On the threshold of unity, Germans from East and West experience misgivings

September 30, 1990|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Sun Staff Correspondent

BERLIN -- A few weeks ago, Dr. Claudia Randeree was on th way to her neighborhood supermarket in East Berlin. Suddenly, a man walking near her opened his trench coat and flashed a pistol.

Dr. Randeree, a gynecologist, just kept on walking. Behind her, the would-be mugger fired into the air. It was only after she was in the supermarket that it occurred to Dr. Randeree that the shots sounded real.

"It just seemed too unbelievable to me that someone would have a gun in East Berlin," she said after the incident. "That isn't the German Democratic Republic I know."

Dr. Randeree is hardly the only one, on either side of the disappearing border, for whom the changes, culminating Wednesday with unification of East and West Germany, have come too quickly to absorb.

On the threshold of German unity, the consensus is growing among East and West Germans alike that history is unraveling far too fast.

The steps taken to bring about unity less than a year after the first cracks started appearing in the East German leadership are leaving East and West Germans apprehensive.

East Germans today fear 50 percent unemployment, or 4 million jobless people, from the instant shift to capitalism that occurred with monetary union July 1. Young people may well be able to find jobs in the new Germany, but those in their 40s can

only be chilled by the numerous classified ads that specify: "Those over 35 need not apply."

West Germans are also growing increasingly resentful of the tax increases and inflation that unification is expected to bring.

But perhaps deeper than these immediate worries about survival or continuing prosperity are the growing strains in personal relations between East and West Germans.

These two peoples, about to be united, are suddenly asking themselves just how similar they are after living completely different postwar lives.

"I have more in common with my friends from Austria -- or Australia -- than with those from East Germany," said Anke Melzer, a 29-year-old student of Asian studies in West Berlin. "It's as if we were unifying with France."

Ms. Melzer said she was reminded more of China than of West Germany when she visited East Germany. Among the East Germans, she felt the same security consciousness, the same sense of looking over one's shoulder all the time, that she found in China.

The shared heritage of Beethoven and Goethe, Martin Luthe and Otto von Bismarck does not seem particularly compelling for those who grew up after the Berlin Wall went up in 1961.

"Our sense of culture comes more from American music and McDonald's than from Goethe and Beethoven," Ms. Melzer said. "Besides, there are German-language authors in Austria and Switzerland too."

The same sentiments can be found among East Germans, along with a sharpening sense of inferiority. For with mass unemployment comes a massive loss of status.

And, as the West Berlin author Peter Schneider has pointed out, West Germany rebuilt itself after World War II by consciously avoiding all values on which other nations are built -- such as culture, religion or national consciousness -- in a drive for economic achievement.

For the East Germans, that means they are entering a society built on the very values where they fall short, values that communism for 45 years said they should fear.

Because East Germans do not have the material wealth to show for their work over the last 45 years, West Germans increasingly complain that East Germans suddenly expect Western levels of prosperity without any of the work that went into creating it.

"Many West Germans are very arrogant," said Martin Herzig of the East Berlin Academy of Sciences. "They feel themselves very superior."

The academy's 24,000 employeesface an uncertain future tryin carve a niche for themselves in the new Germany. The prestigious West German Max Planck Institute has already deemed them superfluous.

Not surprisingly, there is also a nostalgia appearing among East Germans for some of the advantages of the socialist system.

Most often, East Germans say they miss the sense of community that came with living under the repression and shortages of the old system, and the comparative absence of street crimes.

Because this unification, legally and economically, is more an annexation of East Germany by West Germany than a merger of the two countries, East Germans as a whole will have to learn the new rules of the game.

Friedrich Wolf, head of the East German lawyers' association, said unification does not simply require learning a new legal code.

"A trial or some other legal question is not only decided by the laws, but the circumstances of life. And the circumstances of life have completely changed," Mr. Wolf said. "We could always tell our clients what they should do in the socialist society but not in the capitalist society. We are beginners."

Despite the reservations, grand celebrations are expecte Tuesday night and Wednesday across the new Germany. For despite all the complaints on both sides of the border that unification is coming about too quickly and too brutally, few are arguing that it should not come about at all.

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