“East Germany” doesn’t translate well into German. Referring to Moscow’s western outpost as Ostdeutschland is still an easy way to stick out in the Vaterland — much like counting beginning with one on the index finger, rather than the thumb.
What was officially called the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic) was and still is simply the DDR. “West Germany” was Germany, and that zone to the east was something else, a sector sharing only a language and occasionally family members.
The relationship between west and east was complicated. It remains so, as legacies both peaceful and divisive persist.
As ground zero for the Cold War, the states hosted soldiers and weapons from around the world for decades. Between that standoff and the losses of two world wars, Germany has learned skepticism of battle’s benefits and a distaste for nuclear pursuits.
Reintegration has proved more difficult. Though Chancellor Angela Merkel was raised in the East, that part of the country carries scars that transcend generations. Satellite photographs still show Berlin streetlights burn an efficient blue-green in the west and a Soviet shade of yellow in the east.
At the epicenter of the conflict was divided Berlin, where Marshall Plan money stood toe-to-toe with Soviet interests. Yes, the church played a role in crumbling that ugly wall, but the surrender by way of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) was hastened more by many years of economic warfare.
That doesn’t mean God wasn’t present — despite the atheists’ efforts. The Sunday after a month of peaceful protest capped off the atrophy of communism in East Berlin, the city’s Mennonite churches on each side of the wall gathered for worship on Nov. 12, 1989. Horst Krueger, then-pastor of Berlin Mennonite Church on the west side, utilized Psalm 121, which asks where our help comes from.
“The fact that we are still a congregation is not from our work, even if we have done a lot. No, our help came again and again from God, who has encouraged us,” said Krueger 25 years later in a sermon on Nov. 9, 2014.
An extreme form of post-Christendom was introduced when the Soviet Union tended to its quarter of Germany after World War II. Therefore, it is right to thank God for deliverance from a dark age.
Tim Reimer, pastor of Danforth Mennonite Church in Toronto, worked for Mennonite Central Committee in Germany when the wall opened. Looking back, he says followers of Christ shouldn’t wait for governments to say what such momentous events mean.
“We give these events their meaning by the choices we make as people of hope and people of peace,” he said. “If we were waiting for the true meaning of these events to be shown by the economy, or if we want to believe what we read in the newspapers about what die Wende (the change) was really all about, then we could soon become disheartened.
“The economy continues to struggle. Divisions still persist in Germany and the whole world. But we can continue to be a people of peace and of hope, and this is the challenge that I want to leave with my people 25 years after the fact.”