GERMANY: Balloon (Ballon, 2018)

The Despair of the East and the Hope of Reunification

by Tyler Daniels

The film Balloon (2018) intentionally contrasts the emotions of hope, joy, and unity, which are associated with reunification, with despair, anxiety, and separation in Germany prior to 1989. Set in 1979, the characters yearn to leave East Germany’s authoritarian grasp which ultimately results in a feeling of hope out of their despair. This contrast serves to make the feelings of hope more poignant. These themes culminate at the end of the movie. The family’s hot air balloon landed in the woods and they were found by border guards. Two members of the family were found by border guards in the middle of the road while the others hid in the woods. The two were caught and had headlights beaming on them. The glare made it impossible to tell if the guards were wearing East or West German uniforms. This moment invoked a sense of fear and hope which perfectly depicted the feelings the movie was portraying. Furthermore, in the final scene, the father weeps as he realizes that the Soviet Union is falling and Germany will be unified which evokes the emotions of joy and hope.

The song “Wind of Change,” which could be heard in the last portion of my video essay, captivated the world. The song told the story of the fall of the Soviet Union through the lens of hope and unity which led to its adoption as an anthem of German reunification. The band pays homage to this in their music video by switching between footage of their performance and footage of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall (Songfacts). “Wind of Change” fully illustrated the sense of hope, joy, and unity that permeated throughout Europe during the early 1990s. It serves as a time capsule for the feelings and emotions that defined the commencement of German reunification. Everyone was hopeful of what a united Germany could bring. One united German people under one flag and one government. However, three decades later this new, truly unified Germany has not come to fruition; stark divisions still exist between the East and West (“Why the Gap between Former East and West Germany Is Growing”).

The clearest example of divisions that persist today is stereotypes. Deanne Corbett points out that West Germans call East Germans whining easterners or “Jammer Ossis” while East Germans call West Germans arrogant know-it-alls or “Besser-Wessies.” Furthermore, easterners are typically thought of as unambitious and lazy. These divisive stereotypes associated with easterners are generationally passed down by westerners. According to Klaus Schröder, the East overestimates how economically prosperous the West is and the West is jealous of the economic aid being spent in the East (Corbett). A common theme among these stereotypes is that they are rooted in the economic rift that continues to separate the East and West today (Corbett).

Following reunification, the west poured millions of dollars into East Germany to boost its struggling economy. While this did accomplish its intended goal, today, the East still lags behind the West. According to John Gramlich, the senior writer and editor at Pew Research, in 2018 the East had an unemployment rate of 6.9% compared to the West’s 4.8%. Moreover, the average East German’s income is 86% of their West German counterparts. Additionally, East Germany’s productivity rate is 75% of West Germany’s. While these statistics, compared to previous numbers, point to a dramatic improvement in East Germany’s economy since reunification, they also highlight a rift that still exists between the East and West.

Moreover, an ideological and political rift has emerged between the two regions. An astonishing 44% of East Germans identify as German compared to 71% of West Germans. 47% of East Germans only see themselves as East Germans (“Why the Gap between Former East and West Germany Is Growing”). When analyzing views on democracy, the separation becomes even clearer. Only 31% of East Germans believe democracy is the best form of governance compared to 72% of West Germans (Buck). Life satisfaction is 5% lower in the East while westerners are 8% more likely to believe their children will be better off than them. The ideological differences still remain and create cultural rifts between the regions (Gramlich).

The hope for change and unity that captured the world following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union has failed to completely materialize. Germany continues to be divided 31 years later. Steffen Mau, a renowned professor of sociology at Humboldt University, stated “After the collapse of East Germany, we thought that we would become more and more alike. Today we see that many of these differences have taken root,” (Buck). While these differences continue to undermine the promise of German unity, manifestations of this hope still are a prevalent part of German society. One such expression of hope is the celebration of German Unity Day and the accompanying annual festival held near the Brandenburg Gate. Celebrated on October 3rd, it marks the reunification of Germany and the end of the divisive Berlin Wall. While Germany remains divided, this festival is a manifestation of the hope that one day, Germans might be truly unified.

Works Cited