Germans in Maryland rejoice as their homeland unifies

October 02, 1990|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Evening Sun Staff

If Ulrike Shanks doesn't find a German flag to fly when German unity finally comes tonight, she'll piece together some black, red and yellow material and sew up her own.

The 45-year split of East Germany from West, the capitalist West from the communist East, formally ends at midnight German time.

"I'm very happy," Shanks says.

She's about as new an immigrant from Germany as you can get. She's 21. She came to the United States last April after marrying her husband, Mark, in March. She was born in East Germany and grew up in East Berlin.

This morning the Allied powers from World War II lower their flags, officially ending their occupation of Berlin.

Fourteen hours later, at the stroke of midnight, the German flag is to be raised in front of the historic Reichstag, signaling the formal unification of East and West Germany.

"In the beginning, I thought things went too fast," Shanks says. "Now I'm happy it's going fast. Every step was working and every step was good."

She'll call home sometime today, too. Her mother, father, two sisters and grandmother still live in East Berlin. Her mother's a teacher and her father's a professor and chairman of the department of dermatology at Rostock University.

"Only to talk and see what's going on," Shanks says. "Not only to see it on TV, but to hear it from people who are over there. I know everyone will be celebrating."

She talked to her family last weekend.

"I know that everybody will be going crazy over there," she says, "having parties and fireworks."

Shanks does ultra-sound work at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She's an assistant in vascular testing in the surgery department. Her husband is a lab technician.

Her father came to Hopkins three years ago and worked with Mark on dermatology research. After her father returned to East Germany, he invited Mark over and worked with him again. There Mark met Ulrike, and the rest, as they say, is history.

"For many people, it's a big shock," Shanks says. "Because you grew up in all that stuff and you never thought you would be free.

"For many people they don't believe it -- 'How can this be coming true?' "

Dorothy Galway was born in East Germany near the city of Gera. She's 64 and she came to America in 1948 after marrying an American soldier. She left East Germany in 1943, two years before the end of World War II. She was in nurse's training with the German Red Cross.

"I remember telling my family I'll be back for Christmas," Galway says. "I've never been back since."

She has a brother who lives in East Germany and a sister in West Germany.

"My brother has been out to visit my sister since the Wall came down," Galway says.

Her mother has died, Galway says, and one sister and one brother. A third brother who fought on the Russian front never came back from World War II.

"I would like to go back now and see my home town," Galway says.

She never thought she would see the reunification of Germany.

"I have a very good feeling," she says. "I don't care how difficult it will be. I think it's a cause for rejoicing.

"It makes me very happy. I think it's a good thing. In four or five years, the East will be just like the West."

And Galway doesn't worry about German domination of Europe.

"I think the new generation in Germany, the young people, are very, very leery of militarists. I think they want peace about everything. I think the young people will be a force for peace."

Donald Tillman, who is president of the German Society of Maryland, finds in the German-American community of Maryland "great exuberance" for reunification.

"It's very rewarding," says Tillman, whose father and uncles came from Dusseldorf. "We kind of won the cold war without shots being fired."

Tillman says he believes there are mixed emotions about reunification in Germany. Younger people are very much for it and are ready to charge off into the future. Older people are a little more apprehensive.

"After 45 years of Big Brother communism," Tillman says, "it's kind of like being out on your own for the first time."

"The German community here is elated at seeing the reunification of Germany in a peaceful manner. But we're not in the midst of it."

There is a lot of apprehension among older West Germans, he says. They worry about increases in taxes to pay for the incorporation of East Germany into their country, about apartment shortages, unemployment.

"Some things they're going to have to sacrifice for unification," Tillman says. "The speed of what is happening is scaring the people. . . .

"It will be interesting to watch for the next 20 years. There's going to be lots of differences. We're elated."

And he and his wife are looking forward to traveling to Germany just before Christmas.

"We've traveled close to the border," Tillman says. "We've always been dying to go over there. I guess next trip we'll go."

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