Country profile – Germany

How is the period of transition framed in your country? What allows us to label a generation the “Transition Generation” as such?

What are uniting experiences and phenomena?

In the German case the most emotional event of course was the fall of the Berlin Wall on the 9th of November in 1989. These pictures are deeply written in the historical memory of the whole nation. But on both sides of the wall, the associations and pictures have a different effect.

What is distinct for each country – why?

Germany as such feels like the trigger of change and transition of this time, nevertheless there have been a lot of historical key points and preconditions located in different spheres and countries, for instance the politics of Perestroika and Glasnost after the empowerment of Gorbatschow in Russia.

What is the effect on civil society today?

In general it can be resumed there is a differentiated civil society in Germany for all reasons of political, social and cultural issues, more or less well organised – caused by a long tradition in western Germany since the end of the second world war.

What marks the beginning and the end of the transition? When was the moment “when history stopped”?

The most pictured point was the fall down of the Berlin wall, but as well the summer of 1989 with mass escapes/ getaways of citizens of the GDR by entering the embassies of western Germany in Hungary and Czech Republic have been clearly the signs of change in both German countries, some more in the GDR.

Who / what groups drove transition? What happened to these people during transition?

Drivers of the transition have been the so called “Bürgerrechtler” or dissidents in the former GDR, but after unification they took a back seat in the political process.

What was the role of civil society?

The eastern civil society with their experiences and contacts took over the public life in the East and formed a democratically organised but “East-West-hierarchical” system of civil engagement. In the eastern part of the country the people got more and more silent after the mass demonstrations. A huge deindustrialisation and unemployment wave took place in East Germany and so many people moved to the western part for work and education. In the early 90s East Germany got to know as a neo-Nazi-area by attacking foreigners.

Is there something like a common narrative on the time of transition and before? Is that narrative contested? How and by whom?

There are two common narratives, an eastern and a western one. In the East the people felt more or less as citizens of second class, the western Germans felt like paying a high monetary price for unification. These are long lasting cut and dried opinions and mind driving pictures. With the films “Good by Lenin” and “Sonnenallee” there is a parallel nostalgic narrative about the socialist time, where especially for the older generation their work and social security were safe. But because of feeling ashamed by being the people who moved the socialist system to change into a democratic and than losing their jobs and being the poor and naive eastern people there is not much talking about the time from the late 80s to the middle of the 90s within the families. Therefore the initiative 3th Generation East Germany and the association Perspektive 3 e.V. had such a great success in the public and media. There is still a need for talking and reflection about the experiences in East and West. With the fall of the Berlin wall not only the GDR ended but also the border between the to blocks of East and West changed. So many things in the social system of West Germany changed as well. There was no need anymore to show a proper social and welfare system “against” the East. The neo-liberalisation started with the fall of the Berlin wall. This has to be discussed in a wider focus of economic and social transition in Europa and the world.

What values shaped the transitions period and was there a conflict between the different sets of values and worldviews?

There has been a dream of finding a third way of social life and economies between capitalism and socialism, a hope for more equity and fairness in the society as such. And there have been neoliberal optimists who saw a chance to liberate the whole economic sphere, finding new markets, consumers, options, profits and chances for wealth and welfare in a globalized world.

What are the typical representatives of the generation of transition in your country and what are their characteristics?

The Third Generation of East Germany is described as those who were born between 1975 and 1985 in East Germany. It involves about 2.4 million young people who can be considered as a generation due to their cohort membership and by a similarly stored imprint of the experience of 1989 and the subsequent upheaval. They were socialist within two systems the socials and the capitalist and migrated in large numbers from their regions of origin.

Those who are born in the West of Germany faced a more globalized and less social capitalistic society as in the 1980s, but they have not suffered such a deep change of all circumstances of life like the East Germans of this and every generation. Some are still rarely interested in any East-German case and never travelled there in their life.

How is the period of transition relevant to the way the generation of transition thinks and acts today? Does it influence how they make decisions or how they attempt to tackle contemporary challenges?

The people and institutions in East Germany have to deal with many challenges of unemployment and a de-industrialised future. At the same time there are on a personal level feelings of lethargy and a lack of solidarity and empathy among the people. In the communities a people driven community-oriented local perspective for development is missed. On an institutional level the challenges are an ageing infrastructure combined with a low level of funds. There is a hope that the 3rd Generation of East Germany is now in the position to act as a change agent within the Eastern regions but they are not very present in the elite structures in politics or economics for example and a very few living in rural areas.

Judith Enders / Mandy Schulze