German unification: Lessons from a people

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TERESITA TANHUECO-TUMAPON

TWENTY-SEVEN years ago, on October 3, 1990, divided Germany achieved its unification, celebrating at midnight with the pealing of bells, national hymns and the jubilant blare of good old German traditional songs. <http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big003.html>

Before and after unification. Three years earlier, during a week’s break from my studies in London, a German couple from Hamburg, my friends of several decades, took me to see the Berlin Wall. “Crossing the inner German border remained possible throughout the Cold War; it was never entirely sealed in the fashion of the border between the two Koreas, though there were severe restrictions on the movement of East German citizens…Mostly respected by the Soviets and East Germans were the post-war agreements on the governance of Berlin.” These “specified that the Western Allies were to have access to the city via defined air, road, rail, and river links.” Foreigners, too, were allowed. Traveling by car with the couple, I recollect that we drove through Potsdam, three hours from Hamburg, later passed by Checkpoint Charlie. Proceeding on, we reached another checkpoint. The sentry asked for my passport and to take off my glasses. The guard checked the color of my eyes as indicated on my passport, the credible reference to my identity. Then he placed my passport on a conveyor. We drove on; the sentry at the other end handed my passport back to me. We reached a watchtower, helped myself up and looked down the other side of Berlin; the eastern side of the wall was quiet the day we came. That quiet seemed to hang over me for some time; it was so different from mere silence.

<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Checkpoint_Charlie>. Eleven years after unification, the same couple from Hamburg again took me to Berlin. We stopped by a tourist shop to buy souvenirs of the wall. What remained of the Berliner Mauer, seeing it again after a decade, was a declaration that the dividing years were indeed gone. Parts of the wall were meaningful splashes of color, silent witness of a people with a strong political will.

Peace in unity–the promise of unification. On the steps of the Reichstag (the parliament) that momentous midnight, President Weizacker proclaimed: ‘’In free self-determination, we want to achieve the unity in freedom of Germany. We are aware of our responsibility for these tasks before God and the people. We want to serve peace in the world in a united Europe.” “Hundreds of German flags waved and firecrackers snapped in the chilly autumn night…Once again, Berlin became the political and spiritual capital of Germany.”
<www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/1003.html?mcubz=3>“The moment marked the return of a nation severed along the front line between East and West to the center stage of Europe, this time as an economic powerhouse.”<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_the_inner_German_border> (In our world today—Las Vegas, Florida, Manchester, Marawi, etc.—we fervently pray to have genuine peace within our reach!)


Purpose of history. History as a subject in universities is not meant to clog the students’ minds with dates and events. History is meant to have students “understand why we live the way we are living and why we are where we are as …a country.” It also allows us to learn from other people how they rise before a dark past of their life as a nation, to make up for an unwanted past and build their nation into a better place to live in. History teaches us “valuable lessons about human nature…”<https://www.realmofhistory.com › Culture>.

Lessons learned. Having had study grants in German universities and study visits, and worked with teams on alumni matters and with the German diplomatic corps through nearly two decades, I have observed that, first, Germans carefully consider the implications when making decisions. A remark posed by the audience to a German lecturer on the topic of migrants—“why not place the migrants in the eastern part of Berlin since this is not as populous as that in the west,” received the lecturer’s reply—that Germany takes in migrants not to isolate them, not to create ghettos nor just to give them a place, but to have them integrated into German society, live a meaningful life. Second, their task perception is that a task be done wholly, very well and on time. No procrastination. (Can’t help but remember a British friend consultant in an LGU making this remark—that some staff in our public offices “play a little, work a little”.) Third, their obvious practicality is not hampered by false nationalism. A cultural grant from a country bound me to spend the funds only on goods and services from that country. With a Deutsch-funded grant for presentation equipment, these were accessed from the best available in the market, not necessarily German-made. A project with another country required a dedicated classroom 24/7. That room, even if vacant, could not be available for any other reasonable purpose. The Deutsch-funded Sprache Raum, if vacant, could be used for any academic conference/consultation. Regarding funded travel, there’s certainty that comfort, security and punctuality are thoughtfully attended to. Fourth, caring—during a summer session holiday at George Augustus U, my former mentor at Kassel Universitat sent a car for me to visit Kassel; lunch was ready at a Chinese restaurant—his gift to me on October 3, my birthday.
These are some facets of German character. We leave to experts the political lessons of German unification.

Email: ttumapon@liceo.edu.ph

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