Thursday, October 22, 2009

A comparison and contrast of East and West Germany.

I ran across this And Its Soviet Similarities and it seems like time to talk about what I am seeing. Compare and contrast was an essay style tht was popular in the school I grew up in, I think it is time to pull it out again

After WWII Germany was split by the Allies into occupation zones, France, England and the US zones eventually coalesced into West Germany and East Germany was under control of Soviet Russia. They both started out with a bombed out nation and a defeated but sophisticated people. The West got the Marshall Plan and the East got communism. It was a contest, remember Khrushchev and his "We will bury you" speech.

Let's do a comparison and contrast.

Firstly, grocery shopping. Rather then large supermarkets they had smaller corner grocery stores, pretty close to the size of a small 7-11. Lets see the effect a regular old supermarket had on my Mom's sister. She was able to get a visa to exit the Soviet Union by herself, her husband and children needed to stay behind, of course. We needed to just got to the store to pick up a few things, nothing special. Well, like most supermarkets we walk into the grocery department, to her its like a whole farmers market worth of food, some of which she didn't recognize. We gather the fruits and veggies we need and turn the corner to the cereal aisle, you know, a hundred feet long, 7 feet high and ever box is a different kind of cereal and there was aisle after aisle after aisle of food as far as the eye could see. The little corner store she always took us to had both kinds of cereal the one with dried fruit and the one without. She broke down and started to cry, this ordinary and unremarkable supermarket represented such abundance that it overwhelmed her. I could understand that. When we went to the market where she was there was milk in glass bottles with the cream on top, while it may have been pasteurized it was not homogenized and you only had the one kind, no skim, 1%, 1.5%, 2%, just whole pretty much straight from the cow. As for other drinks there was beer and soda, and if the labels had fallen off, as they often did, you had to shake the bottle and peer through the dark brown glass to check what kind of bubbles formed.

By the 1980s Plauen, the small city that my parents grew up in had gotten a downtown revitalization project and had a department store. It was little different from a Sears, you know, clothes, bedding, tools, camping gear and the like; except that it was always mostly empty of product, every time we went it looked like a Florida supermarket just before a hurricane, vast shelf space sitting empty, waiting for product to hopefully come. At least they had finally cleared most of the bomb damage.

How about cars? East Germany had the Trebant, this from the same people as had created the Volkswagon Bug, a car that was little better then a Ford Model A. An uncle finally got one after 14 years on the waiting list and was very proud of it. We got rides into though after filling it with gas and oil and giving it a shake, I thought the Snapper lawnmower I pushed around the yard at home had a better engine. Not long after the Wall came down, we got one of those 3:00 am calls but instead of bad news he was screaming about how he had passed a Porsche on the Autobahn in his Trabbi. He eventually admitted that it had been spewing large amounts of smoke out of the tailpipe, but it was still on the road and didn't have its flashers on, so it was a legitimate overtake. So there.

As for Health care, Oma was on a little pension after her husband had died of a heart attack after coming home from work. I remember her hands most of all, curled into tight little arthritic balls and the hunched shuffling gait she used to get around. She did however have a wonderful garden on the edge of town, typical of Germany East or West, that she grew much of her food and medicine. We would take her pain relievers and coffee and such to help her and the rest of the family out.

Oma's apartment had, like many European buildings, a central bathroom for each floor. When you pulled the level it opened the hatch to drop the material into the basement collection vat and there was a naked gas burner that helped with the smell. The bathroom alone would probably give an OSHA inspector a heart attack. Oh, and the toilet paper, the stuff they had was like raffia or newspaper that had jammed badly in a printer and folded up like an accordion. That was awful. Gimme an old Sears catalog any day over that sandpaper.

As little as 20 years after the wall went up it was obvious that West Germany was winning the economic progress race. West German technology was and is some of the best in the world, East German, not so much.

see also "Russians Looked Only for the Agenda"