||Little east-west romance 15 years after Berlin Wall
Tue 9 November, 2004 04:18
By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN (Reuters) - The Berlin Wall fell 15 years ago but an "Iron Curtain" still divides the city as far love and romance are concerned.
Only two percent of the marriages each year in Berlin are between easterners and those across town in the west.
It is a rate that reflects the lingering dislike that east and west Germans still have for each other. The euphoria which accompanied the breach of the wall on November 9, 1989 soon dissipated.
"I've had girlfriends from countries around the world but never west Berlin," said east Berlin student Stefan Rosche, 23. "West Berlin women are too difficult. They're demanding, pushy and materialistic. Everything about them is so commercial."
While streets, bridges and train lines severed for three decades by the Berlin Wall were re-connected shortly after its spectacular collapse exactly 15 years ago, there was no emotional rapprochement after the joy wore off.
The Cold War has been replaced by the cold shoulder. For amore read animosity. Little passion, lots of prejudice -- and separate beds.
"I couldn't imagine marrying an Ossi because they're so boring," said Nadja Berendes, a 35-year-old west Berlin woman, using the derogatory term for easterners. "Their past and their lives are so different. They've never interested me."
Sociologists who have studied the unique polarisation in Berlin say that under normal circumstances a third to a half of the couples in a city of its size and infrastructure would be east-west pairings.
Yet according to the state statistics office, Berliners are 12 times more likely to marry foreigners than settle down with a partner from the other side of town.
"East Berlin men always struck me as rather dense," said hotel executive Katja Saal, 34. "They don't have any style. They're bargain-hunters who talk about how great things were before in East Germany. They don't understand the real world."
She recently married a man from Mexico.
The Wall may no longer exist but there are countless other barriers. Easterners earn less though they work longer hours. Their life expectancy is shorter. They read different newspapers, vote for different political parties, like different foods, and watch different films.
"There is still a large prosperity gap between the east and west, and women tend to marry upwards," said Harald Michel, managing director of the Institute for Applied Demography.
"That's why there are a lot of marriages between east Berlin men and women from Poland, Ukraine and Hungary. "There are almost no marriages between east Berlin men and west Berlin women."
In fact, there are hardly any east-west marriages at all. Between 1990 and 2000 a total 161,280 couples wed in Berlin and just 4,366 -- or 2.7 percent -- had east and west addresses.
"The numbers were never high but they have been falling since a peak of 3.4 percent in 1995," said Beate Koehn, a researcher at the city's statistics office, who is from west Berlin and married to a west Berlin man. "It's a phenomenon."
In 2000, the last year before districts were merged, making it impossible to distinguish east-west marriages, there were 296 east-west marriages out of a total of 14,199, or 2.1 percent - the lowest rate in the decade. Koehn said the number had almost certainly remained negligible. At the same time the number of marriages with foreigners in 2000 was 3,383 (24 percent).
"It's a consequence of the Wall and decades of division," said Michel, an east Berliner married to an east Berlin woman. "The east Berliners and west Berliners don't know each other. Half of the westerners never set foot in the east. There is an estrangement that will take another 15 years to overcome."
Germany was reunited 11 months after the fall of the Wall but the country has been racked by the economic and social repercussions.
Easterners sometimes view "Wessies" as arrogant know-it-alls who swarmed across the border to trick them, charlatans who buy and then close eastern firms to eliminate competition. Westerners in turn complain that "Ossies" are lazy, unworldly parasites who turned their once powerful economy into a low-growth basket case.
"The cultural differences are enormous," said Esther von Krosigk, 37, a west Berlin author. "The mentalities are so far apart. We speak different languages. Communism left such a deep imprint on them. I'd hesitate before marrying an easterner."
"East Berlin men wear the wrong shoes, the wrong clothes and the wrong hair," said a 29-year-old east Berlin woman who recently married a westerner. "They're the socks in the sandals people."
But an east Berlin sales clerk said she had had enough of western men alhough she was at first attracted to them because of their fancier clothes and cleaner hands.
"Never again," said Regina Schilling, 42. "I only feel comfortable with eastern men. They don't need to be in the spotlight all the time."