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Germany united.

As a Briton living in Berlin, I found Paul Betts' article 'I Want My File' (October 2009) very interesting. I had the good fortune to teach English to employees of Treuhand, set up by the last government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to privatise firms and return property, land and communal facilities to their former, rightful, owners, sometimes a very difficult question to resolve after 40 years of Communist rule, itself preceded by 12 years of National Socialism. Most of my work was with former GDR citizens who had not had the chance to learn English, Russian being the main second language taught in schools, and who now required it for their daily work. We often spoke of life in the GDR and how unification was changing everything. Being, at least theoretically, neutral, they seemed quite happy to talk to me about what they viewed as good things in the GDR such as full employment, very good education and healthcare systems, as well as what they were less happy about, especially the Stasi, as well as the lack of freedom to travel.

The education system produced high levels of literacy and numeracy even though we in the West may have disagreed with the curriculum. I once spoke to an official in the GDR education ministry and asked about political education which at that time was being introduced into the curricula of some English schools. She quickly reminded me that 'everything we teach is political, Mr Haswell'. The centralised healthcare system was similar to the NHS and, in my opinion, was a more effective and efficient model than the old West German (and current German) system funded by over 300 competing health insurance companies.

From my own experience, I found that family cohesion and inter-generational relations were strong among former GDR citizens.

Twenty years on one continues to hear gripes from both Wessies and Ossies. Many from the old East feel that the former West Germany has acted like the victor in a war and applied victor's justice to them, while a lot of Wessies feel that they have paid far too much for a unified Germany; Chancellor Kohl claimed it would not cost a pfennig. I use the term unified rather than reunified as one of my Treuhand students corrected me when I used the latter, saying that reunification would only be achieved when Pomerania, Silesia and other lost territories were once again part of Germany.

Peter Haswell


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Author:Haswell, Peter
Publication:History Today
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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