’s continued moves making its neighbours nervous, I think Germany is starting to perceive the frustration of other Western governments. It seems like German Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to be a bit more stern. She had been seen as kind of a mediator between Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the European Union and the United States.
But I think she has increasingly been trying to communicate the displeasure of Europe to Russia. I hope more tension can be avoided – Germans are still concerned about the prospect of sending financial support to Ukraine.