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Steve Craton ARCH 4214-001 08.03.

11 Book Review

After The Wall: East Meets West in the New Berlin by John Borneman Copyright 1991 by BasicBooks A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Subject: Berlin (Germany) History. ISBN 0-465-00084-3

In the Preface to After The Wall: East Meets West in the New Berlin, John Borneman explains his reason for writing: After the Wall grew out of my concern that the rush for German reunification and the euphoria in the West over the opening of the Wall, reported ad nauseum in the Western presses, would lead to a particular kind of political amnesia about the causes and consequences of the Cold War I have tried to capture experiences downplayed or overlooked altogether in the West, to examine not only the vanishing socialist but also the nature of the Western, capitalist democracy that is to be the society of the future Germany. Theme: The breakdown of a communist regime and its assimilation into an existing capitalist system as seen through the eyes of former subjects of the communist regime. Thesis: A newly reformed and democratically elected socialist system of government was not allowed to grow into proper fruition due to the enticements of the neighboring capitalistic system (West Germany). The author - an anthropologist teaching at Harvard at the time of the book s creation - attempts to prove his thesis by means of autobiographies gathered between fall 1986 and may 1990 while conducting anthropological fieldwork in the two Berlins [East and West prior to the Reunification of Germany], either recorded directly on tape or reconstructed immediately after the conversation. Utilizing these interviews, the author describes East Germany while under

communist rule and directly following the opening of the borders between East and West. To that end and within that context, he focuses upon the following subject matter: 1. East German Integration: a. value of currency in the West versus the value of East German currency. b. availability of consumer goods in the West versus the East 2. Personal Socialism a. individual idealism and the hope for a utopian society b. the romantic nostalgia of the communist regime following Reunification 3. Equal Rights for Women 4. Fear 5. Becoming Capitalist

East German Integration: The author cites the role of Begrussungsgeld, or greeting money, as a sort of lure for the acceptance of capitalism in favor of a reformed Socialist government. Quoting one of his interviews: That s where the greeting money comes in, added Marina. It plays such an important role in people s fantasies. Our Jonah came up to us right after the Wall opened and said, All the other children already went to the West. Why can t we go? I said to him, Because we don t have any West German marks. That s okay, he replied. There s Begrussungsgeld in the West. A married couple with children can each pick up a thousand deutschmarks, if they go to the [West German] bank separately. Then if they use two separate identity cards, they can double that amount. If they only do it once, they can exchange that for 20,000 Eastmarks, which is more money in one day than they can earn in a year. That s tremendously unsettling. The vast difference in value between the West German deutschmark and East German Eastmark is noticed by the East German and contributes to feelings of low self-esteem. The integration of East Germans manifested as well according to the author in the form of an overwhelming exposure to consumer goods some that were needed and most that were not needed. Writes the author:

Socialism unwittingly played into capitalism s hands in creating a virgin consuming class. The two systems meshed with paradoxical perfection. Personal Socialism: The author cites comments by the interviewees as evidence of idealism as being a reason for the formation of communist East Germany. The 1950 s are described as a time of disparate social groups (educated, non-educated) gathering together in the Kneipe, or neighborhood bar. A utopian classless society is described as the goal of these idealists and the fall of the regime is looked upon as a failure on the part of the people. To quote one of the author s subjects: You know, you fight your whole life for some principle- I say this while fully acknowledging all the horrible done under the name socialism- and now, when it finally seems as if you have a chance of setting forth this principle, of finally beginning, they all want to throw it away. The preceding falls in line with other partisan rhetoric throughout the book by specific interview subjects who seem to only be able to remember the communist regime with romantic nostalgia. Equal Rights For Women: The Occupation Armies (of the Soviets, one presumes this is not made entirely clear by the author or his interview subject) mandate equal rights for women in 1946. This allows women to learn trades and practice vocations previously occupied exclusively by men. One of the author s interview subjects is a woman (previously educated in law prior to the Nazi takeover) who became a sort of circuit judge after training. She regarded this as an opportunity to adjudicate at the very heart of the new socialist system . Fear: The author does at least acknowledge the role of fear as tool by the government to control the governed citing as well that the internal slogan of the state security We are everywhere was one of the few statements of the

duplicitous East German state that could be taken at face value . Unfortunately and erroneously, in my opinion he states that the release from fear prompted by the dissolution of the state security organization Stasi resulted in that fear

turning to guilt prior to manifesting as a desire for revenge. I could find no indication in the text as to exactly why guilt would follow a release from fear and precede the need for the downtrodden to seek revenge against their former oppressors. Becoming Capitalist: Armin, a 50-year-old drunk who refuses to work or bathe, transitions effortlessly to clothes salesman for a once imprisoned (by the communist regime) man in the West. Meanwhile, the author seems to contend that the hard-working intellectuals of East Berlin are having difficulties with a likewise transition within a capitalist society. Writes the author: This once and future clothes salesman [Armin] made the transition from one infantilizing system to another with almost seamless ease. His long retreat from the demands of a death-obsessed adulthood [his mother attempted to drown him so as to spare him from Soviet troops at the end of WWII] prepared him admirably for a place in our postmodern society, where change is the only constant and evasion I the one fixed rule. His long fight to forget armored him for a world of amnesia. Socialism readied him to obey one of the fundamental commands of a capitalist society addicted to distractions: you shall become as little children You must be born again, the world told Arnim. And he was. Thus does the author equate success within a capitalist system with nonproduction within a communist system. It would not be a stretch to suggest that the author thus equates capitalism with anti-intellectualism. Conclusion: Unfortunately, the author s attempted thesis is vastly overshadowed by his rhetoric. This book is not written by an objective academic but is instead a condemnation of capitalism in the guise of an anthropological study. The study s participants are East Germans who never left and thus represent only one side of the issue. The book (and author) could have remained objective had he included the history and viewpoints of former East Germans who had fled the country out of fear for their lives or been forcefully exiled. The thesis remains unproven as well. The East Germans adopted communism because their territory was occupied by the Soviets with the destruction of the Nazis. Though attempts by the regime were made through

education to link their brand of Stalinistic communism to the leftists of the prewar period in the minds of their subjects, this simply was not the case. The East German regime was Soviet in character and not German and the West Germans seemed to be quite aware of that fact. The author doesn t discuss the pullback of the Soviets from their prior proclaimed ownership of the territory as a major reason for the dissolution of the East German regime and its state security apparatus; instead we are led to believe that people marching through the streets demanding accountability was the sole reason that the regime became compliant and that this was the practice of socialism at its best. The author s all-or-nothing approach to socialism does that particular brand of political theory a huge disservice. Those of us who wish to defend the philosophy as one (of the many) bases for proper governmental policy that can and should be utilized along with regulated capitalism - would find no help from the pages of this book in his or her arguments.