June 19, 2022


The Wall was ugly, menacing, and, for many citizens, no doubt heartbreaking. But the economic and geopolitical stability it ensured also gave the GDR the chance to build a society that was broadly characterized by modest prosperity and social equality between classes and genders. Workers were guaranteed employment, housing, and all-day childcare, while basic foodstuffs and other goods were heavily subsidized. Though wages were only half of what they were in the West, adjusted for prices in relation to earnings, GDR workers’ actual purchasing power was more or less the same. This fact, combined with the chronic lack of certain consumer goods, taught citizens to rely on each other and help each other out in times of need — a reality that still resonates today in polls showing that Easterners are considerably more sensitive to social inequality and the importance of solidarity.

(Emphasis mine.) Near the end of The Lives of Others, after the Berlin Wall has fallen, the fictitious former East German Culture Minister Bruno Hempf (played by Thomas Thieme) tells playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) that he isn’t surprised that he’s had a case of writer’s block. “What is there to write about in this new Germany? Nothing to believe in, nothing to rebel against. Life was good in our little Republic! Many people only realize that now.”

Always fascinating to discover someone who must have watched that scene and thought, “Well, he’s got a very good point there.”

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