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Focus On The New Germany : Slouching Toward Reunification: Next Generation Winces


EAST BERLIN — Lars Roolfs found himself on what used to be the border between East and West Germany not long ago, when an elderly East German man excitedly surveyed the open horizon.

Look at your heimat, he urged the 26-year-old West German--"your homeland."

Roolfs looked around. He felt nothing; the word heimat had no resonance.

"For him, this is all Germany now," Roolfs said of the older man. "This is greater Germany. This is his homeland.

"But not mine."

As Germany unites, a new division is evident, one not as clearly defined as the concrete line that separated East from West for the past 40 years. This is instead a gulf between generations--the parents who were so painfully torn apart and their children, who are now so reluctantly thrown together.

"No one ever bothered to ask us if we wanted unification," complained a bitter young man in a West German pub.

Interviews with more than a dozen students in Bonn and East Berlin paint a picture of a generation that feels both disenchanted and disfranchised as they inherit a responsibility that many say they never wanted: leading a united Germany.

Instead of the passion and fulfillment that many older Germans feel, younger Germans seem to be experiencing more angst and anger, or even a cool detachment that counters the emotional highs and lows of their parents.

"It's really all the same to me whether there's one Germany or two or three or even four," said Burkhard Schloesser, a 24-year-old history student at East Berlin's Humboldt University.

Roolfs, who studies photography at Bonn University, recalled how his father went "crazy with joy when the Wall fell. He drove to Berlin to see it because he had all those different memories of it. He came from the former German territory that's now Poland, and his feelings are totally different from mine. He says reunification simply must be. He knows it was once one land and it belongs together.

"That's not even an issue for me."

Both East and West German students agreed that a united Germany holds enormous economic potential and the key political role when the European Community merges in 1992, but they find such challenges more daunting than thrilling.

And although their world outlook and personal dreams differ very little, the young Germans from the two sides of the old border tend to view each other with more resentment and suspicion than solidarity.

"East Germany was a foreign country to me, like any other," said Ingrid Kurth, a 26-year-old Bonn nutrition major. "They aren't Germans to us. To me, they're still foreigners.

"Therefore, I can also say that they should all stay in their half of Germany. Rents are rising drastically here with all the East Germans (coming in), and I guess theoretically you could say I could move to East Germany, where the rents are lower.

"But why should I have to move away because I can no longer afford it here just because all the East Germans come over and get government subsidies? I don't get it.

"I grew up here and have more of a right to live here than some East German."

The East Germans, for their part, feel unwelcome and overwhelmed.

"Before, you weren't allowed to scream," said Karina Sponholz, a 23-year-old Humboldt student. "Now I can scream and scream and scream, but no one will hear me."

She is fearful of the "elbow society" of West Germany and the cutthroat ambition that made it such an economic powerhouse. She is reluctant to abandon socialist ideals but realizes that to survive, "we will now have to become ice-cold and willing to step over corpses or risk getting trampled to death ourselves."

Next to economic hardship, both sides cited a recent rise in nationalism as their greatest fear, particularly in East Germany. Skinheads and leftists have clashed in several cities, and neo-Nazi graffiti and vandalism have been reported across Europe in recent months.

Grit Kuenzel, a 24-year-old history student whose father was an East German border officer, blames the intolerance on East Germany's 40 years of isolation within the East Bloc.

"I think, or hope, that now with new possibilities to see the world and how and where others live, tolerance will be learned," she said. "It will take a while, though.

"Now, I see a very strong potential for violence, and I consider it extremely dangerous."

The students fear that deepening social problems such as unemployment and homelessness will only fuel the problem as the costs of modernizing East Germany escalate.

"But nationalism is much worse in France or England or Italy," said Ingrid Kurth. "It's a pan-European problem, and Germany should fight the radical right like any other country.

"Germans shouldn't have to play a special role just because of their past."

A younger friend, 18-year-old Sabine Jahnke, disagreed.

"I think it's important that Germany openly fight it to show other countries that their fear of us is ungrounded," she said.

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