The euphoria that accompanied the opening of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, should still be fresh in our minds. We remember the scenes of people dancing on the Wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate, total strangers embracing each other, sharing bottles of champagne. We remember the party atmosphere that culminated in reunification in October 1990. Today I am writing to tell of the hangover that has followed the party.

“Hangover” is actually not the best word to describe what I saw in the eastern part of Berlin from February to July of 1992, because a hangover goes away over the course of time and the pain and frustration in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) have been getting worse, not better. If you have followed events in Germany since the Will came down, you have probably heard sentences like: “Now that the actual physical Wall has come down, we have to break down the mental walls that still separate us.” I want to suggest that the wall in the mind is growing higher instead of getting lower and that this wall is not just a mental phenomenon but has its basis in actuality. Consider this fact, trivial in itself but symptomatic: in 1991 about 100 women in West Berlin married men from Africa; only 46 married men from East Berlin.

East Berlin today presents a different appearance than it did the last time I was there two years ago. The very air in the East is different from what it used to be, as the characteristic GDR-stench put out by cars and trucks belching fumes is largely gone. So many streets are being renamed so quickly that maps soon become obsolete for East Berlin. Gone are Lenin Boulevard and Ho Chi Minh Street as well as numerous other streets named after prominent and not-so-prominent communists. Everywhere one sees shops that offer goods and services that earlier (in the German language of today, the word for “earlier” has come to be synonymous with “before reunification”) were rare if not unknown; travel agencies, driving schools, laundromats, Turkish snack shops and expensive Chinese restaurants, video stores and sex shops. On the street corners people hawk newspapers, in the subways there are panhandlers, and everywhere Vietnamese and Polish vendors of black-market cigarettes. Soviet military uniforms and Socialist Unity Party (SED) insignia are for sale on the streets. Garbage containers are filled with perfectly usable furniture that has the one unforgivable flaw of clearly having been made in the GDR.

One also sees many stores selling locks and security devices, a testimony to the increase in burglary and ear theft in the East since the Wall has opened. The once omnipresent police now seem just as scarce as in any Western city. One-third of the inhabitants of large cities in the East are afraid to go out on the streets alone in their own neighborhood, which is not only more than for comparable cities in West Germany but more than for New York and Chicago; less than 4 percent of these inhabitants consider themselves “very safe.” The numbers were reversed before the Wall came down.

One sees many empty stores as well, victims of rising rents and the decrease in purchasing power of East Berlin consumers. Around the corner from where I lived was a small drugstore that had been run by a family for the last 13 years. Their going-out-of-business sale took place in August. A West German chain, Rossmann, is opening a huge store just down the street from them. This is the nature of competition, you might say. But competition should be the same for everyone, and West Berlin drugstore owners, knowing that they too could not survive against Rossmann, are protected by a special regulation that prevents it from opening any stores in West Berlin. Rossmann is moving into the East with more than thirty stores while it remains excluded from the West, just as though the Wall still separated the halves of the city. The owners of the drugstore around the corner, by the way, count themselves lucky. A Syrian who lives in West Berlin has bought the property and plans to turn it into an Italian restaurant. He has agreed to hire the former proprietors as waiters and waitresses.

At least they do not have to join the large and growing army of the unemployed. Over two-thirds of the work force is idle in some areas of East Germany. The inflation rate over the 12-month period ending last August was 12.9 percent in the East, 3.5 percent in the West. Sixty-nine percent of East Germans view the general economic situation in their part of the country as “bad” or “very bad,” only 2 percent see it as “good” or “very good.” With very little time for transition, the Easterners or “Ossies” have been thrown into the waters of capitalism, and telling them to learn how to swim, as many Westerners or “Wessies” do, is neither very helpful nor much appreciated by the Ossies. They can complain more loudly about the state than before; they have video cassette players, new furniture, and used Opel Cadets (having gone into debt in the process); and they are adjusting uneasily to a world in which money plays a much more important role than it ever did before. As one 13-year-old girl from the East put it, “For many people unification has meant up until now unemployment. Coca Cola, and McDonald’s.”

There is still a gap between incomes, so that the West attracts the best and most mobile members of the East German work force. Strangely enough, there has been much less difficulty equalizing rents. In fact, in some parts of East Berlin rents have not only gone up by more than 500 percent since reunification, some apartments in the East are now more expensive per square yard than comparable ones in West Berlin. When rents are increased to Western levels but wages are not, it is easy to see what the result will be: thousands of people in East Berlin will soon no longer be able to afford their apartments.

The fundamental economic problem lies in the question of property ownership. The courts are overwhelmed with cases handling claims that occasionally go back as far as the Weimar Republic, since some of the property expropriated by the GDR was previously expropriated by the Soviet occupiers and before that by the Nazis. With questions of ownership often up in the air, Western companies are reluctant to invest in the East, which has come to be seen as an area where Western companies can sell their used cars and discount items, not as a place where they should invest in new plants.

The responsibility for new investments rests largely with the so-called Treuhand or Trustee Commission, which is selling off the property of the former East German state to the private sector. Until recently, the Treuhand gave Western companies preference over Eastern buyers, even when the Western companies offered less. These companies regularly promise to retain most of the indigenous work force; they just as regularly ignore these promises. The current head of the Treuhand estimates that 20 to 30 percent of the jobs “guaranteed” by the new owners have simply been eliminated. And even the first head of the Treuhand, Detlev Rohwedder, complained that Western businessmen behaved “like colonial officers” in the East. Rohwedder has since been assassinated by a West German terrorist group, the Red Army Faction. The Treuhand sold one Eastern firm to a Western company for the price of one mark, about 70 cents. Even though this deal has since been revoked, resentment over it persists in the East. A joke circulating in East Berlin has the punchline: “The Treuhand, or: Can’t we sell it to you for less?” No one laughs, however, at a statement uttered by a character in Rolf Hochhuth’s latest play, Wessies in Weimar: “Whoever does what Rohwedder did shouldn’t be surprised when he is shot to death.”

Cultural and academic institutions, once heavily subsidized by the GDR, are facing hard times. Many theaters and orchestras are closed, while cynics note that money is somehow available to open as a museum part of what remains of Hitler’s bunker. At the Humboldt University in East Berlin there used to be 11 professors of American Studies. Ten have been let go and replaced with professors from West Germany; the 11th is from the East but is two years away from retirement. His successor has already been named. He, of course, is from West Germany. The college of veterinary medicine at Humboldt was generally recognized as being superior to that at the Free University (FU) in West Berlin. It was originally decided that Humboldt would keep its department and the EU would close its. But the decision was later reversed by Berlin’s city administration, whose head is a former president of the FU.

Ninety percent of women were employed in the former GDR; by March 1992, the percentage was down to just over 62 percent. Academic women over 30 are particularly disadvantaged when faced with the prospect of “retraining” or “learning a new skill.” These phrases are all too often euphemisms for descending the social ladder, so that a woman with a degree in economics “retrains” to become a secretary and a woman with a Ph.D. in philosophy “continues her education” as a floral arranger. Today women who apply for jobs are asked what they plan to do if their children become ill. Earlier this was never a reason for being refused employment. There are unsubstantiated (but widely believed) rumors that young, childless women in the East are undergoing sterilization to increase their hiring chances. It is a fact that since reunification the birthrate in East Germany has been cut nearly in half.

The colonization of the East by the West is perhaps felt most intrusively in the little things of everyday life. A few examples: all the signs indicating right-turn-on-red are being taken down. The Wessies say because of safety concerns. The Ossies believe because it was their invention. Milk was collected from mothers in the GDR who had more than they needed and provided to mothers who did not produce enough of their own. The centers that collected this milk have been closed by order of West German health officials. Even West German doctors have objected to this decision. The environmental policy of the GDR was a catastrophe in most areas, but in one field East Germans were leaders: the collection of bottles for reuse. Most collection centers have been shut down and replaced by recycling centers. Even though recycling is less efficient than reuse, reuse was Eastern, and so it is gone.

Chancellor Kohl, who initially said that with reunification “no one would be worse off and many would be better off,” now finds himself an object of derision in the East. Ossies no longer say they are lacing colonized, they say they are being “Kohl-onized.” All but one of the governors in the former GDR are Western imports from Chancellor Kohl’s party who recently lost elections or never before held governorships. Ossies say they are being governed by second- or even third-rate politicians who could not succeed in the West but are considered good enough for the them.

It was primarily Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) that lost the Berlin communal elections held in May. The CDU received only 14 percent in East Berlin. Easterners feci they have no spokesmen for their interests among the established political parties. A recent poll showed that 65 percent agree with the statement that the existing parties do a poor job of representing East German interests and indicated that a further 14 percent feel the parties do not represent their interests at all. Seemingly interminable delays have come about since the decision was made to move the capital to Berlin from prosperous and provincial Bonn, far from the daily problems of the East. Already skeptical Ossies are convinced that the move will never take place, that East Germany is to become the Sicily of Northern Europe, the permanently underdeveloped part of the country.

If these problems continue to be neglected by the parties in Bonn, Germany faces an explosive situation. The last president of the State Council of the GDR warned that massive and longterm unemployment in the East has led to a resignation that is waiting to be mobilized and could lead to violence, possibly even civil war. The neo-Nazis in the East are undoubtedly present and dangerous, but they have not yet made their strength felt at the polls. They received less than 5 percent of the May vote in East Berlin (compared with 10 percent in West Berlin). Their danger lies not in the polling booths (or at least not vet) but rather in their potential for violence, particularly against refugees from the economic collapse in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. The recent riots in Rostock and other cities are an indication of the explosive situation that currently exists in the former GDR.

Ossies are beginning to resist being treated as second-class citizens. University students in the city of Halle have begun celebrating “East-culture” with “East-parties” where they play “Eastsongs.” “To my horror,” says best-selling author Günter de Bruyn, a dissident in the GDR, “I must confirm that for many people their GDR identity has become more stable now after it’s all over than ever before.” Adds Wolfgang Thierse, deputy chairman of the Social Democrats and an Ossie, “The Germans are now just beginning to realize how different they have become from each other.”

Ossies are tired of what they view as an “occupation” or even an Anschluss by the West, and some have started to organize so-called “Committees for Justice” outside the existing political structure. Initiators of this movement include a Christian Democrat and the leader of the Party for Democratic Socialism (successor to the SKD). Other founders include authors, a bishop, a former West Berlin mayor, and other leading figures from culture and politics, most (but by no means all) of whom come from the former GDR. These committees have been roundly denounced by the major parties in Bonn, who charge that the committees are a front organization for communists that will deepen the divisions between East and West rather than help overcome them. The fact is, however, that East and West have been growing further apart instead of coming together since reunification, and the formation of these committees is a somewhat belated recognition of this development, which the established parties have largely ignored. The key to improving the situation, I am convinced, lies in making leaders and opinion-makers in the West aware of the deepening division taking place in German society. The only major politician who has recognized this is the governor of Brandenberg, who called the committees “a warning card for the parties in Bonn.” It is surely no coincidence that just after their formation, the Treuhand announced a new policy giving preference to investors from the East if their bid to buy a company is as high as a Western bid.

A respected journalist who has just written a book on this problem, Peter Bender, has come to the conclusion “that the Great Powers no longer divide Germany, the Germans are doing it themselves. We don’t live in two states any more, but we do live in two societies.” People in the East have not forgotten the repellant aspects of life in the GDR, though understandably the harsher contours of “earlier” life have softened as they recede into the past. Yet it would be a mistake to attribute all the discontent merely to a “GDR-nostalgia.” As I heard more than one person say, “Earlier I couldn’t travel to the West because it wasn’t allowed. Now I can’t because I don’t have the time or the money. I don’t see that as an improvement.”