Monday, November 16, 2009

Geschichte der europäischen Kohle und der Stählernen Gemeinschaft ; die Anlage der Europaïschen Union

[ History of the European Coal and Steel Community ; the creation of the European Union ]

The semester is already well underway and the stress of school is beginning to hit me. I am taking quite a few more classes than what is required of me as a CBYX participant, and on top of this I am trying to take them in hopes of receiving some credit from my university in the states, so I am definitely feeling the challenge. I have some classes in English, but with others still instructed in German or with German discussions, there are days where I ride my bike back home mentally exhausted.

I am currently taking a class on the European Union and it is really helping me understand and analyze the major issues that are affecting this continent as well as some of the history behind some of the current events taking place here in European politics.

Just the other day we had an interesting discussion because the newspapers headlined a major decision in EU organization since the Lisbon Treaty was officially signed by the president of the Czech Republic solidifying the new format in the European Union beginning extremely soon on December 1st. In short, this treaty [also referred to as the reform treaty] is a new protocol creating prominent changes in the European Union including a new majority vote procedure for the Council of Ministers, increased involvement in the European Parliament in the legislative process, and the creation of the President of the European Council.

Quite honestly the historic event of the Czech Republic adding the last signature to the treaty would have gone largely unnoticed by me if I wasn’t taking the course and becoming more informed about the structure and role of the EU in European Society. In fact, a classmate and I had volunteered to be the first presenting group of the semester, and my project addressed some of the issues that were faced within this current reform of the EU.

My project was the early years of European integration and was titled “Reconstruction, reconciliation and integration 1945 – 57” and discussed the difficult process that took place to bring together a war torn Europe after WW2- complete with many hardened relations in the continent with bordering nations- and how series of events led to the very profound event of a unification of Europe [many years later becoming the EU]. The report took place over the entire class period, meaning over an hour long, and was an early sample for me of the differences in course work at German institutions [not nearly as much small work, papers and projects as American University courses, but instead many more student led discussions and presentations making many courses essentially graded by one speech and one paper with tests not always part of the syllabus – very different for me to get used to so far for sure].

[ Jean Monnet - leading thinker in European Unification movement. “People only accept change when they are faced with necessity and only recognize necessity when a crisis is upon them.”]

In brief, my presentation was about the Schuman Declaration which was the landmark decision, led by Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, for France and Germany to cooperate in steel production and trade [European Coal and Steel Community]. It was the events around this decision that made the event so influential for the unification of Europe. After all, it was a huge leap for the reconstruction of Germany, after years of being demilitarized and controlled by the allied powers. On the same thought, it was possibly even more incredible that France was a part of this event in history since France carried a heavy resentment towards Germany after years of being destroyed by its bordering neighbor.

[ Signing of the Schuman Declaration, 1950 ]

In other topics, events including the influence of Winston Churchill from Great Britain as well as the Marshal Plan from American to promote a renewal in European economies was all part of the great debates that surrounded European Unification.

[ Marshal Plan promotion poster ]

One particularly interesting fact from my research actually dealt with the region of Saarland and Saarbrücken which was a big surprise for me. I remember when I lived in Saarbrücken that the region used to be part of France and later returned to Germany, and that the region was also rich in coal productions. Little did I know until this report that this region was a key player in these series of events within Europe, especially the skepticism of trust between France and Germany that ultimately led to the realization that economic cooperation was the only way to secure peace and modern industry within European nations.

The little side asterisk may seem trivial to most, but the history caught my attention and was yet another reminder that every day living abroad this year I am making more connections and learning more about politics, history, and current events through little details such as these.

My project also addressed the philosophical split that took place in Europe in discussion of unification with some striving for a collaborative constitution – a very radical idea of a binding constitution in a continent that just suffered two world wars in one century – alongside a more nationalist perspective recognizing the sovereignty of each individual state. These debates are still taking place today, and was part of the main reason that the president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, was hesitant of signing the treaty – simplifying this event, Klaus was wary of new voting procedures in the new EU and felt that there was now a higher possibility for nations – using Germany as an example which had disputed territory with the Czech Republic after WW2– could essentially reclaim territory through a democratic process.

It is topics like these that make learning about the EU so interesting and unlike any other political institution in the world, and also what makes taking the class while in Europe surrounded by so many different foreign students from other nations in heated discussion such a great opportunity and learning experience.

Jubiläum des Mauerfalls pt.2

[ Fall of the Berlin Wall Anniversary pt.2 ]

Merkel noted in her address to the people that the destruction of the Wall to cross the border "was worth fighting for," but she also concentrated on the reality that "German unity is not yet complete" realizing the fact that Germany still has many challenges to face, culturally and economically, even today 20 years after the unification of the nation. There are still opinions that fly around from different Germans, including "The east side gets all the money - the roads are better there than in the West!" or "The arrogant Westerners came in and bought everything - the east was like an adopted child, sort of just dragged along."

Now I must admit that most of my experiences in Germany so far have been exclusively in the former Western Germany, however, going to Dresden, one of the main cities in the former Eastern region was a great opportunity to witness the stark differences that still exist. As I have noted from my weekend visit, there were corners of Dresden that were staggeringly new, and reminders that there was great movements for reconstruction - but there were also reminders that this was all recent, only after the reunification, and just walking through the streets, there seemed to be a more somber mood on the older local’s faces - all just sheer observation of course. This makes me truly want to experience more of the former East so that I can better understand these differences that still exist as I try to even remotely imagine a life where such a modern nation in modern day went for so many decades with the struggles and repression of a great divide.

Throughout the historical anniversary events, there were many blogs, editorials, and news broadcasts that used the opportunity to find connections to the events in Berlin in '89. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave an address reminding the world that we still have to keep the people in mind that even in the 21st century live in repressive regimes:

"Our history did not end the night the Wall came down, it began anew. And this matters not only to tens of millions of Europeans, and to the United States, but to people everywhere."

"To expand freedom to more people, we cannot accept that freedom does not belong to all people. We cannot allow oppression, defined and justified by religion or tribe to replace that of ideology.

"We have a responsibility to address conditions everywhere that undermine the potential of boys and girls and men and women that sap human dignity and threaten global progress."

President Obama also spoke in recognition to the landmark event, as well as many other world leaders.

It was very interesting to follow blogs and editorials, especially online, where anyone in our modern age can leave comments in a few clicks - and I found it interesting to see raging arguments comparing the Berlin wall to the strict wall-like divide over the Mexican border to many immigrants trying to come to the United States. Seemingly unrelated, I just found it fascinating to see the expanse of what the Berlin wall meant for people and the entire new agenda of issues and topics that grew from the history and anniversary of the event. In the entertaining e-arguments I was skimming online, one commenter made an interesting analogy with the symbolic "walls":

If you lock you doors to keep people from breaking into your house, you do the same thing the US is doing. If you lock people in your basement and refuse to let them out, you are doing what the East Germans did. Now do you get it?

The entire purpose of mentioning these side connections is just to prove what the anniversary was able to instill in citizens in the world - discussions over oppressive regimes, problems that we could be repeating in our modern times, the changes over the last decades and differences in generations and what we can learn from all of this. This is what made Monday- and I am sure many more days to come relating to this important year in German history- so exciting.

Bringing this all together, and what it means for me, on Monday I also received a newsletter from New York from my program directors overseas that essentially updated us on the next few months - and to not get too homesick during Thanksgiving and Christmas - but it also addressed the opportunities we have to learn from the anniversary in Berlin.

I am part of the 26th Parlamentarisches Patenschafts Programm [CBYX ] group meaning that 25 years of other young American ambassadors were able to experience this unique year exchange in Germany before me.

Within the newsletter were several comments and stories from previous PPPler that lived in Germany before or during the reunification, and the experiences they had witnessing that life - this really opened my eyes to the fact that I am living in a completely different Germany than my scholarship counterparts from 10 years ago, who were living in just as different of a Germany as the group from two decades ago.

“What I remember most about the
Berlin visit was that West Berlin was a gray
and somber city, except for the wall, which
was a multicolored wall of graffiti. My girl
friends and I added to that cacophony of
color by signing our names on the wall in the
ohso'80s markers that outlined the ink insilver.the
proachable the wall was on the Eastern side.”

“I was in the last group which was in a divided
Germany. We had a midterm meeting in West Berlin and
took a tour of East Berlin. Our guide was a really nice guy
and we asked him whether he thought unification would
ever come. He said he couldn't foresee it in our lifetimes.
Nine months later the wall fell down. This was all before the
protests in the East and the mass fleeing of East Germans
through Hungary into Austria. What I learned: you cannot
predict the future.”

The stories that I heard talking to people in Germany during this landmark anniversary, or following the celebrations in the news really provided me with a humbled outlook on the great learning experiences I am encountering this year. Sharing my observations and comparing them with other stories from around Germany, or hearing other opinions and historical outlooks in the news have all provided me with an incredible environment to consistently learn so many new perspectives on history and current events alike.

Jubiläum des Mauerfalls pt.1

[ Fall of the Berlin Wall Anniversary pt.1 ]

Monday reminded me that I was in Germany during a very exciting time, and that I was very fortunate to be granted a CBYX scholarship to live and study in Germany during this very historic year.

Just weeks ago I witnessed the national elections take place first hand, and now I also had the opportunity to experience the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

On November 9th Berlin and the entire nation of Germany celebrated the 20th anniversary of this event which, as stated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, "is not only a day of celebration for Germans. It is a day of celebration for the whole of Europe."

Merkel is the first former East German Chancellor to run the unified nation, and she led the memorial events in Berlin side by side with other important European figures including Britain's Gordon Brown, France's Nicolas Sarkozy, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as well as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Polish ex-president Lech Walesa.

In a large symbolic representation of the fall of the wall, 1000 dominos featuring murals of graffiti and art toppled over each other over the 2 Kilometer line where the Wall once divided the city - thus representing the domino effect of ending communism across Eastern Europe. [ In a matter of months communism regimes fell in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania]

The events in Berlin were filled with memorials as well as celebrations, including rock acts such as Bon Jovi adding a background soundtrack that would have been blared through the celebratory destruction of the wall 20 years ago.

Being in Germany during this anniversary allowed me to hear stories and hear the news in both German and English and accrue a deeper understanding of this landmark day. I began to surf the internet and find many fascinating video clips, many old news stories from '89 and '90 that documented the great change that took place in Germany.

Richard Blystone, a former CNN correspondent in America, documented some of his greatest life's work while observing the great evolution of the unification of Germany, and noted a vivid image of what the scene of the fall looked like as East and West merged together:

"On the west side, there was all this graffiti and dirty words, and names of rock groups and 'down with that' -- all the chaos of a pluralistic society," he said. "On the eastern side, it was clean and white, just so sterile."

The Berlin wall and its images of beautiful graffiti are known internationally, but truly understanding just what the Wall's fall meant and the struggles that still ensued after in the great project of unifying Germany are hard to comprehend in our modern world two decades later. After all, with the wall falling only months before I was born, during my lifetime Germany has always been a unified nation - a completely different perspective to the two generations that lived through the times of East and West Germany and the mystery that each side had from the other, many of whom are quoted as saying, "I never thought I would see this in my lifetime."

Talking with my host parents as well as other Germans throughout the day, I was able to garner many great views and recollections of the historical events. Naturally the crumbling of the wall, hammer blow by blow, symbolized the beating of a repressive, tyrannical government off the European continent, but this event was only the beginning of huge changes for Germany.

As stated, two generations lived during a time of German divide only with thoughts of what took place on the other side. When the wall fell - a series of events that began with leniency for border crossing for refugees and protesters, evolving into a complete overflow and border collapse - there was almost an immediate period of time that Germany needed to experience culture shock within its own nation with its own people. Amongst the awe of Ossi's [Easterners] exploring the modernized western Germany, the Wessi's [Westerners] were able to observe, and also swoop in and make bountiful purchases with their strong Marks in the East.

[ artist representation of a Trabbi smashing through the Berlin Wall ]

I can only imagine how extraordinary this must have looked, since I heard stories of the autobahns lined in traffic, the extravagant BMW's and Mercedes driving eastward, and the laughable 'Trabbis' in comparison cruising Westward for a glance at this 'other world' beyond the border.