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16 - Unification Policies and the German Image: Comments on the American Reaction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2013

David E. Barclay
Affiliation:
Kalamazoo College, Michigan
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Summary

For many Americans who watched on television in November 1989 as thousands of young people celebrated the opening of the Berlin Wall, the surprise was twofold. They were stunned, of course, by the sudden decision to open the grim symbol of the Cold War between communism and the Free World. Yet they also discovered that they were surprisingly sympathetic with the Germans who mounted and then tore down that ugly monument against the idea of freedom. In radio interviews or letters to the editor, many Americans confessed that they had not seen, for such an extended period, so many ordinary Germans. Unexpectedly, they found them to be rather similar to themselves, concerned with family, work, and pleasure, suspicious of politicians, fond of freedom and worn-out jeans.

Opening such a revealing window onto ordinary Germans might count as one of the less often mentioned byproducts of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It stands out as one of those rare occasions when the power of stereotyping between nations was momentarily revealed and challenged. What commentators preferred to call history in the making was consumed as an encounter with “real people” of another nation. The encounter lasted until the surprise effect had vanished from the faces of those people. For some time, TV journalists tried to prolong or resurrect it, until other similarly gripping events that accompanied the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia and Rumania turned American attention away from the Germans.

Type
Chapter
Information
Transatlantic Images and Perceptions
Germany and America since 1776
, pp. 353 - 362
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1997

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