Welcome to the Nineties!

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One should travel more in one’s own country. Because there are amazing things to discover. Like yesterday, when I made my long, expensive way far out west to Bonn and Cologne. I thought I was only travelling to a different part of Germany but it turned out I travelled in time as well.

My friend Maike recently moved to Bonn and this weekend, was throwing her first party. Since it is my New Year’s resolution to party more, I promised to come. They told me,Bonn was only some twenty minutes away from Cologne (not true, it takes forever to get there) and Bonn used to be the German capital. Now you are all like, “What do you mean, capital, isn’t Berlin the capital?!” Well, it is now and was then but when Germany was divided, someone decided that Bonn should be where the German government should have its seat. So from 1949 to the Nineties, Bonn was the center of power.

When I stepped off the train in Bonn, I truly felt like I had been catapulted back into just that time. It is like Bonn tries to conserve its time of importance by leaving everything as it was then. The signs in the metro – and the metro itself – look exactly like when I was 5. The logos on the signs are not even in use anymore. It is very fascinating. It is just like time travelling!

These signs show the way to all the federal institutions which remind the visitor that this used to be the capital.

These signs show the way to all the federal institutions which remind the visitor that this used to be the capital.

1992, I'd say.

1992, I’d say.

Speaking of time travelling, the first thing I thought about when I heard Bonn was of course the Haus der Geschichte, History’s House, a museum located in Bonn. I have always wanted to go there and so I rushed in there 90 minutes before they closed (I also took a major detour to go see it). Let me tell you, this museum is an excellent use of tax money. The museum is free (read: tax-financed) and there is countless museum staff everywhere. And they are even friendly when you approach them.

The museum itself is paradise for any person that cares about Germany, the past, the present or generally the world. Luckily, the Haus der Geschichte is a part of Bonn that has arrived in the 2000s which is clearly reflected in the museums forms of display. You are walked through 1945 to 2013ish and I can tell you, until 1960 I constantly had goose bumps. The original films of little children saying their names and “I am looking for my parents” from the end of the war when so many families were separated are just as touching as the posters the American allies put up, saying, “People of Berlin, the world looks to you and you are not alone, we Americans stand with you and will defend your freedom”. (During the time of the Luftbrücke when the US allies transported food into West Berlin by plane because the Russians decided to, with a blockade, try and starve West Berlin into joining socialism.) I also learned, by the way, that Sweden sent care packages with toys and food for the German children.

Haus der Geschichte

Haus der Geschichte

I had the pleasure of being hosted by #mydanishintern in her lovely new apartment in Cologne. The photo shows Cologne's most famous landmark, the impressiv cathedral

I had the pleasure of being hosted by #mydanishintern in her lovely new apartment in Cologne. The photo shows Cologne’s most famous landmark, the impressiv cathedral

Reunited with #mydanishintern, an excellent host

Reunited with #mydanishintern, an excellent host

I think all countries’ history is interesting, but Germany’s history lies closer to my heart for patriotic reasons and because it is more intriguing as so much happened – both absolutely shocking and terrifying things and unprecedented success. The spectrum is just very large.

If you ever go to Cologne or Bonn, make sure to pay History’s House a visit. Everything in there is just so interesting!

To put it with the great German poet Schiller’s words (in my mediocre translation),

“Every day, history becomes dearer to me. I wish I had studied nothing but history for ten years, I believe I would be a whole different person”.

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Train on the way to Bonnn, writing an article.

On the way from Bonn, carpooling in a very dirty 1990s car with 9 people.

On the way from Bonn, carpooling in a very dirty 1990s car with 9 people.

P.S.: I also realized on my journey that I am so much more of a train person than a car person. I am close to saying that I would rather stay home than go by car, but that might be putting a bit too drastically.

A Nation divided

You already know that Reunificiation and all that jazz is my thing. You also know that I religiously follow the weekly newspaper Die ZEIT (when time allows). So now these two things have come together, not too surprising given the major topic that the Fall of the Wall on the media agenda. It is actually very interesting to see how different media in different parts of Germany chose to tackle the topic: the East German Broadcasting Organization MDR publishes all things Fall of the Wall under “25 Years of Freedom”, Google launched the hashtag Deutschland25 and Stern Magazine was full of ads with companies celebrating 1989.

The way Zeit Magazin has captured all these interestings things is something you should see – and it is even in English! Hallelujah! No more excuses to not go infotain yourself: A Nation Divided: East Germany’s legacy remains visible in statistics. Learn about where people are called Ronny, where in Germany people own most guns and – important for German learners! – where which words for stapler and roast chicken are used. (Spoiler alert: There are four different ones and three make me crack up.)

While I’m at it, I might as well add something personal to this Friday post, and yes, of course: The Work Week Song # 44! Since one co-worker has quit and two others are on vacation, this is the appropriate song for this week:

 

The words that give me goosebumps

 

Reunification day 2012: I celebrated with cupcakes that have East and West German cities on them. This way, you can reunite them in our stomach.

Reunification day 2012: I celebrated with cupcakes that have East and West German cities on them. This way, you can reunite them in our stomach.

Historic Hustysk Helen svarar Special

Today is German National Day. Unlike other nations, Germans do not throw a big barbeque party or have fireworks in the national colors. It goes without saying that due to historic reasons, nationalism in Germany is a complicated topic. Being a historian and fully aware of the negative aspects of nationalism, I still take the right to somehow notice this day which actually has a goosebumps story to it.

Or rather, there is several stories to it, the one of September 30th, November 9th and October 3rd. For now, I will tell you the first one.

Hustysken - Your personal German

Hustysken – Your personal German

German history both abroad and in German schools is often reduced to the Nazi era. While this is undoubtebly very important to teach, I find it relevant to talk about what the division of Germany meant for 40 years. East Germany was cut off by a wall, people were bullied and not allowed to travel to the West. Families were torn apart not only because of the wall but also because East German dictators took children from their parents if they did not conform to the Communist regime. People in East Germany were tortured for the smallest offenses – or even for not doing anything. Dictatorships do not usually care about facts.

Naturally, many people tried to flee the GDR. They built tunnels and hot air balloons, they tried to reach freedom by submarines. You do not want to know what happened if you failed. Or if you do, go on of the gripping tour of the former GDR prison Hohenschönhausen in Berlin.

In 1989, the living circumstances in the GDR must have become unbearable. Citizens were allowed to go on holiday in other neighbouring, communist states and in the late summer of 1989, East Germans decided not to return from their trip to the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia). Instead, they sought refuge in the embassy of West Germany in Prague. This was not completely unusual and normally resulted in them being sent home where they were allowed to depart to West Germany. This time though, the refuges did no longer believe the promise that they would be allowed to leave the GDR once they had come back.

They put up their tents in the garden of the embassy and lived in catastrophic conditions. More and more East German refugees came, there were 22 toilets. You could not do laundry, there were almost no showers. For weeks, East Germany and West Germany negotiated. East German authorities refused to let their citizens depart to the West. By late September, the embassy garden was home to 4000 refugees. Witnesses report that you could hardly stretch your legs anymore. Still, everyone stayed. From June to almost October. Rain began to fall as the season changed and made the gardens a large field of mud.

During the UN General Assembly, West German Foreign Affairs Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher reached a break-through in the negotiations. Despite a heart condition, he was released from hospital to meet the Soviet Union’s Foreign Affairs Minister. On the evening of September 30, Genscher appeared on the balcony of the embassy facing 4000 people that were terrified to have to return to their home country. “Dear fellow Germans, we have come to you in order to inform you that today, your departure…” is probably the most famous German half-sentence since then. It was interrupted by the jubilations from the garden.

This year, it has been 25 years since this appearance of the balcony. Sometimes I think I might have been an East German in my former life because I feel so strongly about reunification. I do not have relatives in the East, my family was never really affected but still has instilled in me a strong belief that Dresden and Leipzip and Halle and Gera should be part of a democratic Germany. Reunification is a hot topic in Germany and far from being uncontroversial. There is certainly still things to be done. But still, Genscher’s words give me goosebumps every time I hear them. They make me think of my friends Joraine and Anne and Wiebke who I had never met if the wall was still up. And they make me think of the refugees today whose embassy garden is a dangerous boat.