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World - Europe

Ex-East Germans nostalgic for communism's simpler life

Lenin, Stalin look-a-likes
Lenin and Stalin look-alikes and men in dress uniform take part in Ostalgie Night, celebrating the old days of the communist German Democratic Republic  

In this story:

'It was a safe life'

The familiar objects of daily life


By Berlin Bureau Chief Chris Burns

BERLIN (CNN) -- As Germany celebrates the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, some Germans have started to look back fondly to the days of the former communist-ruled East Germany.

The reunification of Germany, which came 11 months after the events of November 9, 1989, has failed to fulfill the expectations of many thousands of former citizens of the German Democratic Republic. The former East Germany may have been seen from the West as a brutal, Stalinist regime run by dictators, but it offered its citizens guaranteed employment for life; generous social programs; cheap public transit; and low-cost housing.

Those benefits look attractive to former East Germans, nicknamed "Ossies," as they struggle with unemployment that still runs about 17 percent -- twice as high as in the former West Germany.

'It was a safe life'

"Life in the GDR was not so terrible, because it was a safe life. There was hardly any crime, and I did not have to worry about my future," one former East German told CNN.

Key dates in Berlin Wall's history

CNN Special: Cold War

Destination: The Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall


Another explained the nostalgia for the former regime by saying, "We have grown up in the GDR. Of course, like anywhere in California or Texas, you lived through certain things that made up your national identity."

A recent poll indicated that while most former East Germans welcomed the greater political freedom and supported reunification, more than 40 percent said they were happier under the communist regime. A majority said they were unhappy with the economic changes.

It is those feelings that have fed a nostalgia for the former regime among some Ossies, a sentiment that has brought renewed success to the former Communist Party, which posted strong gains in recent state elections. The ex-communists took 40 percent of the vote in the former East Berlin.

The familiar objects of daily life

The sentiment also focuses on the familiar objects of daily life in the GDR, such as the blue shirt of the state youth organization and East Germany's crosswalk lamp, known as the Ampelman, which now comes in a candy version.

In Magdeburg, the capital of Sachsen-Anhalt state, a bar down the street from huge communist-era factories has been decorated with GDR memorabilia, including the Trabant car, various army uniforms and a portrait of former East German leader, Eric Honecker. The factories all have been either down-sized or closed.

Vendors sell medals and other memorabilia during the festivities  

Under the former regime, people looked out for each other, explains the owner. Living under a dictatorship and standing in long food lines created a feeling of solidarity.

"You could depend on each other,"he says, "now it is money, money, money."

Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars which have been spent on infrastructure and roads since unification, the Ossies feel the high hopes of 1989 have not been met.

It has almost become a cliche, for political leaders to speak of the "reunification of the mind" -- a reunification that has yet to occur 10 years after the most visible barrier between the two Germanys came crashing down in one memorable night.

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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