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Germany: Philipp and Eda live in Berlin, a thriving European city that divided East from West during the Cold War. (World).

Today, if you strolled through Germany's capital city of Berlin, you would hardly think that the city had been a battlefield for nearly 40 years. There are few clues to remind you that until a few years ago, a wall divided the city into two hostile sides.

Berlin--like the rest of Germany--was split down the middle into democratic West Germany and Communist East Germany.

How did this happen? At the end of World War II in 1945, Hitler's Germany was defeated and occupied by the Allied Powers--the U.S., Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. Distrust between the three democracies, led by the U.S., and the Soviet Union--the world's most powerful Communist country--grew into the Cold War.

The Cold War was a struggle for world power. And Berlin was on the front line of that war. If a "hot" (shooting) war had started in Europe, it probably would have begun in Berlin.

Too Young to Know

Philipp Schenke, 14, is too young to know what life was like in divided Berlin, but he often asks his parents about it. His mom, a teacher, and his dad, a truck driver, both grew up in East Berlin. Under the Communist system, people were not allowed to travel freely or speak their minds. In order to prevent escapes, the East German government built the Berlin Wall in 1961 and ordered its soldiers to shoot anyone trying to flee to the West. East Germany's huge secret police force spied on its own citizens to crush any opposition.

"I can't imagine the Brandenburg Gate [Berlin's most famous landmark] with barbed wire and policemen, or that they shot people just because they wanted to go to the West," says Philipp. "I don't know how I could have lived back then."

"Back then," Philipp's dad was a young man with exactly the same feelings. By the fall of 1989, a wave of pro-democracy sentiment (feeling) was sweeping across the Soviet Union and its Communist allies in Eastern Europe. Thousands of East Germans began fleeing to West Germany by way of Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

Philipp's dad bought a train ticket to Prague, Czechoslovakia, for the night of November 9, 1989. He threw a farewell party and said goodbye to his mother. But just as he was about to go to the train station, he heard unbelievable news: The East German government had announced that the border was open.

East and West Germans danced together on the hated Berlin Wall. Then they tore it down, chunk by chunk. Within less than a year, the two halves of Germany had reunited.

Big Changes

During the Cold War, West Berlin was an important symbol of democracy--especially because Communist East Germany surrounded it on all sides (see map, p. 15).

When Berlin became one city again, most people hoped that it would serve as an example of how Western and Eastern Europe could join together. In 1999 Germany's government completed the move from Bonn, the postwar capital of West Germany, back to Berlin.

Philipp's dad says that life got better after reunification. But like many East Germans, he also says that many people became colder and more egotistical (self-centered). Under Communism, you could depend on friends to get by. Now people just fend (provide) for themselves.

Philipp's parents say that the new way of life took some getting used to. The parents of Eda Karakiz, a 13-year-old Berliner, agree. Eda's dad works in a factory, and her mom runs a gift shop.

Eda's parents came from Turkey more than 20 years ago. At that time, West Germany had a labor shortage and invited foreigners into the country as "guest workers." Many of these workers stayed and started families. Today, 9 percent of Germany's population, or more than 7 million people, are foreigners. Like most rich countries in Western Europe, Germany is slowly accepting the fact that it is a magnet for immigrants.

Eda's family lives in a Berlin neighborhood with so many Turkish immigrants that people call it "Little Istanbul." At home she speaks Turkish with her parents and German with her older sisters.

"I'm not sure myself what I am," she says and pauses. "Both German and Turkish. It's all the same."

Eda still has Turkish citizenship. But her older sister says a German passport would be better for traveling and getting a good job. Because all her classmates at grade school were Turkish, Eda's father decided to send her to a college preparatory high school where she would be exposed more to the German language.

Scapegoats

After 1961, West Germans got used to the arrival of immigrants. East Germany, by comparison, had few foreigners. In the switch from the Communist, government-run economy of East Germany to the free-market (capitalist) economy of West Germany, East Germans faced economic changes, too. Many East German businesses could not compete and closed down.

Today, more than 4 million Germans are out of work, with those in the east hit hardest. Analysts say the economic gap between east and west is widening.

Some Germans, especially neo-Nazi skinheads, have used immigrants as scapegoats for their bad economic situation. Some foreigners have been violently attacked.

Eda, however, says that she's never felt discrimination. "I've never worried about skinheads. I go anywhere I want," she says. "I don't care what other people think about me."

Eda's parents speak German with an accent, but Eda talks, looks, and acts like any German girl her age. Similarly, Philipp doesn't care about older people's obsession (fixation) with what used to be "East" or "West" Germany. Eda and Philipp belong to a new generation that is open to the world. And they are ready to make the most of opportunities unavailable to their parents.

If you met either Philipp or Eda, you might be surprised by how much you have in common with them. They have Internet access, cell phones, and TVs in their rooms. Philipp knows every episode of The Simpsons, and Eda is a specialist on Harry Potter.

Both Philipp and Eda are studying English. And both are getting used to the euro--the new currency being used in 12 European countries (see News, 2/11/02). Europeans hope that by changing to a single currency, Europe's economy will grow and prosper.

Some Germans were reluctant to give up the familiar German mark for the new euro. But the euro may help to bring Europe together--just as the fall of the Berlin Wall reunited Germany more than 10 years ago.

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RELATED ARTICLE: GERMANY

Germany is one of Europe's larger countries. Its people lived in several separate states until the late 1800s. After World War II, the country was divided into East and West Germany. Today it is a federal republic with 16 laender (states). State names appear in white on the map.

FACTS TO KNOW

AREA: 137,830 square miles, not quite as large as Montana.

POPULATION: 82,200,000.

GOVERNMENT: Federal republic headed by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. The Chancellor is elected by the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament.

ECONOMY: Manufacturing is the basis of Germany's economic strength: Iron, steel, chemicals, textiles, automobiles.

Agriculture: One third of Germany's food is imported.

PER CAPITA GDP (*): $23,400.

LIFE EXPECTANCY: Men, 74 years; women, 81 years.

RELIGION: About 45 percent are Protestants, 40 percent are Roman Catholics, and 2 percent are Muslims.

(*.) The value of all products produced by the country in a year, divided by the population. (GDP stands for gross domestic product; per capita means per person).
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Article Details
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Author:Kim, Lucien
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Apr 8, 2002
Words:1257
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