East and west is Wall in the mind: Nearly two years after reunification, Berliners still lead separate lives on either side of the city, Adrian Bridge reports

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The Independent Online
WOLF-DIETER JONAS took a bite of his bratwurst and looked towards what used to be the Berlin Wall. 'The concrete blocks might have gone, but the spiritual and psychological barriers have become even greater,' he said. 'I am an east Berliner through and through and I am proud of it. The west doesn't offer me anything. It's simply not my world.'

Nearly two years after Berlin was reunited, such views are, perhaps surprisingly, more common rather than less so. The city's streets and underground lines may long since have been reconnected, but its people remain almost separate tribes, divided by history, culture, social customs and even, ironically, their supposedly common language.

'Of course we all rushed over to see the bright lights when the Wall first opened, but pretty soon the glitter wore off and we simply felt rejected,' said Mr Jonas. 'I never go over there anymore. I stay here, where I feel I belong.'

Huben and Druben (here and there), phrases coined when the city was physically divided, are still in common usage. So, too, are the newer terms Wessi and Ossi - denoting west and east Berliners respectively. According to the stereotypes, the Wessis are the arrogant, know-all new masters; the Ossis stupid and lazy new subjects who need to be taught everything from scratch.

For many Berliners, the stereotypes are the reality, and it is proving to be a recipe for resentment. 'We are the poor old Ossis,' said Heinz Adirkast, one of the lucky ones in the east who still has a full-time job as a plumber. 'They treat us as though we were imbeciles, but they use us because we are cheaper. Of course we feel bitter.'

With wages in the east on average only 50-60 per cent of those in the west, but with prices almost level, the resentment has focused mainly on continuing material differences. Those apart, both sides freely admit that they still find each other, frankly, alien. By and large, the twain rarely meet. They do not live together, work together or even drink together.

'After all this time, I find it quite shocking how few friends I have in the east,' said Tatjana Hohenthal, a west Berliner who works in an eastern hospital.

'Actually, I have none. On a social level we stick to our own worlds. There are people I have got to know at the hospital with whom I am quite friendly, but we can never have really deep conversations. Our range of experiences is just so different. The only thing we really have in common is German unification. But that is boring now.'

In addition to different experiences and tastes, it has also become clear that the two sides also speak a different language. On the basis of a recent survey, Bild, the mass-circulation daily, yesterday revealed that many west Berliners simply did not know the meaning of colloquial terms in common usage in the east.

The cult eastern youth television programme Eleven 99, for instance, was believed by many west Berliners to be an after- shave lotion, or even an Indian love-making position. 'Oh dear, Wessis, you simply have no idea of the east,' Bild lamented.

Some west Berliners, only half in jest, hark back to the days of the Wall and wish it had never come down. Some east Berliners, too, say they were better off then, when at least they knew where they stood, had regular jobs and, despite the material shortages, a sense of community.

Picking up on such sentiments, Peter-Michael Diestel, East Germany's last interior minister, this weekend launched his eastern movement, a pressure group that could become a political party articulating eastern aspirations. 'The current situation is so precarious that German unity threatens to fall apart,' he has warned.

Despite such predictions, however, very few Berliners seriously favour a return to the old days of the Wall.

'I still get quite a thrill to simply drive to the east and freely sit in a cafe there,' said Horst Lohrke, a west Berliner. 'Expectations were raised far too quickly and unrealistically at the beginning. Forty years of division can not be overcome overnight. But, of course, it will do in the end. We are all Berliners.'

(Photograph omitted)