East Germany and remembering socialism

Published 13.11.2014 23:00
Updated 13.11.2014 23:04

I opened a Formica laminated cupboard and rummaged through it. Nylon nightgowns, mid-calf men's socks that shine when exposed to light because they are made of highly synthetic fabric, mohair pullovers smuggled from West Germany – and those horrible plastic knickknacks. American magazines concealed in the drawers of the bookcase and encyclopedias of official history juxtaposed on shelves.

A TV set with white paneling that got only the state channel. Outside the house a Trabant that resembles Murat 124 (Fiat 124). Honestly, for a moment I thought they had recreated the Turkey I knew from my childhood to youth. However, I was walking around the German Democratic Republic (GDR) Museum in Berlin. I had the same feeling in the building of the Ministry for State Security (Stasi). The building resembled our government agencies including its exterior appearance and furniture.

Of course Turkey has not had an experience with socialism , but a closed-country mentality, totalitarianism and a gloomy bureaucracy's desire to make the people uniform have all led to similar consequences.

***
It has already been 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. News agencies are abuzz with it currently. It may sound strange now, but when the last spokesman for the GDR, Günther Schabowski, ordered the opening of the wall on Nov. 9, 1989, no one believed it.

I also remember this: When I was a young and fervent leftist, we never paid much attention to East Germany. It was just a border post of socialism and that was all. Mostly it had never been a subject of theoretical discussions. I have been working on practices of ultra-secularism in the 20th century for some months now and I have always come across East Germany.

East Germans have made good headway in "substituting science for religion" that the Soviet Union could not have achieved – and which our Republican elites had dreamed of at one point – despite all the coercion of Stalinism.

Naturally, it inevitably gave way to a tragic apery. So much so that secular imitations of religious rituals performed on the other side of the wall had been developed. The "confirmation" rite of the Church was replaced by the obligatory "Jugendweihe" (Youth consecration) for 14-year-olds – a coming of age ceremony that symbolized the "passage into being a defender of socialism and science."

In the end, a strong culture of pessimism dominated everyday life. The state had always told its citizens that "the day will come when science can solve every problem," but the promised day never came.

There are very sad details. One day I will mention them in this column. Neither the east nor the west of the wall had any merit. But after 25 years, we absolutely need to come to terms with this reality: competing with capitalism or turning it inside out like a glove is a remedy to capitalism's sins. On the contrary, it just magnifies the feeling of "helplessness."

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