Life in the Communist-ruled German Democratic Republic (GDR) was simpler and sometimes could be “almost comfortable in a certain way”, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in the former East, told Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
In an interview with the German daily released ahead of Saturday’s 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Merkel said western Germany had a “rather stereotypical notion” of the East.
There are a lot of people, she said, “who simply had a hard time understanding that there was a difference between the GDR state and the individual life of the GDR citizens.”
“I’ve been asked if you could be happy in the GDR, and if you could laugh. Yes, and myself and many others attached great importance to being able to look (ourselves) in the mirror each day, but we made compromises,” she said.
“Many people didn’t want to escape every day or get imprisoned. This feeling is difficult to convey.”
Born in Hamburg in 1954, Merkel moved with her family to East Germany as a baby when her father, Horst Kasner, was offered a job as a pastor there. She grew up in Templin, a small town north of Berlin surrounded by rolling hills and picturesque lakes.
Although her father belonged to a wing of the Protestant church that worked with, not against, the political system, the family was viewed as suspect by the Communist authorities because of his religious role.
The fall of the wall, which had divided East and West Germany in Berlin for nearly three decades and became a potent symbol of the Cold War, was followed a year later by the reunification of Germany.
Reflecting on the time it has taken Germany’s east to adjust to reunification, Merkel told the Sueddeutsche: “The efforts of freedom, to have to decide everything, have to be learned.”
“Life in the GDR was sometimes almost comfortable in a certain way, because there were some things one simply couldn’t influence,” she added.