A Year After German Unification, the 'Middle Way' is Forgotten


Leipzig. -- In old Leipzig, the "city of heroes," the site of mass demonstrations that led to the collapse of the East German regime two years ago, Auerbach's Keller is still in business. It is a place steeped in beer, wine, good food, tobacco smoke and legend.

At Auerbach's, Goethe set his tale of an aging Faust selling his soul to the devil for a return to youth and romantic love. Intellectuals and idealists who launched the East German revolution at nearby Nikolai Church knew with what devil they were wrestling -- a hated Communist regime and one of the most pervasive police states. Their goal was a benign form of socialism, a "middle way" between what East Germany had experienced for 45 years and materialistic West German capitalism.

As the first anniversary of Germany's political unification is observed Oct. 3, the advocates of a "middle way" have been swept aside. West German political parties moved in soon after the fortified frontier was punctured and gave voters the same choices offered their own electorate: either Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union or Social Democrats preaching only a little more statist intervention. There was no realistic alternative.

Pastor Christof Ziemer, superintendent of the Protestant church in nearby Dresden, complains that big, powerful West Germany co-opted the revolution and imposed its own system on the eastern German states.

"Individuals are hardly important at all," he says, contending that virtually nothing of value from the human side of socialism has been allowed to survive.

Germany's widely respected president, Richard von Weizsaecker, brusquely dismisses Pastor Ziemer's argument, saying, "I don't think there is a third way, nor do I think a majority of East Germans are for a third way."

There is every indication he is right. Eastern German stores are chock-full of the bountiful products once seen here only on West German television or in hard-currency stores. Rutted roads are becoming gleaming smooth ribbons of asphalt. Construction sites are multiplying as obsolete East German factories -- as many as 8,000 -- go on the auction block in the world's biggest fire sale. Hardly anyone who was not a part of the old regime wants to go back to the pinched living standards, the pervasive spying on one another, the travel constrictions and everyday cruelties that once blighted the sector under Soviet control.

Yet, this first anniversary of independence is being greeted with a sense of disappointment, impatience and even cynicism that government leaders make no attempt to deny. Instead, they ascribe it to traditional Germany angst, self-doubt and self-pity.

Mr. Kohl is known to deplore this "culture of pessimism" and, like politicians everywhere, is wont to blame it on the mass media. Deep down it conflicts with the optimism borne of what Germans see all around them every day -- a flourishing life style, increasing world influence, confidence in the way things German seem to work.

Some experts believe that the dislocation created by the abrupt takeover of a flawed and failing command economy by a flourishing free market system has already hit bottom and the economy is beginning to turn upwards.

Unemployment and inflation are leveling out, though at unacceptably high levels. The massive selling off of state-owned East German industry is moving into high gear despite problems caused by ownership disputes and terrible site pollution. A 7.8 percent surcharge on income taxes, a 1 percent boost in the value added tax and a 35 cents a gallon boost in gasoline taxes are financing a huge transfer of wealth to the east that is coming back in full order books for West German industry.

It is estimated that this internal stimulus has added half a percent to the gross national product and has helped stave off serious recession.

Fully one quarter of the $240 billion federal budget is being spent strictly for the economic revival of the five eastern states. Twenty percent of the $32 billion Bonn has spent in aid to the Soviet Union over the past two years is devoted to trade subsidies aimed at preserving a traditional market for East German goods. True, eastern salaries are only 60 percent of western salaries. But East German productivity is a lot lower than that.

"Wessies" (West Germans) may be disdainful of "Ossies" (East Germans) but their own politicians voted to move the national capital from Bonn eastward to Berlin. "Ossies" feel like second-class citizens. Their loud complaints reflect the luxury of being able to speak their own minds.

What is sometimes forgotten is that reunification came as a complete surprise on both sides of the fortifications that divided the German people after World War II.

In Bonn, even today, work is being completed on imposing new museums on West German history and West German art and on a new Rhineside chamber for the Bundestag, this despite its official location at the old Reichstag building in Berlin. These are physical manifestations of 20 years of government policy, launched by Willy Brandt's SPD and continued by Helmut Kohl's CDU, that implicitly accepted the seeming permanence of postwar divisions (despite rhetoric to the contrary) and sought to make the human pain of this separation as bearable as possible.

Huge subsidies, both above and under the table, flowed from West to East. Bonn made few bones about purchasing dissidents from the Communists or paying the freight for greater travel privileges between the two German states. Both Germanys entered the United Nations, exchanged official representatives and settled down to an arrangement that, ironically, was being subverted by the very changes designed to make it enduring.

Only two years ago, the Berlin Wall still slashed through the center of the nation's greatest city. Today one can stroll back and forth across no-man's land without pondering whether one is in the east or western sectors of the city.

Only one year ago, political unification was still days away and East Germans were preparing for their first free national elections since Hitler came to power. Today that magical period has given way to the workaday problems of two differentiated societies speaking the same language grow closer together.

Few nations have experienced so many fundamental changes so quickly, so that even today one senses that Germany is a country still rubbing its eyes in disbelief at its own good luck.

As a strictly artificial holiday, chosen by politicians who arranged reunification, Oct. 3 carries none of the emotional content of June 17, the date of the Communist crackdown on rebellious Berliners in 1953, or Nov. 9, the date the Wall was first breached in 1989. But it will be a day off from work, a time for speeches here and there, and a benchmark to measure year-to-year progress in pursuit of a second "German miracle." What the militarism of Hitler failed to gain, the economic prowess of a united Germany steeped in democratic values may yet achieve: the leadership of Europe.

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