I did not have any difficult answering that question because I knew Daniela Krause.
Daniela was born and grew up in the GDR, somewhere near Leipzig.
While still at school she was perceived as rebellious and was actually interned in an institution for difficult students.
After a while Amnesty International learned of her case. At that time, thought the Wall was guarded and closed, the GDR was not averse to trading problem people for hard currency.
That’s what happened with Daniela.
So she was brought out of the GDR, given a West German passport, and sent to a British family in the West of England.
She went on to study at an Art School in Bristol. Later she also trained as a counsellor.
Anyway she emigrated to America and becomes part of the artist community in Santa Monica, California. That is why I knew her.
I remember very well her description of the shock of moving to the West.
Suddenly, you had to make decisions. Where to go to college, what you wanted to do in life, how to pay for your education and training, where to get your medical care. She found it very stressful at first.
In the GDR all that was sorted out for you, more or less. Medical care and education was free and your future was largely determined for you. You went to work for a state-owned company.
So this is what I wrote:
To: Tan Mei
From: John Greer Smith:
The GDR was a welfare state where health care and education was provided for free, where public housing was provided at low rents and where the job you were offered was strictly determined by your academic record. The education system was good, better than the West. But few people moved from the places where they had grown up. With the exception of very small traders, all businesses were state-owned. There was an élite of party members and bureaucrats.
Even after the Wall was closed, people with initiative found it relatively easy to get out to the West, leaving those behind who valued the total care provided and were happy to let life decisions be made for them or liked to be part of a closely defined inward-looking group.
A few clever people who got posts in university faculties had some freedom to travel but chose to stay in the East. I guess Angela Merkel, now president of Germany, fell into the category.
So, in short, the people who had remained in East Germany were initially unfitted to life in the West. They had to be retrained.
In addition, reunification itself put great strains on East Germans because although their wages were aligned with the West, East German firms had been so inefficient and so difficult to integrate with the West that there was a productivity gap which made them uncompetitive. Workers had to be laid off. People in the 50’s were virtually disconnected from the labour market.
I know this because Daniela told me what happened to her parents.
I am guessing Tan Mei translated this for Zhang.
He thanked me the next day, when I took him to the airport again in a taxi. As he left he said: “See you”.
Not sure how to read that.