All That Glitters is not Gold - The Impact of Frustrated Consumerism on German Reunification


Bachelor Thesis, 2006
26 Pages, Grade: A

Excerpt

Table of Contents

Introduction

Historical Background

Status of Research

Analysis of the Factors for Reunification
Legal Issues
Political Issues
Economic and Social Issues
Events Leading to Reunification
East German Reactions to the Fall of the Wall
Perception of Reunification after the Year 2000

Conclusion

Introduction

Since the beginning of modern nationhood, nationalism has been an important factor in building a nation. According to Ernest Gellner, “nations are the artefact of men’s convictions and loyalties and solidarities.”[1] Nations are thus of big importance for people’s identity. After World War II, the notion of nationalism became a complicated concept for most Germans. One reason was that people who were nationalistic were condemned by others because of the horrible things done by the Hitler regime. Another complication with post-World War II German nationalism was the division of Germany itself. Due to that division, Germans with the same history and culture were divided by political boundaries. Gellner argues that this harms nationalism immensely.[2] Yet most Germans did not see the division as a permanent condition. The East German attitude in this matter is especially interesting. Despite minor changes in opinion over time, the ordinary East German citizen felt that he or she was part of a single German nation. Actions taken by the East German government aimed at full independence and even isolation from West Germany. However, East Germans did not go with this. They expressed their desire for a single German nation in many fields, one of them consumer culture. The population did not support the official policy of rejecting and ignoring West German and other products but wanted to be able to enjoy the Western lifestyle. This frustrated desire combined with the shortcomings of production and supply in the GDR was the final problem that, apart from the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the East German economy, led to the eventual collapse of the German Democratic Republic.

Historical Background

After World War II, the allied powers divided Germany into four zones to be occupied by Great Britain, France, the United States and the Soviet Union. The winning powers wanted to make sure that a regime like Hitler’s regime would not emerge again. On May 23, 1949 the Federal Republic of Germany declared its independendence and only a short time later, on October 7, the German Democratic Republic did the same. Even though the constitutions of both countries provided the legal possibilities for reunification, it seemed to be impossible because both German states developed under different political and economic premises.[3] Thus Germany would become an arena for conflicts between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War. Despite attempts for a quick solution to that problem, relations deteriorated and hit a low point in August 1961 when the East German government ordered a stone wall to be built around West Berlin. The Berlin Wall was built in order to stop East German citizen from leaving the GDR. Many people wanted to leave because they were unhappy and dissatisfied with the political, economic, and social conditions. A nationwide uprising in 1953 had not changed the situation, but only demonstrated that the East German government would not allow open criticism about the system.[4] In the late 1980, East Germans went into the streets again and demanded government reforms. People were highly dissatisfied with the political but also the economic situation. Certain consumer and luxury goods were still hardly available even though World War II had been over for forty years. These deficiencies of the planned economy were one factor that undermined the government as the state was never able to live up to its promises. East Germans always compared their living standard to that of West Germans and desired the same goods and lifestyle. Social discontent along with political motives pushed the Monday demonstrations and finally forced the East German government to give in to certain demands such as freedom to travel. The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 was only a consequence. These social events led by East German consumer demands were important aspects of a peaceful reunification. But after all they were only part of the causes that eventually led to the breakdown of the German Democratic Republic. Historians have widely researched that topic and the reasons for the breakdown of the GDR, but what events do they stress as most important and how do they judge the impact of frustrated consumerism on reunification?

State of Research

The division of Germany after World War II and its eventual reunification has been the main focus for many contemporary scholars. It has been frequently researched because it was a main venue of the Cold War and many historians call the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Yet, most historians have almost neglected the consumer demands and discontent that were a powerful reason for reunification and instead focused mainly on political and economic reasons.

Many different aspects of life in the German Democratic Republic were subject to research by historians during and after the Cold War. One thing they found out was that East Germans were restricted in their daily life activities due to various reasons, a main factor being censorship. Open discussions about the state of the nation and ideas for improvement were considered an aggressive and hostile sentiment against the government. People who expressed opinions that did not match with the national creed of the leadership were oftentimes jailed and sometimes even expatriated.[5] This lack of freedom of speech together with the impossibility of obtaining balanced news on any desired subject were a major reason for discontent among East German citizens.[6]

Adding to the dissatisfaction were also the shortcomings of the East German economy. This has been widely researched as well and scholars such as Andreas Staab, Annette Kaminsky, David Crew, and Stephen R. Burant all mentioned production deficiencies.[7] They agree that the East German leadership was not able to provide a sufficient amount of consumer goods such as fresh fruit or meat and luxury goods such as cars, refrigerators, or TV sets. Crew and Kaminsky even go so far as to claim that the repeated shortcomings in supplying the population eventually undermined the legitimacy of the East German government. Adding to the undermining of legitimacy were the promises of the leadership that production and supply would improve and within only a couple of years after the foundation of the two Germanies West Germany would be passed in economic output. As the leadership was not able to keep these promises, popular support decreased.

Even though the impact of consumer demands and behavior was crucial for German reunification, it has to be noted that other events heavily influenced it as well. Apart from social factors, economic and political causes played a major role, too. According to Annette Kaminsky, the East German economy almost collapsed in 1983 and was only able to recover with financial support from West Germany.[8] This problem would not disappear until German reunification. Andreas Staab and David Crew also mention political obstacles that hurt the East German leadership such as the breakdown of the Soviet Union and lack of popular support for the government. It becomes quite obvious that German reunification was a result of several forces all happening at the same time and eventual overwhelming the East German government.

In general, scholars tend to focus more on the political and social causes and neglect the impact of consumerist culture. The impact that consumerism had on German reunification is only mentioned briefly with scholars not paying sufficient attention to it. The force of frustrated consumerism on the part of the East German citizenry by itself might only be a minor factor for reunification but withing the whole picture it represents the piece that got the entire reunification process started. Without the ever-growing discontent of East German consumers, the leadership might have been able to restore its power and legitimacy. Thus, cultural causes must receive more recognition when talking about reunification because it united the East German population in a way other political and social problems could not. East Germans were commonly united by the wish to reform the socialist government. This hope slowly turned into the wish to abolish the government and the ability to access consumer goods freely which was eventually achieved in 1990.

Analysis of the Factors for Reunification

Frustration and disappointment among the East German population was the final straw for reunification. People were highly dissatisfied with the political leadership as it ignored the hopes and wishes of the people. The lack of available goods in stores contributed to the general frustration and slowly undermined the legitimacy of the East German government as politicians were found guilty in not being able to provide sufficiently for the population. In 1990 the population was highly dissatisfied with the entire situation and drastically pushed for a change in politics. These desires were soon replaced by the wish to abolish the socialist government in East Germany. They wanted to live a life free of scarcity of goods and with more basic rights; a life how West Germans were able to enjoy. Demonstrations for change increased quickly and in the end overwhelmed the East German government. The breakdown of the Soviet Union and the eventual collapse of the East German economy around the same time were two other important factors that worsened the entire situation for the leadership but the cultural force of consumerism is often neglected and has to be given more importance.

Legal Issues

Reunification was always an issue for both the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany, especially during the time immediately following separation. How important it was for both nations is made clear by the fact that both constitution discussed the issue. The constitution of West Germany, called the Basic Law, provided two different ways for reunification. Art. 23 of the Basic Law says that it is legal in all the states that make up West Germany and that it will be legal in the eastern German part after it joined the Federal Republic.[9] However, Art. 23 provided for reunification in a way not desired by East Germans. According to that article, reunification would only be possible if the East German states joined West Germany. Thus, East Germany would have to do away with its political and economic system in order to be eligible for reunification. Another article, Art. 146, provided for the possibility of reunification as well. That article says that the Basic Law will lose its validity and legitimacy the day another constitution is verified by the German people of both nations.[10] It is also interesting to note the name of the West German constitution, the Basic Law. It was given this name because the West German government as well as its people thought that reunification would take place within the next couple of years and would make the Basic Law invalid. This is also expressed in the preamble of the constitution as it announces that the German people are asked to complete German unification and freedom with self-determination.[11]

On the other hand, the East German constitution from 1949 does not really provide any path to reunification. The East German government takes a different stance. In some ways, it even neglects the reality of two separate German states. Art. 1 of the constitution notes that Germany is an undivisible nation and that there is only one German citizenship.[12] That these arguments were made in Art. 1 shows how important that issue was for the East German leadership. Interpreting this, one can conclude that East Germany did not consider the fact of the existence of two German states. Rather, the leadership still thought of only one German nation. Another way of interpreting this is that for the German Democratic Republic reunification was only possible if West Germany joined East Germany. Thus, there would be a single Germany with a socialist government. For these reasons, the constitution did not provide any hints or advice about how to act in the case of reunification.

[...]


[1] Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism, ed. R.I. Moore, (London, UK: Cornell University Press, 1983), 7.

[2] Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism, ed. R.I. Moore, (London, UK: Cornell University Press, 1983), 1.

[3] Grundgesetz. (Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany), 23 May 1949, available from: http://www.documentarchiv.de/index.html; accessed 19 September 2006; Verfassung der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik. (Constitution of the German Democratic Republic), 7 October 1949, available from: http://www.documentarchiv.de/index.html; accessed 19 September 2006.

[4] On June 17, 1953 East German workers demonstrated in many major East German cities against governmental resolution. At first the workers solely called for lower work quotas but the demands quickly turned into political demands. At the end of the day, the workers insisted on the resignation of the East German government. The leadership was unable to handle the whole situation and asked the Soviet Union for support. The uprising was put down militarily with Soviet tanks and left 55 people killed.

[5] Anette Kaminsky, Wohlstand, Schönheit, Glück: Kleine Konsumgeschichte der DDR, (München, Germany: C. H. Beck, 2001), 131; Stephen R. Burant, ed. East Germany : A Country Study. [book on-line] available from: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/gxtoc.html; accessed 23 October 2006.

[6] David Childs, East Germany , (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1969), 201; Andreas Staab, National Identity in Eastern Germany: Inner Unification or Continued Separation? (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998), 108.

[7] Anette Kaminsky, Wohlstand, Schönheit, Glück: Kleine Konsumgeschichte der DDR, (München, Germany: C. H. Beck, 2001), 160; Stephen R. Burant, ed. East Germany : A Country Study. [book on-line] available from: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/gxtoc.html; accessed 23 October 2006; David F. Crew, ed. Consuming Germany in the Cold War, (Oxford, NY: Berg, 2003) , 141; Andreas Staab, National Identity in Eastern Germany: Inner Unification or Continued Separation? (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998), 124.

[8] Anette Kaminsky, Wohlstand, Schönheit, Glück: Kleine Konsumgeschichte der DDR, (München, Germany: C. H. Beck, 2001), 142.

[9] Grundgesetz. (Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany), 23 May 1949, available from: http://www.documentarchiv.de/index.html; accessed 19 September 2006.

[10] Grundgesetz. (Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany), 23 May 1949, available from: http://www.documentarchiv.de/index.html; accessed 19 September 2006.

[11] Grundgesetz. (Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany), 23 May 1949, available from: http://www.documentarchiv.de/index.html; accessed 19 September 2006.

[12] Verfassung der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik. (Constitution of the German Democratic Republic), 7 October 1949, available from: http://www.documentarchiv.de/index.html; accessed 19 September 2006.

Excerpt out of 26 pages

Details

Title
All That Glitters is not Gold - The Impact of Frustrated Consumerism on German Reunification
College
Marshall University
Course
History - Senior Seminar
Grade
A
Author
Year
2006
Pages
26
Catalog Number
V135107
ISBN (eBook)
9783640433827
ISBN (Book)
9783640433629
File size
540 KB
Language
English
Notes
Die Note "A" entspricht einer deutschen Benotung zwischen 1,0 und 1,5.
Tags
Deutschland, Wiedervereinigung, Geschichte, Konsumverhalten
Quote paper
Christin Bimberg (Author), 2006, All That Glitters is not Gold - The Impact of Frustrated Consumerism on German Reunification, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/135107

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