18 January 2011

PBS After the Wall Special

Last night I watched the PBS special "After the Wall: A World United" on television. I didn't realize until my research this morning that there was a previous hour long special called "The Wall: A World Divided". I do give them credit for mirroring titles, though I think they couldn't stray too far from the formula and still attract viewers. I was understandably excited for the special because it involved Communism and the transition thereafter.

I began watching with high hopes and by the end, I said, "That was all you're going to cover?" Let me explain why I felt really crestfallen: I knew almost all the information already. It was a rather superficial overview of the events following the ninth of November. I do give them enormous credit for interviewing a variety of individuals who were intimate to the reunification process, including the big names of Mikhail Gorbachev, George H. W. Bush, Helmut Kohl, and Condoleeza Rice (who I did not know was the Soviet Affairs advisor to Bush!). The one aspect I was pleasantly surprised by was the international relations point of view. I had read "The Rush to German Unity" by Konrad H Jarausch, which was a fantastic in-depth view of the Germany during these tumultuous months, but the book could not include the overall struggle to balance power and serve multiple interests at the same time. The point I found most interesting was Bush's actions. He remained unequivocally reserved over the matter because he still had relations with Russia to maintain as well as the Iron Lady and François Mitterand to worry about. He also realized that the window of time for German reunification was small because Gorbachev was in serious danger of being ousted by the Communist Party at home. It was a delicate dance to convince the victors of WWII to allow for a united Germany, win Germany's NATO alliance, keep Russia happy enough with Gorbachev to keep him in power until the deed was done, and to keep German citizens from lynching hesitant politicians if the process didn't suit their pace.

The speed of Germany's reunification was flabbergasting by any measure, and the special readily conveyed the miraculous nature of the whole event. I certainly loved some of the lines, which were an example of lucid writing: "It was not a marriage of equals" struck me the most. The following segment depicted East Germany as the lesser and dependent half, which I felt underestimated the worth of East Germany to West Germany. Though it had to undergo a complete economic overhaul, East Germany had what the West wanted as well: land and resources. There is a comic strip that depicts the marriage of East and West Germany with the West German man thinking, "I want her body" and the East German woman thinking, "I want his money". This joke was even told to me by the Bätz family because the marriage was a West German man with an East German wife. It briefly touched on the cultural shock that followed the change of power and it was said best by a West Berlin woman: "I think they had to change more than we did."

Overall, the special did cover the main points of the transition and accurately portrayed the process. I appreciated the international point of view and the focus on the delicate balance of international relations. That aspect made me glad not to be head of state because it was making my head swirl trying to think about that many sides at once and what I would have done in the same situation. The special was a great introduction to the topic, but for anyone who knows the process more fully, it had small gems sparkle throughout the hour long presentation. I don't give it a thumbs down because it was a great program, but I was expecting more out of it than I probably should have. This wasn't the History Channel and PBS would focus more on the general structure. The consensus is: great program.