Jelka von Langen for M Le magazine du Monde
ReportageMost of them did not know the GDR. But the lingering clichés surrounding the new Länder suffer. These young Germans defend a more nuanced and open identity. As an antidote to the rise of the far right.
These are two photos of the same house in the center of Görlitz. The one on the left, in black and white, was taken in the 1980s, when this town on the border with Poland was in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The building is in a miserable state, its facade is in tatters, the windows are missing panes. The photo on the right, in color, shows the house as it is today, freshly repainted and impeccably renovated, in other words unrecognizable.
This is the photomontage that Angela Merkel’s government chose to illustrate the cover of their latest Annual report on the state of German unity. Published each year ahead of the National Day of October 3, the anniversary of the reunification of the two Germans in 1990, this document, full of figures and graphics, paints a precise picture of the demographic, economic and social situation of “New Länder”, the expression still officially in use, thirty years later, to designate the part of German territory that once belonged to the GDR.
This iconographic choice bears witness to this: the current government considers that the promise made by Helmut Kohl in July 1990 has been kept. At the time, the West German chancellor, on the verge of becoming that of the reunified country, assured that the disappeared GDR would give way to “Flourishing landscapes”. “Things often took longer than expected. But, in most areas, we can say: unity found, unity achieved, unity achieved! “, welcomed Marco Wanderwitz, the federal government delegate in charge of the new Länder, during the presentation to the press of the famous report on September 16.
The emergence of new faces
With its smart villas, beautiful sandy beaches and pretty forests, the island of Usedom could be one of those “Flourishing landscapes” once evoked by Helmut Kohl. A major holiday resort in the days of the GDR, the “Pearl of the Baltic” is today one of the most dynamic areas of the Land of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, in north-eastern Germany. This is also where the small seaside resort of Heringsdorf is located, where one of the country’s youngest mayors, Laura Isabelle Marisken, then 31, was elected in May 2019.
This totally unexpected victory earned the lawyer the top of the “100 most important young East Germans”, a list published by Die Zeit in November 2019, on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Through this list of elected officials, entrepreneurs, artists and athletes, all under the age of 40, the great Hamburg weekly intended to respond to a criticism often made to newspapers “in the West”: their tendency to talk about the new Länder in essentially negative terms, like aging territories, not very innovative and plagued by the extreme right.
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