Postcard from... West Berlin


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The Independent Online

The fall of the Berlin Wall may have abruptly ended a system once lauded by communist East Berlin’s rulers as  “real existing socialism”.

But 25 years on there are many who argue that the real socialist paradise lay in former capitalist West Berlin. “The beer was cheap, the rents were low and no one had to work if they didn’t want to” remarked Eva Schweitzer, a journalist and Berlin resident during the 1970s and 80s, in Der Spiegel this week. She recalls how after the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, more than a million West Berliners emigrated to West Germany. They were replaced by disaffected young West German alternative peaceniks. Suspicious of America and its Vietnam War, they were able to dodge compulsory military service. They reaped the benefits of huge cash subsidies supplied to keep West Berlin a capitalist showcase. They lived in squats and launched a forerunner Green party. By the late 1980s, Ms Schweitzer notes, the authorities were paying out the equivalent of  €200,000 a year for an “autonomous lesbian alcoholics” self-help group. Even the cradle-to-grave socialist welfare system of East Berlin couldn’t match that. When the Wall fell the subsidy was axed. It was the beginning of the end of West Berlin’s socialist paradise.