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Walls of the World: Berlin, front line of the Cold War between East and West (3)

In this Dec. 20, 2016 file photo, the German flag is projected onto the Brandenburg Gate in central Berlin. (Mainichi/Keisuke Nakanishi)
(Mainichi)

BERLIN -- When asked how it felt to go from living in a socialist state with a heavily restricted economy one day to a capitalist country the next, Torsten Peter, 54, who crossed the Berlin Wall in 1988 from East to West Germany recalled, "Everything was different."

When he first came to West Berlin, he was stunned. Even though the people in West Germany spoke the same language as his home in East Berlin, the people living in the West were more forceful about claiming their rights as individuals. "In the West, people would brush strangers aside, and claim that they came first," he said.

Back in East Berlin, when a foreign dignitary would visit the city, people would "wave tiny flags along the sidewalks." To Peter, who had a staunchly communist education, the single "wall" he had crossed into West Germany might as well have been one to a completely different world. Rather than the individual, East German society implicitly emphasized group harmony.

A West Germany that thrived on competition and put a heavy emphasis on results, and East Germany with its orientation toward public harmony and a reserved attitude -- these two very different value systems are still affecting German society and politics today. Their head-on collision came in the March 1990 general election for East Germany's unicameral parliament. The main point of contention was whether or not East should be absorbed by West and how quickly.

The suggestion of East Germany coming under the sovereign umbrella of West Germany came from the West's Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Every day, some 2,000 people were crossing from East to West, and East Germany had been put into a perilous position as a nation as it was losing its workforce. However, having lost the authority of the "wall" to stop the population drain, the citizens of the East no longer would listen to their crumbling government.

Under Article 23 of West Germany's basic law or the constitution, while it was written that the geographical range of its application was Germany's western states, it also said it would "be applicable to other German regions after being incorporated" into the country. Chancellor Kohl aimed to have the East German parliament make a legislative decision to merge the two Germanys.

Still, that suggestion was rejected, at least before the election, by the East German "round-table conference" of the nation's ruling and opposition parties which effectively functioned as the country's administrative branch. What the conference called for was for the two countries to at least stand on equal footing and create a new Germany with a new constitution built on debate and opinions from both sides.

East Germany even wrote up a draft of the new constitution for East Germany independently -- all built on the foundation of expecting unification post-election.

(Japanese original by Keisuke Nakanishi, Berlin Bureau)

This is Part 3 of a series.

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