"It's easier for you in the West," Baerbel Hintze says. "You've been educated to think critically. I haven't. And it's still a great difficulty for me."
Frau Baerbel Hintze is a history teacher at the Schiller Gymnasium in Weimar-formerly the Schiller EOS [Advanced High School], one of the elite Communist secondary schools in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). We have just left her twelfth-grade class on Bertolt Brecht's Life of Galileo, and I have been asking her whether she taught Galileo any differently during the GDR era. No, she says. Galileo expresses Brecht's views as a socialist, antifascist, and critic of religious dogma. I suggest that play also offers an opportunity to criticize the Communist dogmas of the GDR regime, which never tolerated any freethinking Galileos.
Frau Hintze, a former Party member herself, nods her head.
"When I teach the Galileo again, I'd like to explore that. But that approach feels very unfamiliar-threatening even, though exciting." Why? Her answers are various. She was never educated toward "critical thinking." Her studies and her continuing education seminars never suggested such an approach. She feared losing her job if she said anything too controversial.
We discuss Brecht's famous line, "Whoever doesn't know the truth is an idiot. But whoever knows it and calls it a lie is a criminal." But Frau Hintze resists any attempt to apply Brecht's line to the GDR.
"We weren't criminals or idiots. Just human beings-with vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Just ordinary people who never lost hope that they could one day improve things." Faith in ordinariness was one of Brecht's key points. "He was challenging the notion that little people are helpless, and that only the extraordinary people-the heroes-can change things." She pauses. Then she draws the connection. Holding to a faith in ordinary people is "why October 1989 finally arrived." Frau Hintze repeats the phrase "critical thinking" several times during our conversation. It seems to be a term of high approbation for her, somehow related to the strongest virtues of the West-a bold questioning of hierarchy and of received answers, a searching inventory of one's responsibilities in the face of unjust authority, a healthy scrutiny of oneself.
"I had no Auseinandersetzung [freewheeling debate] in my studies, only Marxism-Leninism. We were fed teachers' opinions and the verdicts of authorities. I learned to cite authorities-a Party document, a state official, a Marxist touchstone-as proof and defense of all positions. And so I never really took seriously any oppositional viewpoint. It wasn't an occasion for thinking about my own viewpoint. It was 'incorrect.' It was just 'oppositional,' and an energetic standard response would neutralize its power.
"Only one opinion on a topic reigned in the GDR," she continues. "And I didn't take into account other opinions. Not really. There were never any other opinions to take seriously into account. Everything was walled in-quite literally. You've heard the phrase? It's true: The Wall was in our heads.
"And one doesn't unlearn all this quickly. At least not at my age. Until you spoke in class, I never thought about non-Marxist ways of teaching Brecht-even though, I grant you, it's been five years since the Wende [turn]. I could give lip service to the statement, 'There are a variety of interpretations possible,' but I never really conceived of any serious opinion outside the Marxist Weltanschauung.
"You have to understand all this historically," Frau Hintze adds. "Even after Prague [the Soviet and GDR invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968], I never met a critical thinker. I never learned how to do that, I never encountered anybody who was doing it. We were directed in our course of studies in college to think a certain way. And I learned that particular way of thinking. This is probably very hard for you to understand, because it is just as natural for you to think critically as it was for me to think dialectically.
"The pupils here still aren't educated to think critically," she adds, "because thinking is very hard to do at all in the midst of the confusion and turmoil and upheaval of this transition from the GDR. Too many teachers still teach ideologically: they begin with the ready-made answer. And they emphasize rote textbook learning, rather than foster independence of mind and the awareness of diverse viewpoints. The kids go by others' cues and escape into distractions and sloganeering, rather than do the hard work of thinking-whether 'critically' or 'dialectically.'
"And they still feel self-constrained and are biased against critical thinking, which really starts with what the Party called 'self- criticism.' But 'self-criticism' for us was really an apologia to the Party for individualistic excesses."
Self-criticism was what one hoped to avoid: it was a public act of repentance for one's hubris or disloyalty-an acknowledgment of having been a bad Marxist. "The idea of your Western self-criticism-that one includes oneself in all criticism, or even begins with oneself and one's own side-is very unfamiliar and threatening to us.
"In 1978, I began teaching at this school. In 1985, at age forty-three, I joined the Party. It was a pragmatic decision. The Schiller EOS was one of the best schools in the state. It was an important school for producing university candidates, and the director wanted more Party members, above all in my subjects, German and history. The director told us that, if there were any transfers, Party members would have the best chance of remaining at the school. So I joined.
"Everybody had been saying for years that an EOS history teacher like me should be in the Party. I had a tough time fending off the pressure to join. And teaching history was so hard-especially eleventh grade, which dealt with the workers' movement since 1848, and twelfth grade, which covered the history of the Communist Party since 1945. At times I hated it. That had to do with my family: my parents were skeptical about the Party and GDR. My father had a position in church administration; before the war, he was a civil servant. When he joined the church and began working for it, he naturally gravitated toward the opposition voices and was constantly among people who were suspected by the regime of activities hostile to the state.
"I was never really a supporter of the regime, but I conformed. I was a careerist like most of my friends and colleagues-we constituted 85 percent of the Party."
What about events that were contested between East German and West German historians? Did you ever have any doubts about the Party line?
"Strangely enough, no. For instance, the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 was skipped in my studies. And in later years I don't remember ever discussing it with a colleague. I never knew about it. And not just that event. I never knew much about Stalin. When all the news about his regime of terror came out, I couldn't believe it.
"You see, I 'knew'-and I didn't know. I had heard various things over the years, but I had never discussed Stalin-he was effectively screened out of my course of studies and the history curriculum of the school. There was a wall around him. I never knew that he murdered millions of people.
"And that was a blind spot of mine. Pupils would occasionally ask in history class: But did the Volk know about the Holocaust? I would say: the Nazi grandparents could have known if they chose to see. I took a hard line on that: Who wanted to know, did know. But who really wanted to know? The very knowledge made you complicit-or put you in great danger. And who would take the risks? For most people, it all depended on the people with whom you were in close contact, and whether they were being directly victimized or not.
"Who wanted to know, did know: I always said that about the Nazi years. That's what I believed-and, for the most part, still believe."
Frau Hintze pauses. Her eyes are pools of tears. "And what about us?" she finally asks. "Us" meaning citizens of the GDR. She does not imply that the crimes of the Nazis and the Communist dictatorship are equivalent. Her question simply exemplifies, she says, Western "critical thinking."
"I gathered that there were some 'excesses' of Party zeal [in Stalin's USSR], attributable to the difficult post-revolutionary [post-1917] conditions and, later, the war. I knew that Khrushchev spoke about a 'cult of personality' around Stalin, but I had never participated in that cult, and I didn't think it was anything more than hero-worship. I was a fourteen-year-old girl in 1956, very unpolitical. Khrushchev's speech, Poland, Hungary-they all swept by me. In the 1970s and '80s, I heard the name Solzhenitsyn. But I knew nothing about his work. It simply never filtered down to me."
And if you-as a history teacher in an elite school didn't know any of this history-then certainly the general population of the GDR would have had little likelihood of knowing, of developing the informed skepticism of "critical thinkers."
"Right. The Wall was in their heads too."
What about the erection of the Berlin Wall in August 1961? Certainly that event was-and remained-inescapable.
"Yes, but I was studying in Dresden at the time. We were far from Berlin. I never really reacted strongly to the erection of the Wall. The West was already inaccessible to us-you couldn't go there unless you had a special reason. And I never thought of emigrating. I couldn't have taught school in West Germany-GDR teaching credentials weren't recognized there. And though I had been in Cologne and West Berlin a few times in the 1950s, my relatives were in the GDR. And they were aging and needed me to help care for them. I had a strong Heimatgefuhl [feeling of home]. The Wall didn't change anything for us-just made us turn further inward.
"The truth was kept at a distance from us. The government kept it from us and didn't cultivate, or even allow, critical thinking. And so that is the question: In a society like the GDR, how do you get to the truth?"
The truth is difficult, Frau Hintze acknowledges, and poses difficulties once it is ascertained. Difficult to discern, difficult to express if discerned, difficult to share publicly if capable of expression. "If you did ask, you would receive only a confused, ambiguous answer, anyway. And if you kept on asking, that would be dangerous. You had to be ready to go to jail. You had to be prepared to part forever from your family. You had to be ready to lose your career and your friends."
Frau Hintze looks out the window. Then she turns and faces me. "You had to be a hero. I was never a hero. I couldn't be a hero. I just didn't have it in me.
"But I had a limit," she continues. "I wouldn't inform. I never did work and never would have worked for the Stasi. That was a line I wouldn't cross, and I have little sympathy today for those who did."
Her voice is steady. She looks me directly in the face. "Should I be ashamed that I'm not a hero? Well, I'm not ashamed." The voice remains low and even. The statement betrays neither defiance nor defensiveness.
Again and again the exchange between Andrea and Galileo in Brecht's Galileo runs through my head. "Pity the land that has no heroes," says Andrea, a pupil of Galileo. "Pity the land that needs heroes," Brecht's marxified Galileo corrects him.
Which is it, really?
Frau Hintze continues, "Although I now judge all the lying and deception to have been wrong, I just wasn't strong enough to pursue the truth. In hindsight, I couldn't have done things much differently. I wish that I had developed a mode of critical thinking, but I hadn't."
Only now is she beginning to think "critically" about the Communist dogmas of the GDR era, she says. She is confronting the overwhelming task of coping with the past. "But I am ashamed in another sense-not of myself, but rather of the nation that I lived in, a nation that effectively dictated that the only truly decent human beings were those with the courage to be heroes. It was a nation that, by cutting us off from the truth, made cowards of us all."
As Frau Hintze escorts me to the bus stop, we talk of her career in the Schiller school. She mentions the names of some of the pupils that I met during my last visit-a few of whom are now teachers in the school themselves.
Waiting for the bus, I look at the faces of the playing children as they scamper by me. The old Party slogan of the GDR youth organizations comes to mind: "Who has the Youth, has the Future."
Do they-do we-need heroes?
Perhaps it is my own weaknesses-or only the relative immaturity of the Andrea in me-but I conclude that we all still do. It would be soothing and self-satisfying to think that we do not. But the assumption of Galileo-and Brecht-that a special few heroes exclude the possibility of heroism for the rest of us, that public heroism elevates those special few at the expense of the vast majority-may be misconceived.
Maybe indeed just the reverse is the case. Heroes might show us what we're all capable of. They might blaze a trail for the rest of us to follow, in whatever way, and help us become heroes in our own right-men and women with the courage to speak truth to power.
Joseph R. Stanton, E. Joanne Angelo, and Marianne Rea-Luthin
In 1972, deep in the library of the Mayo Clinic, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun found an essay, written by the classicist Ludwig Edelstein in 1943, that described the Hippocratic Oath as "a Pythagorean manifesto and not an absolute standard of medical conduct." With this ammunition, Justice Blackmun was able, in his Roe v. Wade decision, to explain away as a meaningless historical accident the medical profession's traditional prohibition against doctors performing abortions: "This it seems to us is a satisfactory explanation of the Hippocratic Oath's apparent rigidity. It enables us to understand in historical context a long accepted and revered statement of medical ethics."
Hippocrates (460-377 b.c.), a Greek physician on the Isle of Cos, was called even in ancient times the "Father of Medicine." Modern classicists have long argued back and forth about the authorship of his Oath and the other writings in the Hippocratic corpus. But, regardless of its actual author, classicists all acknowledge that the Hippocratic Oath dates back at least to the fourth century b.c. and marks the moment when-thanks to Hippocrates' influence on his many students and apprentices-medicine separated itself from magic and pledged itself to preserving life. "I will give no one a deadly medicine, nor counsel any such thing," the Oath declares; "I will not give a woman a pessary to induce abortion." The anthropologist Margaret Mead observed, "Throughout the primitive world, the doctor and the sorcerer tended to be the same person. . . . With the Greeks the distinction was made clear. One profession . . . [was] to be dedicated completely to life under all circumstances, regardless of rank, age, or intellect-the life of a slave, the life of the Emperor, the life of a foreign man, the life of a defective child."
The Hippocratic Oath, administered in its modern translations to nearly all medical school graduates since the ancient Greeks, has virtually disappeared from medicine in the late twentieth century. After the Russian Revolution, the Soviet government replaced the Oath with a mandatory pledge "to conduct all my actions according to the principles of Communist morality." The shocking disclosures at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi doctors for "crimes against humanity" brought a temporary reversion. The 1949 Medical Declaration of Geneva added to the Hippocratic Oath the explicit line, "I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of its conception." At almost the same time, protocols were established at a conference in Helsinki for assuring informed consent regarding medication and nontherapeutic experimentation.
But the decline and modification of the Oath continued, and when the Supreme Court asserted the right to doctor-performed abortion in 1973, the members of the medical profession by and large refused to declare abortion a violation of the ethical ideal asserted in the Hippocratic Oath they had all taken. With the widespread notion that the Supreme Court had settled for doctors the issue of abortion, fewer and fewer medical schools administered either the Oath or its occasional substitute, the Prayer of Maimonides. By 1977, only 6 percent of American medical schools offered the unmodified oath.
As the evil wrought by abortion and its logical corollary of euthanasia becomes ever more apparent, there are some hopeful signs of ethical resurgence. With the collapse of communism, the Russian government has rejected the Soviet Oath and demanded from its doctors a pledge "to revise the moral foundations of Russian physicians" and promote "the restoration of the priority of universal moral principles." The physician who heads the ethics section of the British Medical Association has recently called for restoration of the ancient Hippocratic Oath.
Little agreement has been reached, however, about what such an oath would entail. At least twenty-five proposed substitutes have been published in the United States, none of which have managed either to be faithful to the original Oath or to find wide acceptance. One proposed oath, by Dr. Louis Weinstein, somehow asserts that "I shall always have the highest respect for human life" and yet also that the termination of life in certain, unspecified circumstances can be "an act of charity." The oath proposed by Dr. Louis Lasagna, Dean of Tufts University Medical School, proclaims, "If it is given to me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life."
Reflecting on the disordered state of medical oaths in the era of abortion, the Value of Life Committee in early 1995 sent a letter of inquiry to a group of prominent scholars and physicians, including distinguished authors of texts on medical ethics. Collating the suggestions received and presenting them as far as possible in the language of the original Oath (360 words in the original; 410 in the restatement), the Committee arrived at a consensus, publishing its proposed "1995 Restatement of the Oath of Hippocrates" in April 1995. [See opposite page-Eds.] To date more than five thousand copies have been distributed to medical ethicists, practicing physicians, and medical students.
Almost at the same time as the "Restatement" was published, Pope John Paul II issued the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, which summons health care professionals "to be guardians and servants of life, . . . something already recognized by the still relevant Hippocratic Oath." The widest possible adoption of a medical oath that recognizes the sacredness of human life-and recognizes the necessity to preserve doctors from becoming society's paid killers-stands as one of the best and surest ways the medical profession can combat the culture of death.
E. Joanne Angelo, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Mass., and a member of Women Affirming Life, a Catholic pro- life organization.
Marianne Rea-Luthin, M.Ed., is President of the Value of Life Committee in Brighton, Mass., and is also a member of Women Affirming Life. Framable copies of the Oath are available upon request from the Value of Life Committee, Inc., P.O. Box 35279, Brighton, Mass. 02135.
I SWEAR in the presence of the Almighty and before my family, my teachers, and my peers that according to my ability and judgment I will keep this Oath and Stipulation:
TO RECKON all who have taught me this art equally dear to me as my parents and in the same spirit and dedication to impart a knowledge of the art of medicine to others. I will continue with diligence to keep abreast of advances in medicine. I will treat without exception all who seek my ministrations, so long as the treatment of others is not compromised thereby, and I will seek the counsel of particularly skilled physicians where indicated for the benefit of my patient.
I WILL FOLLOW that method of treatment which according to my ability and judgment I consider for the benefit of my patient and abstain from whatever is harmful or mischievous. I will neither prescribe nor administer a lethal dose of medicine to any patient even if asked nor counsel any such thing nor perform act or omission with direct intent deliberately to end a human life. I will maintain the utmost respect for every human life from fertilization to natural death and reject abortion that deliberately takes a unique human life.
WITH PURITY, HOLINESS, AND BENEFICENCE I will pass my life and practice my art. Except for the prudent correction of an imminent danger, I will neither treat any patient nor carry out any research on any human being without the valid informed consent of the subject or the appropriate legal protector thereof, understanding that research must have as its purpose the furtherance of the health of that individual. Into whatever patient setting I enter, I will go for the benefit of the sick and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief or corruption and further from the seduction of any patient.
WHATEVER IN CONNECTION with my professional practice or not in connection with it I may see or hear in the lives of my patients which ought not be spoken abroad I will not divulge, reckoning that all such should be kept secret.
WHILE I CONTINUE to keep this Oath unviolated may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art and science of medicine with the blessing of the Almighty and respected by my peers and society, but should I trespass and violate this Oath, may the reverse be my lot.
E. Joanne Angelo, M.D. Boston, Mass.
Henry G. Armitage, M.D., F.A.C.S. North Andover, Mass.
Anne E. Bannon, M.D. St. Louis, Missouri
Prof. Rabbi J. David Bleich, Ph.D. Cardozo Law School New York, N.Y.
Prof. Harold O.J. Brown, Ph.D. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Deerfield, Illinois
Matthew Bulfin, M.D., F.A.C.O.G. Lauderdale by the Sea, Florida
Paul A. Byrne, M.D. Sylvania, Ohio
William Colliton, M.D., F.A.C.O.G. Washington, D.C.
Prof. John Jefferson Davis, Ph.D. Gordon-Conwell Seminary South Hamilton, Mass.
Prof. Patrick Derr, Ph.D. Clark University Worcester, Mass.
Eugene Diamond, M.D., F.A.A.P. Chicago, Illinois
Mark Druffner, M.D. Minneapolis, Minn.
Prof. Arthur J. Dyck Cambridge, Mass.
Richard Fenigsen, M.D. Cambridge, Mass.
Albert E. Gunn, M.D. Houston, Texas
Curt Harris, M.D., J.D. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Gloria V. Heffernan, M.D. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Helen Jackson, M.D., F.A.C.O.G. Boston, Mass.
Prof. C. Ward Kischer, Ph.D. Tucson, Arizona
C. Everett Koop, M.D. Bethesda, Maryland
Micheline Mathews-Roth, M.D. Boston, Mass.
Prof. William May, Ph.D. John Paul II Institute Washington, D.C.
Assoc. Prof. Ralph Miech, M.D., Ph.D. Providence, R.I.
Gertrude H. Murphy, M.D., F.A.A.P. Weymouth, Mass.
Prof. J. Robert Nelson Houston, Texas
Samuel Nigro, M.D. Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Robert Nixon, M.D., F.A.C.P. Pittsboro, N.C.
Prof. Edmund Pellegrino, M.D. Georgetown University Washington, D.C.
Francis Rockett, M.D., F.A.C.S. Newton, Mass.
Msgr. William Smith, S.T.D. Dunwoodie, N.Y.
Joseph R. Stanton, M.D., F.A.C.P. Needham, Mass.
Leonie S. Watson, M.D. Evans, Georgia
Richard A. Watson, M.D. Evans, Georgia
John J. C. Wilke, M.D. Cincinnati, Ohio
Prof. George H. Williams Cambridge, Mass.
Institutional designations for identification purposes only. Copyright Value of Life Committee, Inc.
Peter L. Berger
One of the (regrettably few) benefits of growing old is the way in which incidents in one's own biography intersect with phases of what passes for world history.
I have visited Berlin several times, but three visits stick out in recollection. The first was in the late 1950s after the Airlift but before the Wall; the second was in the mid-1980s; the third was in the summer of 1995. A different vision of Berlin emerged at each visit: frontier of freedom; repository of all the moral pathologies of the West; pressure cooker of the new Germany. Over each loomed the Brandenburg Gate, potent symbol of the pretensions and the futility of all human attempts to shape the flow of events.
I have never liked Berlin-after all, I'm Viennese. It is too big, too brash, and too intimately connected with the worst nightmares of this century. But on my first visit I was impressed with the plucky spirit of the Western part of the city, which in a few short years had passed from being the capital of the Nazi tyranny to being an outpost in the defense of freedom. It is not irrelevant that the Berliners were never particularly enamored of the Nazi regime. (Proportionally, there may well have been more Nazis in Vienna than in Berlin.) Hitler detested his own capital, and the Gestapo was much concerned over the political attitudes of its population. Many Berliners in turn looked on Nazism as a Bavarian disease that had engulfed their city. Still, this was the capital of the Third Reich, and for millions of its oppressed subjects the Brandenburg Gate loomed as a symbol of that oppression.
By the late 1950s it required an effort to visualize that earlier period, as indeed it did in other places in West Germany. On the surface, at any rate, the reminders of the Nazi era had been swept away (they came back somewhat later to haunt the German consciousness, but that is another story). The Brandenburg Gate now loomed on the border of a new and much more proximate tyranny. Berliners were the "Good Germans" doing their part in the defense of democracy.
I crossed over to East Berlin several times on my first visit, nervously clutching my then quite new American passport (citizens of the Western Allied nations were free to circulate in all parts of the city). At that time, before the Wall, one could take the U-Bahn, the Berlin subway, across the dividing line. The train always stopped for a long time before crossing. A loudspeaker announced repeatedly that we were now leaving the American Sector. All Western newspapers had disappeared before then. Where before there had been animated conversation, the train now became very silent. When it moved again, unsmiling officers of the Volkspolizei walked through, occasionally asking a passenger to produce identification papers. Communist propaganda slogans festooned the walls of the subway stations. One was conscious every moment that one had now passed into a very different world.
There was much more wartime destruction still visible in East Berlin than in the West. The city was shabbier, more dilapidated. Out of the general shabbiness rose the brand-new constructions of socialist architecture, notably the atrociously ugly buildings of the Stalin Allee and the government headquarters of the German Democratic Republic. Soviet officers in shining uniforms strutted around the streets, very much the imperial conquerors. There was no advertising, only banners and billboards bearing political messages. Conversations with strangers were brief and cautious. Even in crowded places there was much silence.
Upon returning to West Berlin there was always a palpable sense of relief. In the most literal sense, one was once again breathing the atmosphere of freedom. The noisy crowds on the Kurfuerstendamm, the flashy advertising, even the raunchy nightlife of West Berlin were part and parcel of this atmosphere. The sarcastic humor for which Berlin had always been known, its brashness and irreverence, went well with this frontier status. I vividly recall attending a cabaret and laughing helplessly as the comedians satirized Communist cant with surgical precision. Sometimes I had difficulties following the local references, not to mention the Berlin dialect, but my Viennese prejudices dissolved in a sentiment of democratic solidarity.
After the Wall went up, the West German government did everything it could to build up West Berlin as a showcase of democracy and prosperity. Part of the effort consisted of subsidizing all sorts of cultural and intellectual institutions. The city hosted a multitude of institutes, research centers, and other breeding grounds of the New Class. Ironically, the Free University, founded by courageous students who seceded from the Communist-dominated Humboldt University in the East, became a bastion of every kind of Marxist, neo-Marxist, and quasi- Marxist ideology. Because of the four-power agreement on the status of Berlin, young men residing in West Berlin were not subject to the military draft in the Federal Republic. Since anyone could freely move there from the West, the city became a haven for young men seeking to avoid the draft, many of them for political reasons. As a result of all this, West Berlin became a repository for every ideological inanity of the post-1960s West. It was still possible to have a sane conversation with the odd taxi driver or Turkish hotel employee, but as soon as one moved into academic circles one was engulfed in an atmosphere of pervasive spiritual lunacy.
During my visit in the 1980s, I went to both a museum that had been set up near Checkpoint Charlie and a West Berlin cabaret. The museum showed various stages in the history of the Wall, commemorating famous escapes- through tunnels, hidden compartments in automobiles, and even a balloon. One block from the museum was the Wall itself, that obscene brutality cutting through the living fabric of the city. Flowers marked the spot where a would-be escapee had been shot to death by the Communist border guards. One could look at the guards standing on top of a watch tower on the other side, just feet away. They looked back with binoculars. One was very conscious of standing on the edge of a gigantic and ominously threatening empire that stretched from here to the outermost ends of Asia.
Things were very different that evening at the cabaret, a crowded, dimly lit place, filled with middle-aged hippies, men with unkempt beards and women wearing Peruvian ponchos. Unlike my cabaret experience in the 1950s, in the satire of the 1980s there was not a single reference to the Communist East only a ten-minute walk away. Every barb was directed at the Federal Republic and its society. The comics' portrait was one of unmitigated evil-a society marked by neo-fascism, American imperialism, phallocracy, homophobia, and environmental destruction. It was as if the Wall did not exist.
Berlin in 1995 is yet another world. Straddling the old border is what must easily be the largest construction site in the world. An entire new government quarter is going up around the old Reichstag (recently wrapped and unwrapped in the Christos' postmodernist mega-joke), but also hotels, office blocks, apartment buildings, and the new European headquarters of Sony. East Berlin, or at any rate much of it, is booming. Everywhere are the paraphernalia of reconstruction and renovation. A decade or so from now this will be one of the most monumental capitals of Europe (a dubious international asset for Germany, I would think). The old Stalinist-style buildings stand empty, awaiting demolition and revamping. Here and there, in Berlin Mitte, one comes on a few places still intact from the remoter past-Prussian, sober, Protestant-as around the Opera and the Cathedral. But on the whole it is as if the Kurfuerstendamm had exploded to incorporate the entire city with its showy prosperity and neo-European with-it-ness.
For all I know there are still people muttering Marxist incantations in obscure corners of the Free University, but they no longer determine the atmosphere of the city. In East Berlin (though less so than in other parts of ex-Communist Germany) one can still hear expressions of resentment against the dominance of the "Wessis." As in this typically "Ossi" joke: "Why are the Chinese always smiling? Because they still have their wall." An imaginative entrepreneur has actually put up a theme park, where visitors can experience daily life in the German Democratic Republic (including encounters with grim officers of the Volkspolizei). By all accounts, this nostalgia is waning. Reunification is becoming a success story. Soon it will be as difficult to imagine the scenes of the Communist era as it had been, in the 1950s, to visualize the Nazis. A new, powerful Germany is taking shape here. It is a vast improvement over everything that preceded it in this century. Yet, somehow, one contemplates it with less than undivided joy.
Soon after the collapse of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe, Soviet soldiers were selling bits and pieces of their uniforms for the benefit of Western tourists. Right at the Brandenburg Gate, there is still a set of stalls selling this stuff, manned by rather wild-looking men speaking an esoteric language. When asked, one answered, improbably, that he was Pakistani. The men look as if they came from the Caucasus region, perhaps Azerbaijan, or Chechen. One can buy caps and insignia of the Soviet Army and the East German Volksarmee, Communist banners and party pins, postage stamps and currency of the German Democratic Republic. There are few takers.