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prussia, east germany, and national identity


you were a ghost long before you actually died. or, at least, you're pretty sure you were. it's hard to know what you thought/think sometimes. the land that used to be yours isn't yours[1], and you haven't really existed as yourself for decades now[2], so that's a point in favor of spirit-dom, right? but you have land now. is it different land? sure, it used to be/is your brother's[3], after all. and you still work the way you used to, body-wise. so that's a point for the still-living side. right?


it's funny, you've been so busy working up until now.[4] yeah, you've worked like this before, but that was a different you, probably! honestly you're practically a new person, you've changed so much! and besides, that guy from the past wouldn't last a day in your shoes. you're going to have a great impact on the world, while he and his kingdom get boiled down to a footnote in your history books, at best. you won't be like him, you tell yourself, all war and destruction. you're better than that.


you're more than aware that people compare him to you, or rather, you to him. the two of you could be twins, after all! and sure, being stripped of your land and kingdom status felt like dying, but you weren't the one who died, he was! so what if your brother sometimes gets that haunted look in his eyes when he makes eye contact with you during his rare visits? you've never felt so alive, and it's awesome! though, you have to admit that being called by your former name isn't so awesome. that you died a long time ago, and your brother really needs to keep up with the times! he says he's been keeping up with the news, just like you, but he's always been bad at lying to you.


sometimes you wish you had died like him. anything would be better than the "friendly visits" that try to crush you into submission and leave you with the taste of copper in your mouth, the knowledge that someone somewhere has a file and eyes on you at all times and you have no clue who that someone is[5], the feeling that you and your people will probably only find freedom when you die. you don't want a repeat of 1953 though[6], or to be put down like that nightmare in hungary was in 1956[7]. you mostly just want to be left alone with your family, like a normal person, but part of you knows that normalcy will always be just out of reach for you, whether you're free or not.


brotherly visits are no longer an option for you as of now[8]. your government and moscow have made sure of that. he's probably wringing his hands and calling everyone while trying to figure out how to help you, you can just picture it now. you hate it. you hate that this is what you've become, you hate that you've fallen so far, and you hate the russian who guides you back to your house-prison. the guards at the half-built wall watch you go. you wonder if they would have pulled the trigger on you or not.


the people trying to escape are not traitors, not in the way your government tells you that they are. they want a life free from propaganda, and constant surveillance, and state-sanctioned violence and death. it hurts that the west or death are their only options. you hate that the wall has claimed so many lives in just a few years. the fifty-eight year old woman who jumped from her apartment window[9], the twenty-four year old shot in the harbor[10], the twenty-two year old who fell from a roof while fighting with border guards[11], every shooting and drowning makes you feel physically ill. the worst was the eighteen year old just a few days ago. he'd been so close when he was shot. you'd seen him fall back into the death strip, screaming for help as he bled out in front of that crowd. it took an hour before the guards finally dragged his silent body back to your side. you'd heard that people on the other side of the wall had nearly rioted[12]. every death made you ache, and the pride for the few successes so far didn't dull the sadness that remained for the dead. their memories were run through the mud on the so-called news, or so you heard; you'd stopped watching television when the wall went up. you figured that was probably for the better. more nights than not lately, you've laid in bed wondering what that other guy would have done, the almost-you that you half-remember being. but the rulers back then weren't this bad. you should really stop getting hung up on the past.


you're pretty certain that your house is bugged. was this expected? yes. does it still make you paranoid? yes. the government doesn't like that you have a brother in the west; that's guaranteed to be in your file. your brother calls you anyway, despite you telling him it's a bad idea, that you'll get visits from the stasi or even moscow. sometimes he even sends you little care packages[13]. you don't even care that they aren't really anything fancy, that they get searched, they're the most precious thing you have now, a little bright spot in an otherwise joyless life. each one gets stored away, joining the others in the little bit of closet space that you have.


moscow left you alone years ago, but your own government has stepped in to tighten the noose. they tore down statues from your past, they tore down the manor-houses, they razed your royal palace, they stripped you of everything you used to be, but then why did they keep your reformers if they hate you so much? you've already caught yourself slipping into russian instead of german too, and you hate it. no wonder you have no clue who the face in your mirror is any more. no wonder your reflection makes you feel ill.


the phone hasn't rang in a while. that's probably for the better, you think. it's nice to have some peace and quiet for once. you curl up in bed, and manage to sleep through the rest of the day somehow. it's a fitful sleep, but that's fine, certainly nothing new to you. it keeps you from having to think about why you haven't been getting any calls over the past few weeks.


your boss shows up at your doorstep one day to tell you he's being replaced[14]. the new one doesn't even ask to come in, just steps past you like he owns the place. you suppose he does, in some distant technical sense. you already don't like him. at least the last one went through the motions of basic courtesy, even if you hated him too. you can already feel a migraine coming on as he talks, and you're not sure how subtle you are when you go to rub your temple. the new boss either doesn't notice or doesn't care. both of them leave an hour later. the phone rings right as you decide to crawl back into bed. it only takes a moment for you to unplug it, and another moment for it to go flying, hitting your wall with a satisfying crunch of shattered plastic. you hope the people watching you got something out of this. ersatz-you must have done something similar, because deja-vu slams into you at full speed. the attempt at shaking your head doesn't quite clear the memory away, but that's fine by you. the mental disconnect of the memory-migraine combination is just strong enough that you're not quite sure when you got back to your room, or how long you've been standing by your bed. the second-to-last thought you have as you drag yourself under the covers is that you'll probably replace the phone tomorrow. the last thought is that you really miss your brother. you don't dream.


your heart is locked in places you will never see again. those places were yours once, but they haven't been you for decades. the you that is you is practically just the size of your house, and you feel so claustrophobic it's unreal. the unification clause is gone from your constitution[15], and your brother is finally calling you by your current name. you almost wish he would go back to using the name from before. the ostpolitik has been nice though[16], if only because you get to be in the same building as your brother sometimes. you never get to talk, but you do pass by each other on the way to whatever it is your bosses are trying to rope you into now. your people get the chance to travel a bit now; your government's gone visa-free with some other eastern bloc places[17], and you were able to get a permit for one of them. it was just a brief visit, but it was nice to see one of your friends in hungary for the first time in a while. she stumbles a bit on your name, but she's another one that knew you before, so it's fine. you're both worn-down and exhausted, but mostly relieved. you hate that you can't remember any of it once you get back home. maybe you'd remember a trip to poland; after the stunt your boss and moscow pulled in czechoslovakia a few years ago, you're not sure you want to hear the words "prague spring" ever again[18].


you weren't shocked by albania dropping out of the warsaw pact[19], you'd overheard some very upset-sounding phone calls and received a visit from your russian counterpart, you were starting to figure out how these things went. you were also starting to wish that brezhnev would shut up from whatever part of moscow he was in, squawking about his stupid doctrine and afghanistan[20] and poland[21]. part of you hoped his doctrine would blow up in his face, part of you hoped that poland would be able to break free soon. the solidarity movement was already doing good things, and breaking free would be the best thing in your eyes. you wish you could do the same; your historical twin would probably have some ideas, if he were around to ask.


moscow's gone through three leaders in as many years[22], but this new one looks like he might be around for a while; he's not sickly like the last one, or... you're not quite sure what happened with the one before him, actually. this new guy, though, you'll need to keep an eye on him. he's talking with his people on the streets, for one. he's trying to get new people into the politburo, too. something about the policies he wants to work on, perestroika[23] and glasnost[24], you were too busy fighting sleep to care. you've been doing something similar, you guess, though you aren't much of a leader. you know there's dissent and unhappiness among your people, especially in leipzig. they've found some refuge at one of the churches, luckily[25]. the pastor's nice enough, just wants peace and freedom like the rest of them. he holds little peace prayers every monday, and gives people a chance to vent their frustrations with the regime. you like him, he reminds you of your past self in a way. you make a note to show up for as many mondays as you can, no matter what. you have to have the backs of your people, after all.



your boss's anger is palpable, even at a distance; the anger of your people, even moreso. he's going on and on about the vote being perfectly fair[26], and how dare people apply to leave, and there are reports that people have just up and left via czechoslovakia's austro-hungarian connections... you don't care, and you think that's making your boss extra mad. the brief thought that you would have put his head on a pike a few hundred years ago flits through your head; you grit your teeth and fight the urge to re-enact your own history. there's a mention of wanting travel restrictions with hungary, but apparently nothing comes of it because a few months later, twenty-five thousand people have left. you knew some of them, and you helped them as much as you could. you hope their lives are better wherever they end up.


you didn't know your brother was going to be at this picnic[27]. honestly, you should have seen this coming, but you're not sure if seeing him would have been any less of a whammy. he doesn't seem to notice you though, he's too busy with his side of everything. you can almost feel your boss churning up propaganda at the thought of what you're about to do, but you have to help the little group of your people that showed up get to somewhere better. they pause when they see you, unsure of what you may do or say to them. you ask what they're waiting for, they're almost free, the only thing in their way is the gate in front of them. they tear open the border gate, and you tell them to run, run to the austrian side with the journalists, and don't stop until they get there. you help a total of six hundred sixty-one people that day, and vanish before your brother can see you.


the people from that church in leipzig are starting to gather in the square[28], and the government isn't happy about this. you've always moved with the will of your people though, and the will of your people pulls you to augustusplatz every monday. leaving them without the support of their very own nation wouldn't be very awesome of you! not after the secret police tried to barricade the streets and attack your fellow protestors; what would you be without those brave people, after all? you're still pissed that your boss sent those paratroopers to try and crack down on candlelight protests of all things, and you're pissed that he's yelling at you about all of this. you've heard that the politburo wants him gone; you can't wait to sit in on that meeting. hopefully it's soon, before the stasi drags you and your people off in trucks again.


so much for republic day, you think. the people are done with your boss's regime, and so are you; you were going to this protest if it killed you. being arrested was totally worth it, and you and your fellow arrestees were gonna let your captors know as much. "the internationale"[29] echoes through the jail, voices rising and falling in unison. you may be battered and bruised (and still vaguely achy from past protest beatings), but you are not broken, you're too strong-willed and awesome for that. you hope your people can feel how proud you are right now.


the meeting hall is dead-silent when your boss walks in; today's supposed to be the day. moscow's wished your politburo good luck on this, apparently, and you want to see the look on his stupid face so badly. he asks if there are any suggestions for the agenda, and another member speaks up: "please, general secretary, erich, i propose that a new item be placed on the agenda. it is the release of comrade erich honecker as general secretary and the election of comrade egon krenz in his place"[30]. your eyes flash briefly with delight as you glance over at your soon-to-be-ex-boss. he pauses, trying to stay unreadable, and after failing to pretend the request had never been made, states that he opens the debate. the gathering proceeds to verbally destroy him in the most bureaucratic language possible. one member goes as far as suggesting that your boss be removed from other posts[31], while a former childhood friend distances himself[32]. the head of the stasi threatening to publish compromising material makes you wince internally[33], but it's still no less funny, all things considered. it takes three hours for the guy to vote himself out, as per tradition; you aren't sad to see him go. after the last two protests, where over a fifth of leipzig's population showed up and you could see the fear in the eyes of the authorities as you marched with your people, you knew the government was losing control. good.


it's a beautiful saturday in east berlin[34], and you're about to cause some trouble with your people. over five hundred thousand of you are here[35], if you're just counting the crowd; more, if you count the speakers for this protest. there's even supposed to be big government officials here, which is almost surprising considering that they were trying to shut all this down not too long ago. the marshals have their sashes on to remind people that there will be no violence, but you know better than anyone else that violence isn't required to stir things up; this is your element, always has been, always will be. someone asks you for help with a banner, and you gladly take up the middle spot, helping the other two hoist the "Wir sind das Volk!"[36] banner high. the march begins, and your pan-east german protesters are soon clustered together in alexanderplatz, listening to speech after speech. the stage actors go first, then other opposition, calling for reforms and free elections. the politburo members try, but they're all roundly booed; you take some pride in the fact that you made the head of a stasi division feel afraid[37]. one of the poliburo speakers is the same one from the meeting that ousted your former boss[38], funnily enough. the other dissidents take their time outlining their demands, making sure all of the people watching the live broadcast know exactly what freedoms they want. you all disperse after three hours, the november air sending a chill down your spine. you can almost feel that change is coming, major change, and you're excited for it.


whoever set this politburo member loose on the press conference should be slapped[39]. this is the third time you've seen him at an event you've attended, and why he's in charge of announcing the new travel policy, you have no clue. you've long suspected that members of the poliburo leech vibe arsenic into the air of wherever they go somehow, and this one's no different; you hate this guy. he wasn't even part of the talks for this policy, but apparently all you need to do to be good at conferences is speak german and be able to read without making mistakes, so they gave him a card and told him to go for it. at least the conference is almost over now. maybe this will go fine, you think. and then someone asks about the current draft travel law. was it a mistake? no, your guy says, following it up with a statement so stupid that it threatens to give you a migraine. he brings up the card, apparently remembering it exists, and causes a big stir among the reporters there. once he reads the card, you hear someone in the front row ask when these new regulations would take effect. your guy fumbles for a moment, then responds: "Das tritt nach meiner Kenntnis... ist das sofort... unverzüglich"[40]. you freeze, your blood turning to ice. he's wrong, it's supposed to start tomorrow, or that's what you thought, at least. another voice asks if it applies to west berlin crossings. it does, your guy says, looking back at the card. someone from the daily telegraph chimes in, wanting to know what that means for the wall. your guy rambles for a bit, then ends the press conference promptly at seven in the evening.


you sit outside for a minute; your migraine is only getting worse, but you know that west german news is going to be all over this. you're probably getting a million calls right now, but you don't care. you pick a random border crossing point, make a quick stop at home (where the phone is indeed ringing repeatedly; you call your brother on a different line and tell him where you're going), and you let the compulsion pull you to bornholmer straße[41]. you're greeted by a sea of people; the guards are panicking, making call after call looking for guidance. eventually they start stamping passports of the most demanding people, saying that this would revoke their citizenships. but there are still thousands of people wanting through, as your official said they could. you make eye contact with a guard, glancing at his gun and back at him before raising an eyebrow. his eyes go wide, and he shakes his head ever so slightly; there would be no gunfire tonight, not from him, at least.


some commander[42] somewhere must finally say something, because the gates open without warning, and your people start flooding through to the west. they're greeted by a massive crowd of westerners, by flowers and champagne and joyful embraces and wild cheers. your brother must have spotted you in the crowd at some point, because you're pulled into a bone-crushing hug and both of you are sobbing. a group of people you can only assume are westerners manage to scramble on top of the wall, helping your people up so they can celebrate. you decide to do the same, pulling your brother along and laughing as you pull him up to sit next to you. he pops the cork on a bottle of champagne, and the two of you polish it off in no time. you don't think you've ever been happier to be home.



part of the wall crumbles, and you'd crumble with it if you weren't already sitting down. official demolition has begun, and there's talks of passing laws regarding unification of east and west. hell, you've already been joined via currency[43], and all border patrols have ceased[44]. may as well, right? you'd be united under your brother's constitution, but that's fine with you. you wonder if the demolition is affecting him in the same way; this was technically a shared capital, and if the capital isn't the heart of a nation, then what is? it dawns on you that this is one of the last times you'll get to say that about yourself; you won't be you any more. as tired as you are of being east germany, you don't know how to feel about not being anything at all.


the resolution[45] has been passed; unification will not be stopped. your brother will take over as a representative of germany as a whole, while you... well, you'll just be a person. everything you've done just feels like distant history, like it wasn't even you who did it. your brother says the government's drafting a treaty[46], it'll be signed later this month. it'll be passed next month, and that'll pretty much be that. you're so tired of all this, even if you're happy to be home.


you only have a few more days left as you. you arent quite sure what happens when nations stop being nations, it's not something you ever bothered thinking about before. but now you have to think about it, and you hate it. the law has been published, the last constitutional steps have been taken and finalized[47], and unification will be happening very soon. there's a ceremony to prepare for, a big thing at the brandenburg gate. the thought that this will be your brother's new birthday is what breaks you, and you retreat to your room to cry in peace for a while. you wish you could be you for just a bit longer, and then you wish you weren't selfish like that. when your brother asks you if you're ready, you say of course, how could you not be? you can't tell if he believes you or not, but he doesn't push you on it.


it's just before midnight, and you're standing side by side with your little brother, watching as he fiddles with his tie one last time. so many people are here to celebrate, more than you would have assumed at first glance. it's almost like a big new year's party. the two of you are watching the flag pole above the gate and mentally counting down. the black-red-gold tricolor is proudly hoisted at the stroke of midnight, and you pull your brother into a hug while people cheer and shoot off fireworks. both of you are crying, but while your brother's tears mean he's glad to have you back home, your tears are because dying sucks (even if you're still here physically). your land is your brother's once again, your capital is his, and you're just a person now. the party continues late into the night, and everyone leaves eventually, but not before offering their congratulations. both of you collapse into bed once you finally get home, sleeping well into the afternoon; hopefully your brother didn't have any important meetings in the morning.


someone stops you on the street one day, says you look familiar, like someone from their history books. the picture they show you seems familiar, has a bit of resemblance to you, but doesn't really ring a bell. they sound a bit disappointed when you shrug and say as much, but you tell them you hear things like that a lot, it's totally not a problem. they insist that you look like someone they knew, someone they saw when the wall fell, laughing and dragging a slightly-taller blond with slicked-back hair over to climb on top of the wall. they'd really like to know, just in case. who are you? of course, you think briefly. the answer comes without hesitation: i'm-.

final notes


[1] In East Germany, former Prussian territories were divided into the states of Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt, with the remainder of Pomerania being incorporated into Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. In West Germany, former Prussian territories were divided into the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Schleswig-Holstein. The states of Württemberg-Baden and Württemberg-Hohenzollern were later merged with Baden to create the state of Baden-Württemberg in 1952. All Prussian territory east of the Oder-Neisse Line was ceded to the Soviet Union and Poland.

[2] The state known as Prussia was formally dissolved on February 25, 1947.

[3] German land was divided into 4 regions after World War II, each under American, French, British, or Soviet control. Berlin was similarly divided, as the capital of Germany. The Soviet-controlled zones would become East Germany and East Berlin, while America, France and Britain would combine their zones into West Germany and West Berlin. West Berlin, and the city as a whole, was firmly located in Soviet territory.

[4] The Soviets imposed work quotas as part of war reparations. Increases would prove to be unpopular, however the uprising against those increases was crushed by tanks from Moscow. There would be no further attempts to rise up, but people took the easier option and just left for the West via the embassies, at least until 1961. This is known as "brain drain".

[5] At its peak, the Stasi had one agent for every 166 East Germans, and the number climbed to as many as one for every 6.5 people with the inclusion of part-time informers.

[6] People did not want to work themselves to death if wages did not rise alongside the work quotas and prices of goods. So they tried to stage a protest. For their trouble, the East German government called martial law, sent for Russian tanks and soldiers, and had people arrested and murdered in the streets. Some of those murdered were by the tankers. There were no further attempts at rising up, because the Western world would not help, and the government would kill them or have them arrested.

[7] Hungarian students tried to protest for better lives and the end of Soviet occupation. The Soviets seized parts of Budapest and fired on the crowd. A Hungarian coalition government briefly took power, but the Red Army would violently quash the revolution.

[8] Construction on the Berlin Wall would begin at midnight on August 13, 1961. Escape attempts at the Wall alone would claim a minimum of 136 lives; the true number of deaths remains unknown.

[9] Ida Siekmann, the first to die while trying to escape.

[10] Günter Litfin, the second to die while trying to escape, and the first to be shot.

[11] Bernd Lünser, the sixth to die while trying to escape.

[12] Peter Fechter, the twenty-seventh to die while trying to escape, and the fifteenth to be shot. Police on the West Berlin side tossed him bandages, but he could not reach them, and he bled to death over the course of an hour in front of a crowd, screaming for help until the end. Civilians were prevented from helping him at gunpoint, and American soldiers either had orders to stand by and do nothing or outright stated that it wasn't their problem. Hundreds of West Berliners would form an impromptu protest, calling the Eastern border guards murderers. The memorial for Fechter on Zimmerstraße reads "...he just wanted freedom".

[13] Commonly called Westpaket, and sent to East Germans from families in the West. Western media was not allowed, but people found ways to smuggle things in anyway.

[14] The first Head of State of the German Democratic Republic, Walter Ulbricht, was forced to resign from almost all positions on May 3, 1971, for reasons of "poor health". He was replaced by Erich Honecker, whose government would undo the liberal reforms that Ulbricht's government had experimented with.

[15] When the East German constitution was revised in 1974, the clause about unification was removed, part of the nation's efforts to assert itself as a separate country from West Germany, albeit one that had a shared legacy.

[16] West German Chancellor Willy Brandt would work to establish diplomatic relations with the Eastern Bloc states, as well as with East Germany specifically. This required an implicit recognition of East Germany as a separate nation.

[17] Travel between the GDR and Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary was visa-free starting in 1972.

[18] Czechoslovakia had been attempting to de-Stalinize, but the transition to socialism in the 1960s had caused an economic downturn. Attempts at liberalization reforms and the new freedom of the press were taken poorly by the hardliners in the Eastern Bloc, and four armies from Warsaw Pact states would invade Czechoslovakia in August of 1968. The reforms would be reversed once a new leader was in place. This is just a brief summary.

[19] Happened after the Prague Spring.

[20] The failure of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a brutal blow to the idea of Red Army invincibility, and was one of many things that directly led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

[21] Very similar to the uprising in East Germany, except there were no Soviet tanks rolling in to murder people. Would also lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc.

[22] After the death of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in November of 1982, his successor Yuri Andropov would only see about a year in office, dying in February 1984. Andropov's successor, Konstantin Chernenko, would die in March 1985. Mikhail Gorbachev would take over, and would remain the head of state until the end of the Soviet Union.

[23] Literally "reconstruction", refers to a series of Socialist party reforms that Gorbachev would roll out during his time in office.

[24] Literally "openness", refers to policies of transparency and openness in the realm of state institutions. Would really kick in after the Chornobyl disaster in 1986.

[25] The Monday Demonstrations would begin at the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig in the fall of 1989, after prayers for peace every Monday. They have not begun yet at this point, but they will kick off within the next few years.

[26] Are we really surprised that there was voter fraud in East Germany?

[27] The Pan-European Picnic, brainstormed by Otto von Habsburg and Miklós Németh and taking place on August 19, 1989. A gate at the border between Austria and Hungary was opened for about three hours. The Soviet Union did not intervene.

[28] The Monday Demonstrations have begun at this point; it's still early on, not too long after the first big protest.

[29] A left-wing/socialist anthem, of French origin and translated into many languages.

[30] This is allegedly the real quote used to open the calls to remove Honecker from power.

[31] This member is none other than Günter Schabowski; he will be important later.

[32] This member was Günter Mittag.

[33] This would have been Erich Mielke, and he did allegedly have significantly compromising information in a red briefcase found in his possession in 1990.

[34] Saturday, November 4, 1989, to be exact.

[35] Some sources claim over 500,000; some claim over a million. Either way, this was the largest protest in East German history, and potentially German history as a whole.

[36] "We are the people"; the most famous of the protest slogans, and one of many from the Monday Demonstrations as well.

[37] Markus Wolf, former head of the East German foreign intelligence service.

[38] Günter Schabowski makes a second appearance, but his role is still not done.

[39] Welcome back, Günter Schabowski. He makes his last appearance in the story here, but history is not done with him yet.

[40] "As far as I know, it takes effect immediately, without delay."

[41] Officially, this would be the first of the border crossing points at the Wall to open. Another crossing may have opened a few hours earlier, but that has not been confirmed outside of one account.

[42] This would be Harald Jäger, at the Bornholmer Straße checkpoint.

[43] The West German mark replaced the East German mark on July 1, 1990.

[44] Border patrols officially ceased when the currency changed over to West German marks.

[45] The Volkskammer of East Germany passed a resolution on the accession of East Germany to West Germany on August 23, and the West German Bundestag received the letter confirming this on August 25th. This marked the beginning of the end for East Germany.

[46] The German unification treaty was signed by representatives of both governments on August 31. It would be approved by both countries on September 20, and pass through the West German Bundesrat the next day. The law giving effect to the treaty was published by both countries on September 28.

[47] The final steps were completed on September 29, 1990.


gil is the only name i'm using here. i'm 21, and use he/they pronouns.


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