Ha! How I wish the title were referring to my age, but that would be cheating by over 20+ years! The number is indeed referring to an age, but not mine. Today marks the 30th year of German Reunification, and I don’t think the organisers of the various events taking place could have envisioned a stranger year and a more epic manner to celebrate.
This is a golden year for conspiracy theorists, and as we have witnessed in the past seven months, they have churned out bizarre theories faster than we fiction writers can create scenarios! But let’s not get caught up in pandemic politics just yet, and turn our attention instead to the unique phenomenon of German Reunification. For the past centuries we have all witnessed the crumbling of empires around the world leading to the formation of independent nations that broke away from colonialism, as well as the disintegration of regional associations bound a common ideology. Take the former Soviet Union as a classic example of the modern era. From being ruled by an iron fist and its hold over Eastern Europe, the entire region east of Germany is a mere shadow of its former self.
The tendency continues to be towards escalating separatist movements, as we see in Spain with Catalunya and the Basque region. On the other hand, there is also the impossible dream of reuniting two halves of a former whole, as seen in the cases of the two Koreas and Ireland. No other nation has successfully reunited two separate nations as Germany, and yes, people expected miracles when it first happened, while others prophesied that it would never work. 30 years later, Germany looks back and takes stock of what has taken place, the socio-political developments, strengths and failures, and can be proud not only of its achievements since reunification, but also the developments and progress in becoming a dynamic, progressive and forward thinking nation.
Progress, constant pursuit of efficiency and perfection, and evolving into a highly disciplined society comes at a price, and there is no shortage of critics. The cultural and mental divide between east and west Germany continues to thrive, fueled by an economic system that also distinguishes between east and west tariffs or compensation schemes. Some wounds will never heal for as long as the generations that lived through the era of the divided Germany are still around. There will always be an East/West tension, with a strong us-versus-them undercurrent. Germany may be celebrating 30 years of reunification, but are the Germans unified as a people?
The answer to that is almost taboo. Much as Germans thoroughly enjoy the privileges of being a German citizen, they continue to be caught up in the vicious cycle of being ashamed of the past, frustrated with the present, and uncertain of the future. This leads to an inability to be proud of being German unless confined in a stadium and screaming at the direction of a ball and the 22 players in the field chasing it. No, Germans will never be as patriotic as Canadians, Koreans, Japanese, Indians or Americans. For that matter, the neighbouring French and Italians are far better at flaunting patriotism than the Germans.
There is something very fitting about becoming a German citizen on the 30th year of Reunification. Joining the ranks of thousands of other migrants who chose to settle here, for better for for worse, to be assaulted verbally or physically for looking different or speaking the language with a foreign accent, the face of the modern German citizen is an insight into the new era of citizens that many conservatives or right-winged radicals are still very much in denial of. This is not the Melting Pot of Europe, and never will be, (I nominate Paris or London for that honour), but 30 years after the obscurity of reunification have brought about significant changes in social integration, political structures, healthcare, sports, education, engineering, and transportation. There is still a long way to go in terms of accountability, social responsibility and a host of other issues, none of which will happen overnight. Nevertheless, the 2020 pandemic has brought upon a wave of reflection, which I hope will usher in a new dawn of patriotism, acceptance and self-love.