German Reunification: Background information when reading All Tomorrow's Parties

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All Tomorrow's Parties

A Memoir

by Rob Spillman

All Tomorrow's Parties by Rob Spillman X
All Tomorrow's Parties by Rob Spillman
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2016, 400 pages
    Feb 2017, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

German Reunification

This article relates to All Tomorrow's Parties

Print Review

In his memoir All Tomorrow's Parties, Rob Spillman, the son of American expat musicians, includes a flashback to his childhood in Germany. He paints a bleak portrait of East Berlin in the 1970s, with its worthless currency, "sour-faced" military guards, secret police, and drab institutional architecture. It is not surprising that by the late '80s, citizens were spoiling for revolution and a domino effect of political events and popular uprising resulted in just that. In the more contemporary sections of the book, Spillman and his wife spend time in East Berlin as reunification is underway.

In addition to the factors mentioned above, widespread economic crisis worsened dissatisfaction among the East German populace. In 1989, Hungary removed its border fence allowing for a mass exodus of East Germans into the western region. Meanwhile, the authorities were unable to quell massive worker strikes and demonstrations across Plauen, Dresden, and Leipzig. Fanning the flames, a newly uncensored media reported on the unchecked corruption and greed of government officials including instances of illegal and unethical trade practices.

The demonstrations led to a more civic-minded populace. Art galleries, cafes, and bars for lively discussions popped up and outlawed films and banned books trickled in, radically altering the cultural landscape. In All Tomorrow's Parties Spillman describes visiting a couple of these bars where he and his wife meet members of The New Forum, a rising group of independent Socialists integral to the Round Table discussions that would hammer out logistics for a popular election and the shutdown of the Stasi (secret police). The utopian Socialist society they envisioned, however, was not to be.

Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate on eve of reunification In October 1989, East Germany leader Erich Honecker and his entire cabinet stepped down and in November the border between East and West Germany was officially opened. The public celebrated by spontaneously assembling to dismantle the Berlin Wall.

In the end, moderation won out and radicalism faded, the election held in March of 1990 brought to power the Christian Democratic Union under the leadership of Lothar de Maiziere on a platform of speedy reunification and economic growth. The CDU's Helmut Kohl would become the first Chancellor of a unified Germany. The reunification treaty between East and West was signed in August of that year, followed in September by the "Two Plus Four Treaty" establishing German unity among representatives from the Soviet Union, United States, France, and the U.K. The follow-through was an immensely complicated affair of restructuring where economies, cultures, infrastructures and political institutions were in a state of flux that to some extent continues to this day. The idealists of the New Forum proved out of touch with the desires of vast swathes of the population who no longer wanted anything to do with Socialism, reformed or otherwise.

Last year marked the twenty-five year anniversary of reunification, an occasion for taking stock of the present circumstances. Economic disparity continues, with West Germany remaining substantially wealthier. Trade reflects this with more consumer goods moving from West to East than vice versa and a higher unemployment rate in the East. The remains of the Socialist ideology prevalent in the East account for better systems for child care and education. German Chancellor Angela Merkel grew up in East Germany and has been outspoken about the need for continued efforts for equality and a more complete unification.

You can watch a PBS special, The Wall for more insights about the world before and after the reunification. Here is a preview:

Picture of Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate by Sue Ream

Filed under People, Eras & Events

Article by Lisa Butts

This "beyond the book article" relates to All Tomorrow's Parties. It originally ran in April 2016 and has been updated for the February 2017 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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