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20 Years of German Reunification – What Has Changed?

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate

As a former East-German gal, I watched the 20 anniversary of the German re-unification with great attention and pleasure.

Many things have changed from when the wall came down to now. East Germany has become a beautiful part of Germany with new roads, reconstructed and remodeled old cities and towns. Leipzig and Dresden are great examples. The historic inner city is beautiful, not only to look at but also from a standpoint of shopping, gastronomy and entertainment. I love spending time there when I visit Germany.

The one thing that you will still hear when you talk to East Germans who are in the 30s and older, are some unfamiliar words. East Germany actually had created their own odd vocabulary for things. Some of the words had been influenced by the strong Russian influence. Russian troops had been stationed in East Germany until the wall came down in 1989. However, even more important, Russia was considered the “Big Brother” by the socialist German government.

For example, East Germans didn’t have a summer home/house – we had “eine Datsche” or a “Bungalow”. This is derived from the Russian word “datcha”.

A Hamburger was called a “Grilletta” and the grilled chicken was a “Broiler”.

You can actually look up some of those words in Wikipedia.

As a child, I had some interesting subjects at school, which were unique to East Germany. For example, we had a subject called ESP (Introduction to the Socialist Production). During those lessons, we kids worked at a

Marx - Engels Monument in Berlin

Marx – Engels Monument in Berlin

paper mill or on a farm. Today I’d say they used us as cheap labor for some physical hard tasks some as collecting cabbages from the fields by hand. (Never will forget that…)

The other one was called STABÜ – long version: Staatsbürgerkunde. The English translation is civics education, but the content was pure propaganda against the Western countries.

The most amazing change is probably this one: East Germans these days can just go and buy a new car (as long as you got the money of course). Why this is a big deal?

In the former East Germany, you had to wait about 20 year to be eligible to buy a new East German or Eastern Block car. When a child was born, East Germans put an application in at one of the car manufacturers in East Germany. So, when this child turned 20 he or she would be able to buy a car.

Therefore, East German became very innovative in re-vamping old cars and car parts. But not only cars, anything else that was needed for everyday life.

Downtown Waldheim

Downtown Waldeim

Another fascinating thing was lines of people. Anywhere, where we saw people in line we knew you could get something special. The rule was to just get in line and wait, even though you didn’t necessarily know what was for sale. You could figure that out while you were standing in line by talking to the folks in front of you. It could be anything from bananas, oranges to bedding, sheets, towels or even eggs. The most disappointing was that could happen to you in line was that the item ran out before it was your turn…

Until this day I get a smile on my face sometimes when I am shopping here in the US where an overflow of things is normality and people can just toss stuff they don’t need any more.

Now, would I say that everything is better? Things are different now in East Germany. Many things are great but with the good also comes the bad… as always in life.

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  • Jill January 5, 2011, 4:22 PM

    I had a discussion on learning German on Linkedin.com and you had some great suggestions, especially regarding Rosetta, I am not familiar with the limitations of Rosetta, so thank you for pointing that out. But, I love your blog it has so much information for lovers of all things German. I will certainly be coming back for more!

    • German Coach January 5, 2011, 4:40 PM


      Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate it. The blog is sort of my hobby even though I have been tutoring over the past two years. I noticed that there are a lot of blogs out there that just push language learning products, so I decided to add a different perspective. I am happy that people like my approach.