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World - Europe

Germans now divided by 'the wall in the head'

Street scene
Many West Germans still consider the East a backward land  

Mentalities harder to break down than bricks and mortar

November 9, 1999
Web posted at: 8:11 a.m. EST (1311 GMT)

In this story:

Invisible wall

Time may heal


By Berlin Bureau Chief Chris Burns

BERLIN (CNN) -- Physical remnants of the Berlin Wall are hard to find --- it has been mostly dismantled during the past decade. But the mentalities that created the wall and kept it up for nearly three decades have been slower to change.

In parts of East Berlin, two worlds still exist side-by-side. Trendy bars catering to the Love Parade crowd mix with crumbling architecture untouched since the communist era. Whimsical boutiques dedicated to those serious about the "avant-retro-disco" look share the streets with traditional neighborhood shops.

VideoCNN's Chris Burns reports on the differing opinions of some East and West Germans (November 9)
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VideoCNN's Chris Burns goes to the former East Germany to examine the situation (November 8)
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Key dates in Berlin Wall's history

Fall of the Berlin Wall gallery

CNN Special: Cold War

Destination: The Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall


Some locals complain about the tattoo parlor and of real estate speculation as buildings are renovated for the yuppie crowd, driving out many longtime residents.

It would seem that with the Berlin Wall cleared away and only a few bricks marking where it stood, the social barriers should have also fallen away. But even 10 years after, the wall remains stuck in a lot of peoples' minds. Germans call it "die mauer im kopf" -- the wall in the head.

Invisible wall

On Alexanderplatz, East Berlin's main square, there's clearly an invisible wall.

"I find that they haven't quite yet grasped what's required to cope with the demands of the marketplace," said one West German, a "Wessie," of the East Germans -- the "Ossies."

But for the Ossies, there's indignation toward the Wessies.

"Westerners don't understand Easterners, and probably vice-versa," a middle-aged woman said. "I think it's getting worse."

Easterners complain about what they call the West's "elbow society" -- the jostling required to get ahead in the free market.

"They think the East Germans are lazy and sluggish," one older woman said. "But we had to build something out of nothing."

Many West Germans still consider the East a backward land, another country, a fiscal black hole. They're angry about the 5 percent so-called "solidarity surtax" on incomes to finance Eastern reconstruction.

One West Berliner said aid to the East robs him of welfare benefits. Put the wall back, he said.

"They should have given all the people in the East a TV, a new car and a new refrigerator, and that would have been enough," he said.

the wall
These bricks mark where the wall once stood  

Time may heal

Whatever happened to the yearning for togetherness? When the wall was up, loved ones would part ways at East Berlin's so-called "Tear Palace" checkpoint. Today the "Traenenpalast" is just a rock 'n' roll club.

Some say it will take another generation to get the wall out of people's heads. Others have already adapted.

"Where there's a lot of money, you have other problems," an East Berliner said. "But we can travel at any time. We have apples, bananas, everything. So it's fine."

"I don't distinguish between East and West Germans," a Wessie remarked. "We are Germans."

Such comments are hopeful signs that someday the only cold war scar will be the physical one where the wall once stood.

CNN 's Cold War
  • Episode 9: The Wall
  • Episode 23: The Wall Comes Down

Eastern German resentment lingers over Westerners' deals
November 8, 1999
CIA files stir up specter of East German secret police
November 7, 1999
Memory of Berlin Wall casualties haunts Germany
November 6, 1999
Germany marks anniversary of fall of Berlin Wall
November 9, 1997
East German leader sentenced for Berlin Wall deaths
August 25, 1997

German Government
German Reichstag
The Berlin Wall History in Text and Pictures
Frederik Ramm: Fall of the Berlin Wall
The Fall of The Berlin Wall
History of the Berlin Wall
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