The town in Thuringia where my ancestors/relatives are from bordered West Germany. My cousin took us to the location where the border had been. Appropriately, there's a farm, smelling of manure, and a McDonalds alongside the location. He said that he was one of the first people to cross the border because as an electrician, he needed to access the electricity across the border. The East German police almost shot him, and the mayor of the neighboring town had to speak on his behalf. He would have been 45 when the wall fell.
Although there are other family members in the town, it seems that they don't really intermingle that much. We met not only my cousin, his wife, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, but my cousin's cousin and his son. "K" is in his 90s, and his wife is of Polish descent. She escaped to East Germany in 1944 (!) with only the clothes on her back. I still don't quite get that, but I guess East Germany was better than Poland at the time.
Under Communism, my cousins' electrician business seemed to flourish. And the town's main industries stayed because they couldn't really go anywhere else. However, when unification happened, the industries left the area and moved to West Germany. This disappointed my cousin (my father's 3rd cousin) because she wanted to go into that industry. Right now, Thuringia is the poorest district of Germany, I think I've read somewhere. It's a shame because the area we were in was so beautiful.
In Berlin, we ended up spending most of our time in East Berlin. It amazes me to think how much of the ground we covered was behind a wall for half of my life. One of our guides said, Russia took the best parts of Berlin. We did two tours, one a general walking tour and the other a bike tour of East Berlin and the Wall. I'm also reading Stasiland, by Anna Funder. The incredible amount of work that went into surveilling and controlling East Germans' lives is frightening.
I said to Amy in an e-mail that though I will never become a Republican, I do have a greater appreciation for why so many Russian immigrants I know are so fiercely libertarian and distrustful of any government program. East Germany was so clearly a failure economically and socially. The Communist totalitarian governments of the Soviet bloc exerted such control over individual lives and businesses that only the most obtuse and delusional person could have escaped feeling that government could ever be a positive force.
And I can see more about why people fear the redistribution of wealth. That was, obviously, government/fiscal policy in East Germany. And it failed. It's worth thinking about and analyzing why it failed, and how much of that was due specifically to the policies of redistributing wealth. But it's easy for me to see how the whys don't matter. It just didn't work, and I can't really blame the people who lived under that system for never believing that a bigger government could ever be a good thing.
From the East Side Gallery, photo by my husband: