Mary Elise Sarotte’s book, The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe, aptly depicts the status of West/East Germany and how it was the centerpiece for the recreation of Europe after the Cold War. Sarotte begins the book by discussing five major changes that occurred in the summer of 1989 which opened up the Berlin Wall. 1) The failure of events like Tiananmen to transfer over to a European context; 2) the choice of the American government to remove itself from the issue; 3) East Germans taking on the status quo; 4) an increase in East German self-confidence; and 5) the impact of television at this pivotal moment. I will not go into detail for each of these, as Sarotte does so in the book, however number 5 did provoke some questions from me. For instance, how is a media snafu like one such as this not caught or fixed before being released to the public? Is it possible that this fumble of information was intended?
To focus on a more relevant topic of which we have been discussing, in the second chapter of Sarotte’s book, she talks about consumer goods. The lack of consumer goods in East Germany posed a large problem for stores in West Germany as refugees settled in the West. Stores had a difficult time managing the extreme increase in demand resulting from new consumers entering the market. East German citizens were fleeing not only from the poor living standards but more specifically the poor economic status that contributed to it. They were experiencing a massive demand deficit in East Germany thanks to low wages and high priced goods. Refugees placed a large stress on the economic system of the West which could have had unpredictable effects on reunification of Germany.
TV did play a role that USSR was not yet aware of. CNN changed how news was delivered. Prior to 1980 news happen in two cycles; morning and evening. CNN was the first to broadcast live news all day long. This took time for other news agencies to catch on. No doubt the USSR was still accustomed to the two cycle news. Western media was all starting to catch up to CNN and the results were constant coverage. This may not seem like a big deal to the current generation that can get news at the click of a mouse or by turning on the TV but in the 80s at 1:00 AM most stations signed off for the night and played test bars of color. The national anthem and raising of the flag was done at usually 5:00 AM so it is a matter of perspective. Those of us that lived through this time realize how tv was changing the world around us. Sometimes for the good such as when we all watched the wall come down. Sometimes for the bad, when some things are better left unreported instead of fanning the fires as the media has done in recent years.
You make an interesting point in your second paragraph. While modernization and an increase in the technology of production helped lower the cost of creating goods, the market was still unable to handle the flood of consumers entering West Germany. Imagine how much larger the economic stress would have been if neither technology nor mass production had increased.