Ostalgie, Memory, & the Formerly Familiar

29 Oct

WERS has been playing this song by The Heavenly States and Spoon‘s Britt Daniel with stuck-in-your-head-whether-you-like-it-or-not frequency lately, and so of course the fun, catchy track’s been looping between my ears.  It’s also made me think, and remember.

I used to live in Mitte, Berlin.  For almost six months I biked under the stately Brandenburger Tor to get to classes, rolling right over the former boundary line of the Berlin Wall.  One hundred and thirty-six people were killed trying to cross from East Germany to West Germany during the wall’s eighteen year reign.  They lived under a kind of socialism, and decided that they would prefer to live in a capitalist society.

This mirrors an internal question I’ve been grappling with: which side of Die Mauer am I on?

Cut off from their families, spied upon by their government, limited in their choices, East Germans were both endangered and taken care of.  Today, a phenomenon exists among Europeans known as Ostalgie – nostalgia for the long-gone East German way of life.  Films like Goodbye, Lenin! capture this tragic, perhaps ill-advised, yet sort of beautiful longing.

Berliner Mauer - the Berlin Wall. 1961-1989. Image via http://www.dartmouth.edu.

For half a year I lived at what had been the crossroads of the twentieth century’s greatest idealogical clash.  I loved it.  I made wonderful friends there, studied an intensely fascinating language and culture, honed my love of and skills in far-flung travel, and ate some ridiculously good currywurst.

Upon my return to the states, I changed my major and academic focus, a new U.S. President was elected, and I fell in love… then fell in love again.  I decided to travel to east Africa and try to make myself useful, and soon after, I was a passenger in a fatal car crash that cost the life of a friend and role model.  I never got a chance – or made the time – to fully consider and feel the time I was fortunate to spend in Germany, and what it means in my life.

An Ostalgie-style reconnection to the past is tempting, and potentially dangerous.  I don’t know if I can make the important choices I need to make about my future and my take on the world until I have a grasp on my complicated past.  But then I wonder, do we ever really have that grasp?

What experiences have you had, but not yet processed?

Which sides are you on?

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2 Responses to “Ostalgie, Memory, & the Formerly Familiar”

  1. shane October 29, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    my partner and i had a bad unwanted pregnancy scare. i know we would have weighed the options and come to the right decision, but i haven’t really thought about what that experience meant to me. i’d like to do that.

  2. thoroughly modern milli vanilli October 30, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    Sam, this is a beautifully written post. I tend to not take adequate reflection time for a lot of things I’ve experienced, and the processing either creeps up slowly and progressively, or in some cases hits me and almost knocks me breathless. It’s hard to balance living in the present with being future-thinking and appreciative of the past.

    -Dani

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