The View from East Germany


The media has given much attention to the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s collapse, lauding the often-facile narrative of democracy over communism, of freedom over tyranny. Yet, the reality of historical events and their impact on the lives of ordinary people is never quite so simple. Often lost amid the spectacle of politicians, policy makers, and the mass media are the ways that ordinary people have grappled with their extraordinary circumstances, ranging from the heroic, the tragic, and the deeply complicated yet profound ways humanity responds to change.


This video by Simone Shoemaker (now Simone Hogan) comes from a tape of selects that eventually aired on our show The 90’s in 1991. Shot when she was only 23 years old, this footage later become part of Shoemaker’s two-part documentary called Test the West! portraying Germany’s reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall between the years 1990-1993. Having left her home in East Germany one year before the Berlin Wall fell, Simone returned to her homeland to document the consequences of such a rapid economic and political transition and how it changed the lives of everyday East Germans. The full documentary can be found online here. Our cut of Shoemaker’s footage for Episode 301 of The 90’s titled “Money, Money, Money” depicted the response of East Germans and the country’s rapid transition to a free market economy, including an amusing yet poignant clip of East Germans eating Burger King for the first time.


In this video, Shoemaker further explores many of the economic, cultural, and aesthetic transformations brought by the sudden inundation of a free market economy. How East Germans coped with the daily reality of an increasingly consumer driven, corporate dominated culture becomes the subject of Shoemaker’s account. Driven by personal narrative and hope for her former country, Shoemaker at once depicts the deep yearning of East Germans for a new and freer life, the remnants of nostalgia for a life unblemished by commercial culture, and the creeping anxiety of a society encountering the great uncertainties of the future and the stilted, forced integration of two cultures—East and West—which had begun to bear their own distinct mark of identity after nearly 50 years of separation. “My government ended,” says Shoemaker, “that sounds easy. Is it really that easy?”




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