Here is what I learned on my 25-year-journey from East to West

I watched this documentary about 25 East German families 25 years after the Berlin wall came down, focusing on who they have become today and who they continue to be after a long journey into a new country.

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Being a child of the East myself I found it very moving and I now feel I have always been watching my past from a distance without fully appreciating my roots nor understanding my identity. I wonder how others cope with that? Sometimes I feel like having lost the home country of my childhood; it doesn’t exist as such anymore. My journey continues, questioning where is home now…

I remember my parents watching the fall of the Berlin Wall on the news over and over again, without me really understanding what it meant. It was 1989, I was nine years old and I was probably not the only one with a big question mark written all over their face that night. People were deeply moved to tears of happiness.

Later came insecurity; nobody knew if they could keep their job and their house. Instability put a lot of pressure onto families (I’d like to think worse than when the global financial crisis hit in 2008). It was followed by years of people pushing the past aside trying to change everything ASAP, from politics, cars, food, clothing, school systems, monuments, etc… Just about everything. Nobody wanted to remember the past as if wanting to wipe it out completely. Nostalgia came much later.

Then I spent 10 years abroad moving between countries before I finally spent about 3 years on the other side of the wall, in Southern Germany which certainly didn’t feel like home. After 25 years I still see huge differences in mentality, values, even the salaries between East and West.

Here is what I learned on my 25-year-journey from East to West and what resonated most with me watching the 25 life stories of East Germans in the documentary :

  • We can change our life, we have an impact. We have learned to be flexible – which is a great skill in life.

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  • Nothing is taken for granted, nothing is changeless or durable. Everything can break away over night. But that also makes life more interesting.
  • We have to stand our ground and should be self confident East Germans. Unfortunately prejudices still exist and subconsciously we often hide our roots and native dialects to avoid being treated like 2nd class Germans.
    I once saw a German documentary about Turkish people living in Germany where a young Turkish guy made a comment which shocked me and has stuck with me since: “Turkish people were always seen as second class people in Germany. When the wall came down East Germans took on that role and the Turkish moved down to 3rd place.” Unfortunately there is more truth to that comment than we’d all wish.
  • When living abroad I often have to justify that it wasn’t that bad growing up in the East. I didn’t feel poor and I had enough to eat! Actually, most people grew their own fruit and veg which was probably way healthier than today. Everyone being in the same boat also created a great community sense.
  • I understand the “Ossi-Code” (Ossi is short for an East German) when you meet Eastern Germans abroad. Mostly there instantly is a connection with people born in 1980 and earlier. Younger generations tend not to remember much of Eastern times.
  • Two world wars, the 30’s depression, Russian invasion, Stasi, Cold War and the relatively quick change back to capitalism after the Berlin Wall came down are a lot to cope with during the span of a lifetime. It certainly is a lot to digest mentally and financially and deserves great appreciation.

Enough for now. Human life has seen a great number of long journeys, both culturally and geographically – Rosetta and Philae have already taken over the news channels with another spectacular 10-year journey.

You can watch the documentary here – German language only.

iTravel4life

I have been a traveller and expat for over 15 years. So far my nomad lifestyle has allowed me to live and work in seven countries including the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Australia. Moving country, studying abroad and a passion for travel has been part of most of my adult life.

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