Posted by: ingogulde | September 10, 2015

Did early focus on hard work make East Germans happier?

The last few years, I have been reading a lot about happiness and how to lead a happier life. Perfectionism seems to be the enemy of good and of happiness. Rewarding hard work on the contrary seems to lead to more happiness. In East Germany, I remember, we got a grade for “Fleiß” which means “effort” or “hard work”. Automatically, when you tried to get a good grade for hard work it would correlate with a good grades in other subjects. So, I think linking hard work and grades was a pretty smart move of the Socialist education system. The grade for “Fleiß” is something that stuck with me for years and I remember it vividly. And as I look back at the past 10 years, going the extra mile almost always led to success. And maybe because of focusing on hard work in my life, I can consider myself a quite happy person.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.

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25-years-fall-of-berlin-wall

It’s been 25 years since I sat in our living room watching the unfathomable news that the Wall was open. I saw people standing on the wall, hammering parts off the wall, hugging each other, and feeling overjoyed. Finally, Reagan’s call “Tear down that Wall” came true.

I was only 12 years old and led a quite comfortable and protected life. Yes, we did not have everything we wanted (e.g. bananas) but we had a good life after all. Now, everything was about to change. And I, as a child did not know how it would change. I felt confused and as if the world that I lived in came to an end. I did not fully understand what it all meant.

Fast forward 25 years. Now, I live in the USA and the GDR/DDR seems so far away, just like a dream that I vaguely remember. I am so grateful however that the Wall came down and that I could have all the opportunities that I had. Opportunity to travel, to pursue the career that I wanted, to study abroad, and to move to the US.

Ever since my relationship to institutions and my country has changed. I now understand that things can change very profoundly and instead of trying to hang on to the past, I try to maintain my personal freedom and my independent thinking. And the USA is a great place to be with that mindset.

Nothing lasts forever. That is the biggest lesson that I learned from the Fall of the Berlin Wall. It is an important lesson. It helps me deal with change, adapt to new situations, and lessen my attachment to the past and present.

-IG

Posted by: ingogulde | March 20, 2012

How TV changed in East Germany

The fall of the wall is exciting. So many things change in our lives. So do our TV programs. Overnight, we have access to all these new TV channels. Actually, there are only three new channels but that means our TV options have doubled. Finally, after 40 long years of yearning for good and entertaining TV, we have it all.

“The Wheel of Fortune” is the first show I watch on one of these new stations. It is a smash hit! I am probably more excited than when the wall came down. All this energy and passion radiates right into our living room. It is ecstatic.
“I want to buy an ‘E’,” demands Werner, the contestant.
Bing, bing, bing.
Applause!
“I want to solve. The word is ‘Wiedervereinigung’ (=Reunification).” says Werner.
Wow! At that moment, I am standing on the couch, scream ‘Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa’ (which means something like ‘yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees’) at the top of my lungs, and jump up and down like if Germany just had won the Soccer World Championship.

The Pfeiffers (name is changed) share my excitement for the show. Mr Pfeiffer is our Physics teacher and his wife our Math teacher. Their declared mission is to get on this show. No matter what and how long it takes. They are so serious about it that they manage to get on the show after only two months. Watching this historic moment becomes a mandatory requirement for passing both of their classes.

The show is about to start. My eyes are fixed on the TV. A spotlight randomly selects three contestants from the audience while the lights are dimmed in the studio. The beam of light dances through the audience. It stops. Rita from Düsseldorf is the first contestant. The studio is dark again. It is so quiet that you can hear the light racing from one end to the other. Then it stops again. Horst from Munich is the next lucky one. He stands up and raises his arms to a victory pose. This is the last chance for the Pfeiffers. The spotlight flickers again. I wish it would stop at Mr or Mrs Pfeiffer. But it does not. What a bummer! But there is still a chance that I see them in the audience. “There! There they are!” I cry out. One, two, three tenths of a second. There they are sitting, smiling, and clapping. It is one meaningless moment for the show, but a big moment for our little town.

The next day, the Pfeiffers arrive at school. The two superstars get off their private jet (I meant to say car), put on their sunglasses, and walk in slow motion, it seems, into the school building. People line their way left and right. Cheers, tears, applause. The Pfeiffers made it. They arrived at a pinnacle of fame.

Source: Website of St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig

Recently, my family and I went back to Germany for a short vacation. Traditionally, we always take a trip to Leipzig. Leipzig has about 500,000 inhabitants and is situated in Saxony about 120 miles Southwest of Berlin.

Already in 1813, Leipzig played a prominent role in world history. In the Battle of the Nations (also known as the Battle of Leipzig), Napoleon suffered one of his greatest defeats which led to his downfall and marked an important turning point in history.

In October 1989, another memorable turning point in history was initiated in Leipzig. What begun with hundreds of people gathering for peace prayers in the Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church), turned into hundreds of thousands of people by the end of October 1989. Each Monday after the church service, masses of people would then march peacefully through the city of Leipzig and chant “Wir sind das Volk” or “We are the people!”. Not only gathered people in Leipzig, but also in other East German cities to demonstrate against the socialist regime.

The protesters, especially those in Leipzig, walked on the fringe of a violent escalation. Security forces were alarmed and ready to intervene. Hospitals were prepared for the worst case stashing away blood for potential casualties. Luckily, the leaders in East Berlin did not give orders to end this movement with brute force.

The Monday demonstrations (known as “Montagsdemos”) increased the pressure on the East German government vehemently. This internal pressure ultimately led to the Fall of the Wall on November 9, 1989.

IG

“Tear down this wall!” At the time, I did not quite understand the significance of former US president Reagan’s words. In my childlike eyes, everything was going very well in East Germany. After all, we had a good life. But his speech also raised questions in my mind: Why is he asking the Soviets to open the gate? Why did we erect this wall? How would life be like without the wall?

Reagan gave that speech on June, 12 1987 in front of the Brandenburg Gate. He addressed former Soviet leader General Secretary Gorbachev with his famous words “Tear down this wall!” Whether or not to use this sentence in the speech was controversial because it bore the risk of offending the Soviets and further increase tensions between the East and the West. Reagan decided to include the sentence. And with it, his speech made history.

Some people doubt that Reagan’s speech had an actual impact on subsequent historical events. I personally believe, that his speech made a huge difference. It raised some very critical questions in the minds of the East Germans and gave hope to those opposing the totalitarian system. It brilliantly captured the zeitgeist and made America’s position and support for a unified Germany very clear. Until today, it remains an important milestone and event in the German history.

Fast forward to 1:55 min to listen to these famous words: “Tear down this wall!”:
Click here for the complete transcript of the speech. Learn more about the speech on Wikipedia.
IG
Posted by: ingogulde | April 15, 2010

Why did Socialism fail in East Germany?

In my personal studies about Positive Psychology, I came across a very good explanation in Tal Ben-Shahar’s book “The Pursuit of PERFECT“. The key to answer the question why socialism did fail lies in an assumption about human nature. Capitalism has a constrained vision of human nature. Capitalists believe that human nature and in particular everyone’s self-interest cannot be changed. It is better to accept this fact and leverage people’s self-interest for the common good. Utopianism assumes that human nature is unconstrained and therefore can be changed. Basic human instincts can be altered and self-interest can be replaced by altruism. Eventually, one could create a society made up of superhuman beings being in control of their human nature.
Socialism was founded on a wrong assumption. People did not change their human nature. We, in East Germany, maintained our self-interest. On higher political levels this led to misappropriation of resources and in everyday life self-interest decided about the allocation of consumer goods. In the end, it was also self-interest or human nature that led to the Change. See also previous posts about the drivers for change (Freedom and Material Desire).

IG

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Posted by: ingogulde | April 13, 2010

The Little Trumpeter – The Role of Music in East Germany

As in every country, music played an important role in East Germany. German classics were an important part of East and West German culture. Unlike the West, however, the East also used music to help internalize the socialist body of thought from a very young age. Ideology combined with music made socialism somewhat more fun and accessible to children. Most of the melodies were quite catchy and made the ideological message even stronger, more compelling, and stick better. In this post, I want to introduce a very popular song. So popular that Erich Honecker (former head of East Germany) even wanted this song to be played at his funeral. Its name is “The Little Trumpeter” (“Der kleine Trompeter”). Everyone in primary school had to learn this song by heart. The story is about a cheerful, good, and loved man, the Trumpeter, who is shot during a peaceful event. The song is very sad and one really feels like having lost someone very dear. The Little Trumpeter is based on a real story in which a member of the “Rote Frontkaempferbund” (paramilitary organization of the KPD, the German Communist Party) is shot by a policeman during a rally of the KPD in 1925.

Here are the Lyrics:

German

  1. Von all unsern Kameraden, war keiner so lieb und gut, wie unser kleiner Trompeter, ein lustiges Rotgardistenblut.
  2. Wir saßen so fröhlich beisammen, in einer so stürmischen Nacht; mit seinen Freiheitsliedern, hat er uns so glücklich gemacht.
  3. Da kam eine feindliche Kugel, bei einem so fröhlichen Spiel, mit einem so seligen Lächeln, unser kleiner Trompeter, er fiel.
  4. Da nahmen wir Hacke und Spaten, und gruben ihm morgens ein Grab; Und die ihn am liebsten hatten, die senkten ihn stille hinab.
  5. Schlaf wohl, du kleiner Trompeter, wir waren dir alle so gut. Schlaf wohl du kleiner Trompeter, du lustiges Rotgardistenblut.

English (my own translation):

  1. Of all our comrades, nobody was as nice and as good, like our Little Trumpeter, a cheerful Red Guardsman’s blood.
  2. We sat so joyous together, in a so stormy night; with his songs of freedom, he made us happy.
  3. There came an inimical bullet, during a joyous game, with a blessedly smile, our Little Trumpeter, he fell.
  4. So we took hoe and spade, and dug him a grave in the morning; And those who loved him most lowered him silently.
  5. Sleep well, you Little Trumpeter, we were all so close to you. Sleep well you Little Trumpeter, you cheerful Red Guardsman’s blood.

IG

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The change affected literally every area of my life, directly or indirectly. Over night, my whole world view ceased to exist. At the same instant, a new and overall better world was created.  Socialism turned into democracy, centrally planned economy into market economy, Mark into Deutsche Mark, scarcity into abundance, grey landscapes into flourishing landscapes, constraints into new freedoms.

Eisenmoorbad Bad Schmiedeberg

Most things changed for the better but others for the worse. For example, job security turned into job uncertainty. In the former GDR (German Democratic Republic) almost everyone had a salaried job. When the wall came down, many businesses in our area shut down because they could not compete in a market economy. Unemployment skyrocketed. The day my mom lost her job was probably one of the most dramatic changes for our family during that time. She took several weeks (or even months) of training courses offered by the “Arbeitsamt” (German Employment Agency) to acquire new knowledge and skills which were essential to get back into a job. Eventually, she succeeded and was offered a job by a local spa/clinic, “Eisenmoorbad Bad Schmiedeberg” which remains one of the top employers in the region. The premises of her former company are now a parking lot for that spa. What meant the end for some businesses became the basis of growth for other businesses in our area. Other people were less lucky and had to leave their home towns to find a new job. Most of the people of my generation decided to migrate to bigger cities or abroad to find (better) opportunities.

IG

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Hello my name is Joseph and I lived almost 14 years in Berlin. The first time in 1987, when the Wall was still standing. I lived in an “occupied” house (aka “squat”) in Kreuzberg, directly next to the Wall. When I looked out my bedroom window I would see the guard in the watchtower direct his binoculars at me. I must say, after a while, it became totally “normal” for me, that there be a wall dividing a city. How ideological can people get, anyway? Utterly fascinating! I can think of some funny stories, like when we moved out of one of our flats we found it easier to throw our old sofa over the Wall than to just leave it for the Staatreinigung (city sanitation). There was already enough trash in that neighborhood, so why not simply get a gang of guys together and make a statement, “Weg mit dem Scheißding” [Get rid of the f-ing thing]. I had moved to Berlin after having studied German in Munich. What a contrast between Kreuzberg and Munich! Crass!!!
About 9 months later I returned to the U.S. and moved for 4 1/2 years to California. I’ll never forget that morning when the Wall “fell”: I came into work, and there was a 9-hour time difference between California and Germany. A German colleague came to me and asked, “Did you hear about the Berlin Wall?” And I countered, “No.” My curiosity was peaked. When he told me that the border points between East and West had been opened, and that there were people literally dancing on the Wall and partying in the streets, I at first looked at him like this was some sort of joke. Only after his serious convincing did I believe him, and promptly walked into my boss’s office and immediately requested vacation. I flew that evening with a flight on BA leaving just after work, and connected to Hamburg. When I arrived in Hamburg, we were surprised because that City was filled with “Ossis” (nickname for East Germans), too. But, we were more interested in driving to Berlin. I have a picture of me sitting on top of a car in front of the Reichstag when we finally arrived in Berlin. It was like one huge street party, and whole city gone crazy with utter joy. I stayed a few days and had to go back to work. Little did I know, that just a few years later, I would move there for most of my adult life! At a certain point, I met a girl from Berlin, whose boyfriend offered me a job in my field of specialization: IT for the travel industry. One year prior to this, I had married a girl from Hamburg (we’ve been divorced since 1998). So in 1992, I sold almost everything I owned and moved to Berlin. I lived there until 2004, so 12 1/2 year this time. It was AMAZING witnessing the transition and metamorphosis of a city. I’ll be happy to relate those special times, and I’m glad to have been there first hand twice to see history in the making: first, the “Fall”, then the “Transformation” that followed the initial euphoria. Stay tuned, friends. I’ll write more soon. Thanks! Joseph

“The Lives of Others” (2006)

Starring: Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Mühe

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3_iLOp6IhM

About: http://www.sonyclassics.com/thelivesofothers/swf/index.html

“The Lives of Others”  tells the story of a devoted Stasi (East German Secret Police) officer who is given the job to spy on a famous playwright and collect evidence about his disloyalty to the ruling Party. Being set between 1984 and 1991, the movie provides very realistic insights into the Stasi as well as the time before and after the fall of the Wall.

I highly recommend this captivating thriller because it perfectly captures what I described in “Drivers for Change: Looking for Freedom” https://eastsides.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/drivers-for-change-looking-for-freedom/ (see “Freedom of Speech”). What happened in “The Lives of Others” on a higher level, happened everywhere in East Germany on all levels. One did not have to be a famous to fall victim to the Stasi.

IG

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