Why did the GDR build the Berlin Wall?
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – an important date in German history. But while this year’s focus is on the events leading to Germany’s reunification, let’s not forget how everything began.
The unlikely history of the GDR’s “Ferrari of the East”
When you think of East German cars, you probably visualize the colorful but cheaply-made Trabants (“Trabis”), which is what most people drove in the German Democratic Republic. But the GDR also had its very own race car: the Wartburg Melkus, also known as the “Ferrari of the East”.
11 items that will give you a taste of Ostalgie
Ostalgie is a special kind of nostalgia. In the US, some people collect old soda and gas station signs or old cars. All over the world there are also people who collect old relics from the former East Germany. Trabis, GDR signs, East German food, TV shows – all are examples of Ostalgie.
Fall of the Wall Vocabulary
The events of August 13, 1961 brought a new word into the German language: Stacheldrahtsonntag, which means “Barbed Wire Sunday”. If you’re familiar with German history, it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out the meaning of this word. Stacheldrahtsonntag was the day that GDR authorities began sealing off the border between East and West German using barbed wire and other barriers that which were quickly replaced by a wall. The day became so significant that it was referred to without the date. Everyone knew about “August 13” or, in other words, “Barbed Wire Sunday.”
If you’ve ever traveled to Germany, there’s a good chance you’ve seen tiny pieces of the Berlin Wall for sale at a souvenir shop. But the wall is gone – so where did these colorful pieces come from? After the East German border was opened up nearly 30 years ago, countless people made their way to the wall, equipped with pickaxes and sledgehammers. They tirelessly chipped away at the wall. Their motivations varied, but in general such a person was called a Mauerspecht.
If you’re familiar with East German cars, you probably know that they’re not the best quality. But that’s probably an understatement: they were so bad, in fact, that Germans began referring to them as Rennpappe, which means “racing cardboard”. The colloquial term Rennpappe comes from rennen (“to race/run”) and Pappe (“cardboard”). The term mockingly refers to the cheaply-produced Trabant cars – an East German automobile made of inexpensive materials.
Ossi & Wessi
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, generalized nicknames arose to distinguish people who lived on either side of the border. Those in the west were informally referred to as Wessis (“from the West”) and those in the east were called Ossis (in German, Ost means “east”).
When East Germans escaped over the inner German border during the Cold War, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) described their actions as Republikflucht, which means “desertion from the republic“ or “flight from the republic.” Additionally, the word Republikflüchtlinge describes “deserters from the republic.”
The German word Begrüßungsgeld means “welcome money”. Free money? Pretty much. And lots of people wanted it. The idea of “welcome money” is a concept that was created by the West German government in 1970. Begrüßungsgeld was a monetary gift from the Federal Republic of Germany to visitors from the eastern side the German Democratic Republic.
The year 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – a monumental day in German history. But despite Germany’s reunification, some Germans still exhibit Ostalgie – a deep yearning for the East German way of life. The word Ostalgie is a hybrid of the words Ost (“east”) and Nostalgie (“nostalgia”). Thus, the word literally means nostalgia for the east.