Germany and the legacy of 1989

This week, Germany celebrates the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event which led to the country’s reunification and helped usher in democracy across Eastern Europe.

Despite the lack of a literal wall today, eastern and western Germany remain in many ways divided: the East still faces significant economic, societal and infrastructural challenges, and eastern Germans remain underrepresented at the highest levels of politics, media and business. But what’s more, and most relevant to my current research, is the political divide: The populist far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is demonstrably stronger in the East than in the West.

After my month in Görlitz this summer, I’ve spent the better part of this fall focusing further on the AfD’s appeal in eastern Germany. In its campaign across three eastern German state elections this fall, the party explicitly pitched itself as the party best equipped to take up the legacy of 1989—to bring about a Vollende der Wende, or “complete the revolution.” Traveling to Gera, an AfD stronghold in the state of Thuringia, I watched these strategies in action from far-right leader Björn Höcke. I wrote about it here, for the Institute of Current World Affairs.

And throughout October, I interviewed young Germans born in 1989—some from eastern Germany, some from the West—to understand the extent to which differences in upbringing, family experience and identity remain today. Like me, these Germans turned 30 this year; they’re the same age as post-Berlin Wall Germany.

Throughout my conversations for this piece, I sought to understand to what extent eastern Germans, and their children and grandchildren, have fully worked through their experiences. How long does it take for such a process to take place? Though young people from both parts of Germany feel increasingly European, they notice that invisible divides do still remain. That piece, also for ICWA, is available here.

(I also worked on my first-ever audio feature on this topic, which you can listen to here; it’s the second part of the latest episode of The Cable podcast).

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, lit up at night for a recent event