Berlin's rapid shift from Ortega to Kohl

October 07, 1990|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Diana Jean Schemo, a Sun correspondent, has been covering German reunification.

BERLIN — On the eve of German unity, the East Berlin Schauspielhaus hosted a special performance of Kurt Masur conducting his Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra doing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

The balcony's row of honor included Helmut Kohl, just minutes before he became first Chancellor of a reunited Germany, Richard von Weisaecker, the President, and Lothar de Maiziere, the outgoing East German Prime Minister.

Mr. Kohl's cabinet, along with ministers and party leaders from East Germany's brief, sometimes embarrassing, first try at democracy, were scatterred in the audience.

From afar, the gala evening would not look very different from other celebrations here a year ago today. But those marked East Germany's 40th anniversary as "the first socialist state on German soil."

For those of us who have been watching the breakdown of East Germany as it snowballed inevitably toward Bonn this last year, the changes have come astonishingly fast. Faster, in fact, than the mind can fully absorb.

Nobody who has seen the division of Berlin can cross a street from one side of this city to the other without still searching for the line where the Berlin Walls -- the one on the East side and the one on the West -- stood.

Wandering through the space between the two walls, the mind flashes like one of those buttons that give different images in different lights: one moment, you see the drab concrete expanse yawning before you, next the guard towers manned, the enormous sodium lights glaring above the concrete barriers and trip wires.

You blink hard and shake the thoughts loose. It is just another trick of the mind; these trappings of the death zone have all disappeared now.

But the past, so radically different, is also so recent.

The scene at the Schauspielhaus the other night unfolded just a few blocks from the Palace of the Republic, where on this very weekend last year Erich Honecker feted the 40th anniversary with his crowd: Daniel Ortega, Nikolai Ceaucescu, Wojek Jaruselski, Yasser Arafat, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Few of the people celebrating here last week would have been invited to Mr. Honecker's party a year ago. Even Gregor Gysi, the chairman of the revamped Communist Party, was a thorn in the side of the old regime.

Then, Mr. Honecker seemed confident that East Germany's problems would only be temporary. He did not even publicly glimpse the trigger drawn at his head, and made no mention all weekend of the young East Germans fleeing to the West by the tens of thousands.

"We will solve our own problems ourselves, with socialist means," Mr. Honecker said in his anniversary address. "New challenges call for new solutions, and we shall be able to find a reply to any question."

Mr. Honecker was forced to resign 11 days later. He is now in a Soviet military hospital, and may face prosecution in the united Germany's courts.

The night after the Schauspielhaus concert last week, thousands of demonstrators massed at Alexanderplatz to protest unity. West German police, bearing riot shields and nightsticks, used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the youths.

The protests were eerily reminiscent of the mass demonstrations a year ago today, when the unrest simmering in Leipzig and other cities of East Germany reached Berlin. About 5,000 protestors took to these streets, chanting "We are the people!" and "No violence!"

Scribes gathered here to chronicle this country's changes had barely time to absorb the strange spectacle of West German police in their bright green vans on East Berlin streets last week. Suddenly, they were hosing down demonstrators.

The united German parliament met Thursday. Once the appropriate tributes had been paid to unity and the need for solidarity, party leaders from Bonn got back down to business as usual -- running for the Dec. 2 elections.

Social Democrat candidate Oskar La Fontaine continued his criticism of Mr. Kohl, Liberal leader Otto Graf Lambsdorrf jabbed at Mr. La Fontaine, and Mr. Kohl tried to dump the Socialists and the East Germany's defunct Communist regime in the same bag.

Their parrying seemed geared to a West German electorate, and TTC could have little relevance to East Germans facing 50 percent unemployment in the next few months.

West German legislators privately complained about the lack of meeting space in the hastily-renovated Reichstag and appeared more convinced than ever that the real business of governing Germany should continue to be done in Bonn.

The Bundestag's 519 members were joined by 144 from Eastern Germany, but few of these novices at democracy, coming from the poor end of the country, are held in high esteem by their counterparts from Bonn.

Five East German political leaders -- including the former prime minister -- were sworn into the Bonn cabinet as ministers without portfolio, meaning they have no specific area of responsibility in the expanded government.

"You just don't do that," Mr. Gysi complained. "You just don't bring in five ministers from the German Democratic Republic, and openly say they have really nothing to do."

Mr. Gysi, whose party was not even given a work table before its section in parliament, said he felt like a guest among the West Germans. "I have to get used to the atmosphere," he said.

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