Some Germans have mixed feelings about the reunification of Germany 20 years after the Berlin Wall fell, writes Seattle writer Valerie Kreutzer. Some who remember the old ways are ambivalent, but to the young, "Germany is one people."

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DURING a recent visit to Berlin, my apartment overlooked Checkpoint Charlie, the border crossing where Allied and Russian troops grimly faced each other when West Berlin was surrounded by a 10-foot wall.

Today, thousands of tourists flock to the white sandbagged hut with its historic “You are leaving the American sector” warning. For a euro you can have your picture taken next to an actor in U.S. Army uniform waving the Stars and Stripes. Photo ops often end with hugs and tears, as visitors recall the fear and humiliations that accompanied border crossings.

A museum next to the checkpoint documents the history of a divided Berlin and the bravery of people who tried to escape the repressive communist regime. There’s a photo of Peter Fechter, who was shot fleeing and bled to death between barbed wire. And there’s the reconstructed car with room under the hood for a fiancée. “Don’t even sigh when we get to the border,” she had been warned.

Twenty years ago, on Nov. 9, 1989, the barriers were finally lifted and millions attacked the Wall with pickaxes and their bare hands. The euphoria sparked revolutions in neighboring countries and toppled dictatorships from Berlin to the Black Sea. Chants of “We are one people” led to Germany’s reunification.

During my recent travels, I listened to Germans reflecting on the past and the 20-year process of becoming one people again.

The fall of the Wall was “a catastrophe,” volunteered the woman next to me on the train to Berlin. She had lived in Erfurt, East Germany, at the time. “I lost my job, I had no money, we lost our way of life. It was a catastrophe all around.” She has since settled in Berlin and does eldercare. “Actually, it’s the best job I’ve ever had,” she allowed.

“When I get together with East German colleagues,” reported my friend Susan, a psychologist, “they admit that they enjoy their new freedom and a better standard of living, but I detect an undercurrent of resentment.”

Communist egalitarianism had provided full employment. But the economy was bankrupt, as it turned out, and the state’s abusive security apparatus kept an iron grip on every citizen. Western democracy offered new freedom and prosperity, but some have found the new capitalist world bewildering. Unemployed or underemployed, they are nostalgic for the past and kvetching in the present.

I got a taste of that when I asked my waiter at a restaurant in the former East Berlin whether he could recommend a good movie — the kind of question every Seattle waiter is eager to answer. “I don’t have time for movies,” said the put-upon man.

Had he seen “The Life of Others,” the Oscar-winning story about repression and surveillance during communism? “I know about the movie,” he said with a dismissive gesture, “but I don’t ever pay attention to Western views of the East.”

“The reunification cost us dearly,” said my niece Gabriele, a teacher in the former West Germany. “We were saddled with a solidarity tax to finance new infrastructures and reconstruction in the East. At times you can still feel a divide of distrust and resentment between East and West. But my second-graders don’t know the difference. For them, Germany is one people.”

On Oct. 3, Germany celebrated a Day of Unity for the 20th time. To highlight the event, a 21-foot girl puppet marched through Berlin’s downtown to meet her 45-foot uncle in the city’s center (

“Separation and reunion” was the theme of this giant fairy tale. Millions lined the puppets’ mile-long journey and cheered wildly when they tenderly embraced at the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of Germany’s destiny. The giants’ hug was manipulated by cranes and wires, but the spectators’ enthusiasm seemed genuine.

Valerie Kreutzer is a Seattle writer who was born in Berlin.