It is Wednesday morning in Germany and we are making our way to the south. For the last few days we have enjoyed northern Germany. First staying in Lübeck and then yesterday visiting Kiel, the capital of the in Schleswig-Holstein state.
Most of our time in Germany we have focused on political parties and governmental structure but today we are taking a little closer look at Germany’s reunification history. We left the city of Lübeck and traveled east toward the former communist country of East Germany. Lübeck, was once a border town.
Claus, our director, has shared a lot during this trip giving us a unique and personal understanding of German history and culture. Today he talked about his days visiting his grandmother in the East and crossing the border from the West. Trying to smuggle in magazines in with the gifts of chocolate, coffee and cigarettes. His family had illegally migrated from East Germany in 1960, before he was born, on the demands of his grandmother who wanted them to have a better life. They knew there was only so much that could be done when trying to survive in a communist country.
As a teenager Clause would visit his grandmother every six weeks or so and bring her items they otherwise had no access to in the communist nation. West German could freely visit East Germany, after they paid an expensive visa and various fees. East Germans didn’t have the same freedom to travel.
We drove about 10 miles from Lubeck to a museum created by private citizens to remember that time period in the country’s history. We then traveled south-east to another site were we could actually visit a former watch tower and see the hellish border crossing.
As we crossed the former border that use to divide East and West Germany I couldn’t but feel emotional. My mother’s family has suffered so much at the hands of communism. They lost everything to socialist revolution in Cuba. Now I was taking a very direct look at a former communist nation to look at what happens next.
Clearly Cuba’s communist history is nothing like Germany. They suffer from different challenges, different strengthens and completely different leaderships. Yet I couldn’t but focus on the symbolic similarities. A grandmother wanting her grandchildren to have a better life, a family fighting with reunification and a people trying to figure out how to learn from the past and make a better future.
We continued to talk about the German Reunification, which started by accident in 1989. I asked myself a million questions, including: How did the East Germans after 20 years of communism integrate into a democratic society? How did people deal with revenge? Weren’t they mad? How did the nation develop into a self-sufficient democracy? What happened to all the communist believers?
I really got emotional when we visited Claus’ grandmothers childhood home in the German country side in East Germany. His cousin bought back the house 14 years ago and made it into a hotel. During World War II the Russians took over the house and the communist made it a school. Years later when it fell to disastrous conditions it went on sale and the family bought it back.
A few years ago Claus’ mother celebrated her 89th birthday in the same home she had celebrated so many childhood birthdays. The entire family joined her for this historic moment. I was so happy for him but all I could think is that my grandparents could never do the same. Both of my Cuban grandparents died and never saw a free Cuba.
It made me think about what Cuba can learn from Germany….. TO BE CONTINUED