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XXI: Not moving West

Although the West appears superior in every way, my parents never discuss moving after the wall falls. For generations the East has been our home and it makes little sense to abandon it now. We don’t own any property but love this land and honor our roots by staying close. Our little sealed-off country has developed its own unique culture, apparently less sophisticated from the glamorous west. But not entirely inferior. What the East lacked in resources it made up for in relationships. Eastern folks are less busy, rushed or hurried. They’ve had time to hang out (not much else to do) and have needed each other to get stuff done. Our friends are frugal and resourceful, helpful and dependable. We laugh at the same jokes and have faced similar challenges. A sense of camaraderie and community runs deep in the East. My parents love people and could care less about shiny western stuff. A significant need would precede any thoughts of leaving our homeland behind.

Honestly, as thrilling as the West appears, it’s also intimidating. Western folks seem to have it all together. They drive fancy cars, carry briefcases and wear ties to work. They’ve travelled the world, eat dinner in restaurants and read colorful magazines. They’ve been so generous and nice to us, welcoming us for visits with open arms and cash for every family. But the initial euphoria has worn off. Our welcome money is spent and our government has fallen apart. We’re not sure what will happen next. Some say unification might take 10 years. Absorbing the East would strain the economy enormously. The East is a problem, a bottomless fixer upper surrounded by people waiting for someone to tell them what’s next. We need help and slightly resent help from our better half, prosperous West.

I loathe appearing needy or feeling like a burden. If every Eastern thing is inferior, are we inferior as well? What can we offer the modern world? Not too much, it seems. I’ve never felt particularly embarrassed about hailing from the East until now. Sometimes Westerns laugh at us- our clunker cars, tumble down houses, bumpy highways. I wish I wasn’t born here but I’d rather stay where I feel like I fit in.

My family agrees, harboring no desire to move West. We’d never fit into a culture that’s at least 40 years ahead. Sometime after the wall falls we’re forced to consider making some changes because my dad needs a new job. After checking out all local listings, we half-heartedly consider a job opening in the West. It’s barely in the West, just one exit past the old border. Perhaps this will help. The job includes a rental house, an older german homestead in the middle of tiny town surrounded by skinny tree forest. Tiny town in the middle of nowhere feels not so gloriously Western. People stare us down like we’re from another planet which quite possibly is true. It would be hard to fit in here. I am relieved when the job does not work out. I think I’d rather move to a neutral place, the kind where people don’t stare or crack silly jokes about Eastern folks. I am sure such places exist.


This is part XXI of “Behind the Wall & Under the Steeple”, a collection of personal essays about growing up Christian in former East Germany. Some of you think these stories are worth telling. If you agree, subscribe to my blog or bookmark this page. If you are receiving this post by email, any reply goes straight to my inbox.  Thanks for reading! 


5 Replies

  1. Heather

    I think this is one of your best blog posts yet, Astrid! It’s a question I’ve asked myself before (why WOULDN’T all East Germans leave and move to the West when the wall came down?). But you paint an intriguing paradox – just because it’s “shiny” and more advanced doesn’t mean it feels like home. I never imagined the complexity of the decision – being free to move West, but not feeling desirous or comfortable in doing so. It’s a perspective I had never considered. Well done!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thx. I always wondered why my grandparents did not move west before 1949… I always sort of wished they had. But one side had a paid for house they would have had to walk away from + no resources to move, the other grandparent was a pastor who was not about to abandon his flock…. The East/ West prejudice is much improved but parts of Germany (especially the country 🙂 are pretty territorial… not very accepting of any “outsiders” and an outsider may be anyone beyond the county line…

  2. Heather

    Love the car picture, BTW! Quintessentially German 🙂

    1. Astrid Melton

      Definitely East German- free fuel for mockery from West right there…

    2. It’s good to get a fresh way of loiokng at it.

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