Born in the GDR: Living in the shadow of the
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IT IS hard to imagine what it must be like to have all the
values you grew up with suddenly shattered, a seismic shift, almost
without warning, under your feet. That was the destiny of some 17
million East Germans after 9 November 1989. No one could
encapsulate the experience of a whole nation in one book; so Hester
Vaizey, a Cambridge don, has selected a way of focusing complicated
research and reducing it to one modest (but well produced) volume
of 200 pages.
She has chosen to recount the story of eight people who were all
young on the day the Wall fell. This has an advantage: most of the
subjects lacked the experience to formulate a world-view, either
for or against a regime where the Stasi ruled. They were simply
children of their parents, and, to a large extent, were who they
were in a society that was what it was - except that its days were
The eight are well chosen, for contrast of gender, parents'
political background, and social privilege (or deprivation). The
most valuable feature of these objective studies is that the author
has not used this research as an opportunity for lambasting
communism and praising the capitalism that succeeded it. The first
subject, Petra, "wishes that politicians today were more open to
learning from things that did work well in the GDR, rather than
rubbishing everything about East Germany". Other subjects, such as
Mario, who was unjustly imprisoned as a boy under the old regime,
would reject that contention, but therein lies the fascination of
Occasionally there are statements that lapse into banality.
Peggy did not "feel relief or a sense of freedom at last" when the
Wall fell - but she hardly would have done at ten years old, would
she? One of the oldest subjects, Katharina, was born into a
Christian family the year the Wall was built; so her whole
spiritual formation focused on her beliefs. She suffered
discrimination at school, but nevertheless became a pastor under
the old system. There is more concentration on her domestic life
than her public one, however, and it would have been interesting to
have a much fuller account of the pressures she had to overcome.
Nevertheless, she survived relatively unscathed, and is active as a
The book is full of intriguing insights, and the documentation
and bibliography are exemplary.
Canon Michael Bourdeaux is the President of Keston