THE FIRST impression most people get of the German Democratic Republic (to give East Germany its proper name) isn't usually a good one. At the border, barbed wire fences, machine gun towers, searchlights, tank traps — or if crossing from West Berlin, the wall — all get a visitor's imagination working overtime.
Armed police — making little attempt to make friends or influence people — check your passport, your vehicle — and you. They ask: Where are you going? Why are you going there? Have you got any newspapers?... books?... gifts? Not until they are fully satisfied that you are not a smuggler, a subversive or a spy will they wave you through the formidable barriers that guard the entrances to their country.
More uniformed officials are waiting to check your money and insist that you change some of it into theirs — at an official rate of exchange. Like I said, your first impression isn't likely to be a good one.
But most people don't need to visit East Germany to get an unfavorable impression. The "other Germany" is seldom described in Western media as being anything but a repressive, lackluster, 1984ish police state — and definitely second-rate compared to its glittering neighbor, the German Federal Republic (commonly known as West Germany).
There is, of course, some truth in this. East Germany is a tightly regimented society. It certainly does not have the dazzling prosperity of West Germany. And everyone knows that its borders are patrolled by guards under orders to shoot when its citizens try to leave without permission. What is less well-known is that East Germany is one of the most powerful nations in Europe, and potentially among the most influential countries in the world. We should take a realistic look at the "other Germany."
Why There Are Two Germanies When the Nazis surrendered in May 1945, ending the war in Europe, the German state ceased to exist. It was divided into four zones of occupation, each under the direct control of one of the victorious Allied powers — the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. (Berlin, although deep in the Soviet zone, was also divided four ways.) The future of Germany was in the hands of its conquerors. The intentions of the wartime allies toward their former enemy were soon seen to differ.
By September 1949 the Federal Republic of Germany, comprised of the American, British and French zones of occupation, was granted self-government. Currency reform and the Marshall Plan helped the demoralized people get back on their feet. With determination and energy unmatched in history (unless perhaps by the Japanese) the West Germans got their battered country going again. Today they are once again the most powerful nation in Europe.
In the East it was a different story. The Russians had had enough — twice in one generation they had been invaded by German armies. They were in no hurry to see their old enemy strong again. They ruled their zone of occupation with a firm hand. Reparations were demanded. They insisted that factories and industrial equipment that had survived the war be dismantled and be sent by rail to Russia. Then they had the rails pulled up and sent too. A pro-Soviet regime was established, and three weeks after the creation of the Federal Republic of (West) Germany, the Soviet occupation zone became the German Democratic Republic. At first under tight Russian control, the GDR became a sovereign state in March 1954, and soon after, a member of the Warsaw Pact.
The Other Economic Miracle The cold war ended whatever hope of quick reunification the Germans may have had. For the foreseeable future, they were to be a divided people. As prosperity in the West increased, more and more workers in the beleaguered East tried to flee there. Starting in May 1952 the GDR began to seal their 860-mile frontier with West Germany. The only aperture left was the border between East and West Berlin. Refugees continued to pour through. It has been estimated that three and a half million people, one fifth of the East German population, crossed from East to West between 1949 and 1961. Many were highly trained scientists, technicians, teachers and skilled workers.
No nation — but especially a nation trying to recover from near destruction — can tolerate such a hemorrhage of talent. And the stern regime was in no position to improve conditions to make life more inviting.
On August 13,1961, the world awoke to find the last remaining access between the two Germanies blocked by a rising Berlin Wall. At first it was just a barbed wire barrier, later reinforced by cement block. It has since become one of the most impregnable barriers ever devised — 29 miles of floodlights, land mines, la-foot concrete walls, automatic machine guns, guard dogs and wire mesh designed to collapse and cut off the fingers of anyone trying to climb it.
It is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous places on earth... but it achieved its purpose. Overnight the flow of refugees was almost halted. Most East Germans, now that they could no longer seriously contemplate getting out, settled down to the task of getting on with rebuilding their country.
The East German economic miracle is less well-known than West Germany's Wirtschaftswunder — but in its way, it is even more remarkable. Although tied to the apparatus of a centrally planned economy, and lacking nearly all natural resources except low-grade coal, the factories of East Berlin, Dresden, Jena and Leipzig began to produce again.
Some years ago the Times of London commented: "The East Germans are a tough and capable people. If anybody can make a Soviet-type system work they can." In the last 20 years we have seen how well they can make their system work. The GDR has become by far the most economically successful country in the communist bloc. Measured against West Germany, of course, their record may seem unimpressive (but then, so does nearly everyone else's). Yet the East German gross national product is higher than several of the capitalist countries of Europe. They are well fed and generally well housed. One in three families has a car. The consumer goods may be unimaginative, but they are of excellent quality.
Although its population is only 17 million, the GDR produces more than all of Germany during the heyday of the Third Reich. With loans from the West the GDR has become the ninth industrial power in the world. Even making allowances for exaggeration in "official" figures, they have done well — and have the potential to do even better. In spite of this, the East Germans struggle with a national inferiority complex. They try to counter their also — ran reputation by striving to excel in every field open to them. Their athletes are world — beaters — winning more gold medals in the 1976 Olympics than the U.S.A.!
The GDR is sensitive to the rather dowdy face it presents to visitors. East Berlin is at last being restored to its prewar grandeur. When the city was divided, most of the historical buildings left standing were in the Eastern sector. Until recently, they were bombed-out ruins. Now the churches, cathedrals and museums around the central boulevard — Unter den Linden — are being completely restored in time for the city's 700th anniversary in 1987. In some ways the East German capital is becoming a more impressive city than what has been described as the gaudy American suburb across the wall.
What incredible people the Germans are! Surveying the pulverized remains of the Third Reich, some commentators prophesied that it would be at least 100 years before the German nation could recover some semblance of normalcy. Yet, just a generation or so later, the two Germanies have come charging back, each to become the superstar and showcase of its respective world.
The Reluctant Rivals How do the two Germanies regard each other? They've had to maintain a discreet distance. The West Germans worked hard to regain the trust of the world after the war. The East Germans did not have to concern themselves with that. They had to accept that their existence depended on their continuing as loyal allies of the Soviet Union.
But times are changing, and the Europe of today is a different place to the Europe of 30 or 20 or even five years ago. A new generation is growing up in both Germanies. They do not have (nor should they have) any feelings of guilt over a war that was fought essentially by their grandfathers. Most Germans alive today have not known anything but a divided nation. The average man or woman is not preoccupied with reunification, although polls have shown that most West Germans would like it. Realistically they do not expect it anytime soon. It is a matter to be left to the politicians (who are becoming increasingly bold in talking about it). No polls have been taken in the East, but there is every reason to believe sentiments would be much the same.
For now, the Germans seem to be able to live with the fact that they are a divided people. East and West Germans recognize each other and exchange correct — and increasingly cordial — diplomatic relations. The East German economy receives much help from the Federal Republic directly through loans, and less directly through preferential trade arrangements. There is the occasional flare-up along the tense border — but overall the two nations coexist as rather reluctant rivals.
The Future It was the Germans who pioneered the development of guided missiles during the Second World War. Their conquerors, helped by captured German scientists, refined the art. The crude V-1s and V-2s launched from Peenemunde 40 years ago were the ancestors of the American Pershing 2 missiles that NATO allies plan to locate on German soil — unless arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union forestall their deployment. These missiles could strike deep into Russian territory with pinpoint accuracy.
The Soviet Union realizes that such missiles pose a far greater threat than the armies of Hitler or the Kaiser ever did — a threat against which a land barrier offers no protection. Russia will have to rethink its defense policy. What would Russia be willing to offer in exchange for a guarantee of neutrality from her western neighbors?
Time will tell. But it would not make sense for Europe to be unified and neutralized — and Germany to remain divided. Some degree of unification will take place. The two Germanies with their common language, common history and common culture would quickly work out the details. It would not be such a one-sided deal as we might at first think. That "other Germany" must not be underrated. Combined, East and West Germany would be a power to be reckoned with. As the nucleus of a united Europe — a third world power — they would be its most powerful component.
Could such a dramatic change in the balance of power happen? Analysts and politicians on both sides of the Iron Curtain are speculating that it could.
Jesus Christ didn't have to speculate. He knew Europe's future. So that we, too, could know and be prepared, he revealed it through the prophecies of the Bible. Few people realize that these prophecies tell in advance the events now taking shape in the heart of Europe that will soon rock this world to its foundations.