News Roundup 18/09/09

Controversy over the Thames: ‘Furious’ London Mayor Boris Johnson has ordered the River Thames to be reinstated on the London Underground map after Transport for London decided to redesign it. Tfl’s decision to remove zone boundaries will also now be reviewed. The redesign caused so much outcry from politicians and passenger groups and fears that people could end up paying higher fares by accident. Tfl decided to remove the fare boundaries and river because it said some passengers had complained that the map, based on Harry Beck’s 1933 design classic, had become ‘too cluttered’. However, the Harry Beck map has been voted a British design icon alongside Concorde and Spitfire. ‘TfL treated it as an operational decision but clearly it’s much more significant than that,’ the City Hall announced. [Many people in London, this author being one, still use the Thames River to get their bearings]. One of the latest revisions also is that passengers entering Zone 1 – which covers much of central London – pay premium fares, while those who use circle line that circumvent the area gets a cheaper fare.

Berlin Wall, 20 years on, Divided They Stand: Twenty years on, there has been no grand new mission, no ambitious vision of remaking Germany — or Europe, or the world. As the continent’s largest economy, Germany could have taken a lead to ensure that the European Union came together to weather the worst economic downturn in 70 years; it did not. Germany has contributed 4,000 troops to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, but there is deepening unease in Germany about the nation’s involvement in the war there. The strongest impulse in German politics is to avoid big changes, to hold the country steady as she goes. The electoral system supports this by producing consensus-driven coalition governments.  Ossis — Easterners earn less, produce less and have higher rates of unemployment than Wessis — Westerners . One in every 10 Ossis wishes he or she were still living in the G.D.R., something that will be reflected in the rise of Die Linke, a hard-left party formed by Western socialists and remnants of the G.D.R. communists in the East. This division that Germans call “a wall in the head” is more evident outside Berlin, where the physical Wall has been all but expunged.

There’s also been a striking geographical reversal–the poorly paid, the unemployed, the migrated East Berliners were shunted into the high-rises of West Berlin while the rich West Berliners swooped on the elegant 19th century housing of Prenzlauer Berg, left to crumble in the East during the Cold War. Today East Berlin is cooler than West. That’s where people with money want to live. After World War II, both the G.D.R. and West Germany resisted serious examination of their collective culpability for Nazism–denial infused Germany’s student and counterculture movements with an anger not matched in other countries. A similar failure to confront the truth about the G.D.R. — its violent repression and the extent to which East Germans accepted and sometimes aided the regime — expresses itself in ostalgie, the rose-tinted nostalgia for a G.D.R. that never was. Ostalgie inspired the 2003 film Good Bye Lenin! and underpins the renaissance of iconic East German brands. [There used to be a blank space on maps of East Berlin where the Hohenschönhausen jail stood. Germany’s secret police, the Stasi, employed one officer for every 180 G.D.R. citizens and had a network of 180,000 informers..]

If that why Thatcher opposed German Unification? A strong unified Germany looks where??? Two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Margaret Thatcher told President Gorbachev that neither Britain nor Western Europe wanted the reunification of Germany and made clear that she wanted the Soviet leader to do what he could to stop it. She noted the huge changes happening across Eastern Europe, but she insisted that the West would not push for its decommunisation. She asked that her remarks should not be recorded,  and the part of the conversation is reproduced from memory. She assured Mr Gorbachev that President Bush also wanted to do nothing that would be seen by the Russians as a threat to their security. The same assurance was later spelt out in person to Mr Gorbachev at the Soviet- American summit off Malta. Back then, the French were also puzzled at Moscow’s refusal to intervene in East Germany and questioned whether “the USSR has made peace with the prospect of a united Germany and will not take any steps to prevent it. This has caused a fear approaching panic.” An adviser to social President Mitterrand noted “France by no means wants German reunification, although it realises that in the end it is inevitable,” and that he would “fly off to live on Mars” if this happened. Gorbachev’s relaxed attitude to reunification later hardened. At his summit with Mr Bush,  he accused the West of trying to “impose” Western values on Eastern Europe, and launched a ferocious attack on Helmut Kohl,the German Chancellor, for hurrying the unification.

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