We use "East and West" to describe geographical directions but also as categories. It is part of our project to describe and try to deconstruct these categories.
We spoke with various people and formed an East-West-Exibition.
One day of our program in Berlin focussed on the topic "East and West". We talked about this topic referring to the separation of Germany, to Eastern and Western Europe and East and West in the world.
Thank you to those who have already sent us their texts! We showed all of them in our exhibition on the "Ukrainian Evening".
Here you can read, what people from various countries responded to our questions:
East and West are not only different regions and countries, it is more about
culture and people. I am not fond of idea to separate them because they are not the same or even similar, but their diversity gives us an opportunity to find more and more new views, knowledges,
experience, emotions and etc. Other people, other populations of the same human being, other areals, traditions, food, and I like this diversity!
Anastasia (1996), Kyiv
East is the geographical direction in which Ukraine, with the most beautiful
city, Kyiv, is located. West is the other direction where the best soccer-club, DSC (Bielefeld), is.
In the East there are better Hooligans and Ultras.
In the East of Germany there are more Right-Wing-Extremists and less foreigners and also the figures on the traffic lights are cooler.
In the West older people always had to grow up in a capitalistic system.
Sebastian (2001), Köln
The contemporary world is marked by many paradoxes and contradictory situations. At the same time that globalization is characterized for creating new forms of inclusion, it’s also responsible for producing spaces that exclude and segregate. Frontiers are dissipated, while other ones are created. Not only physical, but social, economic and cultural frontiers, which are composed by complex relations of power, that reflect the conception of the “other” - surrounded by stigmas and perceptions that ignore the individuality and the different ways of being. Despite the great number of frontiers around the world, the division west-east, occident-orient, reflects an important aspect of this theme. These concepts represent a certain way of viewing the world, that define and influence the relationship between these two areas. According to Edward Said (1977, p. 6) “ideas, cultures, and history cannot seriously be understood or studied without their force, or more precisely their configuration of power, also being studied. To believe that the Orient was created - or, as I call it, “Orientalized” - and to believe that such things happen simply as a necessity of the imagination, is to be disingenuous. The relationship between Occident and Orient is a relationship of power, domination, of varying degrees of complex hegemony […]”.
I was born in Russia. It’s in Europe and also in the East. For me both parts of the world belong to my
home-country. But if i think more about it, I feel closer to the West. Freedom and democracy mean a lot to me, they are clear moral values.
The East fascinates me for having a secret, like an unknown planet. West means progress, moving forward. Maybe the future will change my point of view about these two worlds.
I think, East and West is mainly a matter of hang-ups.
The West won, the East lost. The West is not interested in the East, (in reverse) the East is very interested in the West. Only one lane of the road is open.
And this makes me sad. Because I hope(d) that being men does not mean to win or to loose.
Fabian (1990), Leipzig
I have had little or no experience at all with Eastern Europe. The first thoughts I had and the first question that popped into my brain, when I was asked to write about my personal experiences or feelings with ‚the East', was: what is ‚the East‘?, how can I reflect on the East (or Eastern Europe or Ukraine, etc.) if I haven't got any connection or a relationship to this region. My main problem with this task was then to find a personal definition of 'the East' that works for me and expresses an adequate amount of sensitivity towards everything and everyone that I automatically include by using it. Let's start with my personal associations with the term ‚East‘…
Well, I was born in Madrid, Spain. I grew up there, went to school there, I was definitely socialised there. For my family and me and I dare say the most of us Spaniards: the first thing we associate with the ‚East’ is Russia. ‚Mother Russia’ (Russia and the countries that belonged to the Soviet Union) and of course all the clichés you can imagine are part of this blurry and depicted picture. When I was growing up things changed a little, the Rumanian immigration was getting higher than the Moroccan one (2007). The main Spanish cities had a population overflow, schools were flooded by immigrants with little or no knowledge of the language. The Spanish government wasn't prepared for this massive surplus of people. Instead of developing social projects and a coherent integration program, the money went elsewhere. Lot’s of immigrants hadn't a place to live or a legal contract, lot’s of them found in the mafias a profitable way of surviving and living. So for the most of middle-class Spaniards the Rumanians - the same as the Russian immigrants living in Spain - were ‚all‘ part of mafias or gangs.
That is just an example of how depicted is our vision of ‚the East‘ and its habitants. I was socialised in an environment were you would constantly hear expressions like: ‚don’t go to Usera (well know neighbourhood in Madrid), there are lot’s of Russians und Rumanians there, you're going to get robbed‘, etc.
That was of course a long time ago. I must admit, sometimes I still have the following allegory in my mind: ‚the East‘ begins after Germany. Of course I know better. But knowing is not enough. We should find the courage and encourage others to find a way to connect to whatever the ‚East‘ might be. I just can speak for me: I’ve known in the last few years some wonderful and very interesting people of Ukraine, Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Poland.
Maybe I can’t find a definition for the ‚East‘, maybe I don’t have a relationship with it. But I would like to start building bridges.
Ariadna (1992), Leipzig
From my point of view East and West does not feel belonging together. There are a lot ot prejudices against the East. People from eastern and western Germany often are proud to come from the East or the West and do not feel they belong to Germany.
I haven’t had any personal experiences with being stigmatized because I come from the West, but because of coming from my region (Rheinland). Well, some I had: I think that people from eastern Germany often are being reduced to their language and it’s told that they have no idea of living in a city, because the East is kind of “empty” and there are almost no people to meet on the streets.
The west is a progressive society because of its social dialogues and relative wealth. It’s their wealth that is
helping the cultural washout of the rest of the world.
The east has long buried resources that are not being utilized to its optimum degree and is integral to combat the loss of humanism in the routine of exploited lives. There's a deep lack of communication between each despite our highly globalized communication systems.
It seems the internet and young professionals in yoga pants are not enough to trigger an authentic conversation. I feel as though both are spinning out of control when going further down the road of their engineered social systems. Both need the others' philosophy, for example, in minority rights and spirituality (largely absent in contemporary eastern life) in order to find a light at the end of the tunnel.
Rose (1991), Chicago
Reference to Eastern / Western Germany
I was born in a city in western Germany called Bonn, because my parents studied there. They come both from western part of Germany and because of that, thy studied there too (they started before the GDR collapsed, that’s called „Wende“ in Germany). When I was a few months old, my parents decided to go Dresden, a city in Saxony, East-Germany. This was 1996, this means seven years after the „Wende“. So I grew up my whole life in this part of Germany. Although I lived only a very short time in an other region which was by pure chance a city in the old FRG - a time, I cannot remember -, this background played a role all of the time in my life. In school, me and the other people, who were in comparable situations, were called „Wessis“ by the other classmates, sometimes in a bit derogatory tone of voice. Because we didn’t spoke this special dialect, because some prejudices existed even 20 years after the downfall of the GDR (for example that the people from western Germany came for taking away the work), there was always a small difference between us. I would always say that I come from Saxony, but it’s not the same like people live here for generations, and also during the participation of Germany after the Second World War.
For studying, I decided to go to Münster, to see another region of Germany. It’s a city totally in western Germany, near to the border to the Netherlands. The town was situated in FRG. Only a small minority of people come from the „new federal states“, former East-Germany, to live here. Often, I have the impression that a lot of the inhabitants never visited the East – I should hope this, if not, they are simply ignorant. Some people have a lot of prejudices against the eastern part! I’ve heard many quite stupid sentences, for example: „You come from Dresden? I’ve heard that it’s a nice place, very strange, I cannot imagine, it’s in the East! There cannot exist beautiful towns, impossible!“ Dresden is regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in Germany. Or: „Dresden – are there still ruins from the Second World War?“. Of course, there are a lot of other people who don’t think so, who are interested in the East and who wouldn’t say such things. But a few people do it. In 14 years, the united Germany will exist how long the participation of Germany continued. I hope during this time, a lot of people will change their mind and accept the eastern part.
Reference to Western / Eastern Europe
Me, I’m more interested in eastern Europe than in western Europe for doing holiday or terms abroard or learning new things about other countries. I think, France, Italy, Austria are nice places, no discussion. It could be very nice to pass vacances there. But in my opinion, our cultures are very similar. That’s why, I think it’s more interesting to visit the other countries in the eastern/southeastern part. In Germany, you don’t learn a lot about their culture, their religion, their traditions, their heritages… (about westerm countries, you do, for example in school, in French lessons – but who learn Ukrainian in school?). So, I think it’s exiting to experience some „new“ parts of Europe.
Charlotte (1996), Münster
I remember there was a conception from Samuel Phillips Huntington. He said, that in geopolitics there is an idea about the place where countries are situated. The northern and western states are always richer than southern and eastern ones. I agree with this idea. For me, the west is a rich civilisation. Many philosophes, painters, writers and scientist live there. And we should be thankful for all what they did for this world, because our world is like it is because of them.
But this theory does not
mean that the East is always poorer. Also here are many famous personalities. The East has a big history. Religions were born her. And I think that East is not about Money, but about spirituality
and faith. In the future East and West should find an answer to the question “How can the best ideas from east and west be incorporated in peoples’ life and stop the conflicts between the both
The people should understand that we can build a good future only, if we work together. And we need each other. Without doubts.
My ex-classmate from the university is from Yevpatoriya. She is Crimean Tatar. I always admired how she did maintain the sense of the modern life and the enormous love to her relatives and the national traditions. I might say she is from the quite prosperous family, the members of which have always invited me to visit one of their hotels on the seaside during the summertime. After the occupation, they told me I would be the only one tourist in the district. I wish I would have gone there before the Ukrainian language can be a purpose of my arrest on the semi-island.
I can give the numerous examples of the stories where I wish, but did not reach the East and occupied South. The same I can tell about the people - I do not know whether there is some differences between me, the girl from the Central Ukraine, and the same girl from Lugansk. I have heard about the stereotypes of the criminal East and nationalist West. And the shame of us who had not only created this but supported the controversy for all these times.
Tanya (1992), Kyiv
Some days ago, 1st July 2016, the German news „Tagesschau.de“ wrote that the difference between the pensions in
former Eastern- and Western Germany was 5,9%, almost 26 years after the DDR being unified with the BRD. One of the reasons for this fact might be the different salary: In the western federal
states most branches earn more than in the eastern ones. Because of this, many people from the „East“ work in in the “West” during the week, e.g. in Bayern (Bavaria). I know one person, a
brother-in-law of my father’s side, who lives in the south of Chemnitz but works in Mainz. The difference of the salary is that high, that it is worth to travel every week.
In my opinion economical differences belong to the more harmless aftermaths of the German separation. For me it seems to be something left from former times, when people spent so much attention to make clear people belonging to one or another side, 26 years after the state broke down.
Quotes just as „ah, you are from the east – that explains a lot“ may sound funny, but also mean that from both sides (from persons of the „old“ and „new“ federal states) the separating sustains. Even if differences, e.g. economical ones, really exist, we don’t have to distinguish between eastern and western people.
In 2010 I participated in a musical project between Saxony and Baden-Württemberg. There was not only the choir of my school but also other ensembles from Saxony, which travelled to the southern-west to make music together. The goal of the organizers was to connect East and West. In that time we didn’t really realize what exactly that meant, because the reunification was 20 years back in time.
It might be true that the mentality is different and that the image from „Wessi“ and „Ossi“ are existing but even today e.g. a person from Saxony can differ between a person from the Ruhrpott (Ruhr Valley) and a Swab. Germany is a country with many different regions with a lot of different dialects and different cultures.
Except of those little „jokes“ targeting to eastern German dialects, an naming someone „Ossi“, nowadays I don’t
notice any separating between east and west. Cultural differences exist between regions, differences for economical centres also. Speaking from „typical Eastern-German“ or „typical
Western-German“, in my eyes, does not show wide perspective and should be belonging to the past.
Christian (1995), Leipzig
East and West are expressions that describe not only geographic
location, but also cultural and religious differences between people.
As for me significant attributes of the Western culture are dynamic life, technological development and development of the society.
I see eastern culture as conservative, where traditions play major role for society.
Kristina (1991), Kyiv
The meaning of East/West changed a lot in the last years for me. What used to be just a orientation, has become
something way more important than that. After my time in Europe, and Deutschland, East got itself a meaning of a whole new world, full of friends and surprises, cultures still to be discovered
and languages still to be learned. West is still and will always be my place, where I can be sure to have all support I need, in every time of my life. Both of them should bring me new and
impressive things, and both make me feel like being at home.
Yuri (1994), Belo Horizonte (Brazil)
I was born in a town close to Cologne, in the West of Germany. My mother’s family is from that area too and my
father is from Rostock. My parents met during an exchange meeting between the student’s parishes Siegen (FRG) and Ilmenau (GDR). Some years later, in October 1989 they married in Rostock. For
some weeks my mum stayed there until my dad finally got his exit permit to leave the DDR – he was allowed to move to the Western part of Germany on the 10th November. The night before
the Berlin wall fell.
Since I can remember, my parents have told me this story a lot of times. Every time we went to visit my grandparents in Rostock they showed the place where in former times there was the border, we spoke about the Peaceful Revolution and the life in the GDR, we visited Museums and Memorial Placed and my parents showed a lot of photos and documents.
I grew up, knowing a lot about history and being fascinated for it, but for me, “East” and “West” were just geographical directions. As I can remember, this changed when, the day before the holidays, a guy from my History-Course asked me: “Na Elena, fährste wieder in die Zone?” (So, Elena, you are going to visit the GDR again?) I suddenly started thinking that I was not just going to see my grandparents but going to “the East”. Being there I started to look for differences and I saw them: The old dishes with big and colourful flowers, the boxes of “Plaste” as my grandmother named it (I was used to say “Plastik”) and I noticed my grandparents saying phrases like “If we would have had this chances in the GDR too…” in almost every conversation.
Some years later I decided to volunteer in Kyiv. Before I left I got to hear a lot about “the East”: I was told not to fall in love with some “eastern guy”, that there was no comfort in Kyiv at all and people just didn’t understand why I was going to “Poland, Belarus or somewhere else there in the east”. I hadn’t had any big expectations, maybe I just thought of Kyiv as a big, grey city. Eastern Europe for me was connected with Plattenbau, Slavic languages, cold winters and a somehow cold atmosphere, orthodox churches, Borsht and some nostalgic soviet-spirit. The day I arrived in Kyiv the first fact I noticed was all the green in the city. My first Russian-teacher was one of the most warm-hearted persons I ever met and I never felt lost in the city because people helped me everywhere. Many persons wondered why I was coming to the East voluntary and where even more wondering why I was liking it that much. The year in Ukraine made me aware of the barriers, which seem to exist in the heads of many people. If I meet a person or go to a place, East and West are not the first categories I notice, but talking/reflecting about, I notice that it’s still a category I am using, maybe even if it shouldn’t be.
When I decided to move to Leipzig for studying the reactions of my friends were quite similar to the reactions when I moved to Kyiv. I really feel at home in Leipzig now. When I visit my family in Cologne, I notice many differences between Cologne/my village and Leipzig. In Cologne people seem to be more in hurry, shouting more at each other and thinking more about their own profit. Maybe it’s just about the places I visit and the persons I know, maybe it’s just a normal difference between regions but for me it is also connected with eastern and western lifestyle I have the feeling that in “the East” (of Germany and of Europe) people look more around, taking more care of others and noticing their needs.
The differences between East and West seem to be a bigger topic in the East than in the West. It’s the East who tries to be closer connected to the West and not the other way. I have the feeling, that the East is the forgotten or lost direction about which the West does not care. This fact can be seen between former Eastern and Western Germany, between Eastern and Western Europe and also between the East and West of the world. In almost every place I’m as a person from the West (except when I talk about Leipzig in Cologne) and I don’t feel comfortable with it because I feel closer connected to the East. Being considered a “western” person in my eyes contains to be seen as rich and modern and also haughty and the one who has to (or wants to) teach the others how to do something better. This creates a hierarchy and a distance between people, which shouldn’t exist. It should be our task to break this hierarchy and to be aware of our use of “East” and “West” as categories.
Elena (1995), Leipzig
All our knowledge on the topic about differences and similarities between Eastern and Western culture is based on stereotypical notions. The first association that emerges in our mind could be
Asia and civilized Europe, or the US that is the most powerful country in a political sense and economical influence. For example, the most famous stereotype is connected with the thought that
eastern and western person perceive things in their life in different points of view. In the East, people are more profound in the question of traditions and spirituality, at the same time when
the people in the West are thinking more about how to stay successful in their society. East is more about saving traditional attitude to life, as it is more about finding yourself through
meditative way, as the eastern philosophers of the past proofed. We know that a western person is used to rationalize and classify history on the chronological periods, that’s why in contemporary
humanity science we know European history more precisely than Asian because a person from the East (ancient cultures where Buddhism was widely spread) has a circular view on historical events. An
Eastern person, in my opinion, is more profound in the religious aspect, in the aspect of tradition, when the western person has more power in the aspect of education, economy etc. which
strengthen its individuality. In a very primitive sense, East is about collective and West is about individuality.
Katerina (1996), Uzhgorod (Ukraine)
Since I am currently Erasmus student who is studying in international environment (my mates are at least from 20 different countries all over the world) west and east means for me the great diversity in minds and culture, in difference of behavior and sense of seeing of the same things. Simultaneously, east and west are the parts of the same “organism” and they cannot live without each other.
East and west also means for me the different possibilities in job and research work. Both of sides have its own benefits but still it can be different ways in the studying or working processes. What is the most important, east and west for me means a unity since my native country (Ukraine) has problems in the relations of these two parts and I really hope that it will stop in near future!
Pavlo (1993), Kyiv
For me it is always hard to make generalizations, probably because they can express reality only very partly.
Some time ago – about 30 years – I was very involved with this topic. I had a boyfriend in the GDR, who later became my husband and through some exchange-meeting of the students’ parish I got to
know some people in the GDR.
In the West, that times, I noticed ignorance, but that’s probably due to the fact, that people from the West, who didn’t have relatives or friends in the East, rarely were able to travel there. On the other side, most oft he people in the West felt well and the started „looking“ more into the West, to the USA, than tot he GDR. The reunification seemed to be not the interest of the people, left from the CDU (Christian-democratic-party, middle/conservative) and to be not reachable.
In the East I noticed, how many people were interested in the political and economical state oft the FRG, logically, influenced by the western Media and maybe also by friends and relatives in the west („care-packages“), sometimes this was biased. For me it often was very hard to explain also the bad sides of the west in discussions. Many people didn’t believe me (e.g. they thought that unemployment is always the own fault, who like would find work...). The problems resulting from unemployment, like a lack of prospects etc. weren’t understood.
I noticed, that the „technic“ has higher relevance and worth in the East than here – and this not only in the family of my husband, who is also an engineer. From the eastern side I often was told, that it wouldn’t appear that I am from the West. This was a compliment; people from the West were often seen as fashionable, conceited and arrogant. I can not agree to the fact, which I heard several times in the East, that the friendships in the West are only superficial. I made good friends in the West as in the East, these friendships are lasting now for more than 30 years.
I think that with the reunification a lot of prejudices stopped, but others were constructed. Right now I think that both sides have come very close to each other, at least in the cities. I don’t know how it is in some parts of the more rural society.
I personally have the feeling that the stressing of supposed differences sometimes is artificial, because I think
that on both sides there are this and that kind of people (with or without prejudices, open-minded or calmer, consumerist or not). I think, it’s more a question of city and countryside, social
classes, education, political point of view, etc. Of course some differences still exist, the wall broke down not thirty years ago, but I think that these differences become smaller from year to
year and from generation to generation.
Elgin (1965), Köln
Remembrance of the history of the places where I grew up was accompanied by sort of nostalgia: In Dresden,
we liked to dance in old houses with patterned wallpapers and blinds, I collected old papers and objects and liked to listen to audio dramas and watch films produced in times of German Democratic
Republic. The oppressive dimension of my grandparents' and my parents' lifes appeared only sometimes in their personal narratives. To be honest, I am not able to imagine the limitations of life
planning, travelling, connecting, information... But they also point out positive aspects like cooperativeness among the people in case of lacks and the state support of cultural
As a child, I did not notice real traces of German partition. Much was reconstructed, changed, and in my opinion structural weakness is not automatically a quality of former GDR-regions. I was confronted with stereotypes the first time at a youth meeting, when people uttere that the eastern part of Germany is poor, dirty, retarded. I was shocked because of these prejudices. Unfortunately, the experience supported the stereotype of "arrogant West Germans", but I am convinced and I hope, that our generation will not incite borders and differences in power. There are individual characteristics of different regions, but they should not be reasons for discord and hassle. I did not experience the partition of Germany, I notice that when I sometimes wonder if a city in Middle Germany belonged to GDR or West Germany. In my opinion an additional fact is interesting: I do not identify with "Germany" as a whole, more with cities I lives in. Now, for example, Leipzig is the place where I live, and all the regions around, belonging to Germany or Czech Republic or Netherlands or to countries all over the earth, are somehow "new" and I am looking forward to become more familiar with them, if that is possible.
Sophia (1994), Leipzig