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An East German Writer Deplores GDR Nostalgia (2003)

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Ostalgie differs from regular nostalgia in only one essential point: the interpretation of its object of transfiguration is hotly contested. The GDR is under particular pressure; the transfiguration must overcome the dominant historical picture of “Stasi terror,” “SED-state,” “totalitarian regime,” and so on. This historical picture lives in a dead spot in the experiential realm of many Easterners. In the minds of many people, the GDR is something different from what is presented to them by historians – also on television.

This is where the nostalgia shows come in: as has been so well said, they want to pick people up right where they are. Of course, these Ostalgie shows are also the expression of a bad Western conscience and a botched German unification: if hardly an Easterner is editor-in-chief or artistic director, then proportionality is achieved by other means. In the process, every effort is made to avoid what is obvious to everyone: that ARD* and ZDF are Western television. ARD and ZDF would much rather be what their names suggest: German radio, German television.

Leipzig got the nod as the candidate for Germany’s bid to host the Olympics – it was not an act of charity on the part of German society, it was not merely a gesture. Leipzig was the top choice among German cities. The best thing about the choice of Leipzig is that it could just as well have been another city.

Dear television producers, don’t bother with these Ostalgie shows. Sure, you want to do something patriotic, make a contribution to inner unity. But if your reporters’ statistics would also take GDR athletes into consideration, if statements like “The most successful German marathoner at the Olympics was, of course, Waldemar Czierpinski, with his victories in 1976 and 1980” were completely natural, then you’d do a lot for inner unity and the East German soul, at little cost, though with some conscious effort. Your reporters could even say that Czierpinski was from Halle. That he was from the GDR unfortunately still sounds as though he had leprosy, and to say that he came from the former GDR is an even bigger faux pas: anyone who speaks of the former GDR is tacitly insinuating that a current GDR still exists and is therefore a divider. As we all know, the GDR ended in 1990, hence to call it “former” is to state the obvious.

But there are also small miracles: the 25th anniversary of the flight of “the first German in space”** was just a few days ago, and West German television did special reports [on him] with pictures from then and now. Balanced and objective. That is why we much preferred to watch West German TV. Take that into unification.

You see, not everything was bad.

* ARD is the German association of public broadcasters – eds.
** With the launch of Soviet space mission Soyuz 31 on August 26, 1978, former East German pilot Sigmund Jähn became the first German in space. Jähn was part of the Soviet Union’s Intercosmos program – eds.

Source: Thomas Brussig, “Murx, die deutsche Einheit” [“German Unity, a Mess”], Tagesspiegel, August 31, 2003.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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