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Home News 1989: The year East Germans discovered Western ‘values’

1989: The year East Germans discovered Western ‘values’

Published on November 11, 2009

"Pleasure without borders," claimed West German headlines aimed at East Germans who thronged to Western 'shops' after the Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago this November.

“It was curiosity born of great innocence,” recalled Kurt Starke, 70, a sociologist in Leipzig, eastern Germany. “Couples went to … shops, sometimes with grandmothers holding a child by the hand. We wanted to discover everything the West had to offer.”

Under the totalitarian state in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), as communist East Germany was known, pornography and prostitution were serious taboos.

“The … trade in West Germany was considered by the regime as bourgeois decadence,” Starke remembers.

But “people were drawn by [it], we could have sold it non-stop,” said Wolfgang Foerster, 55, who sold certain videos under the counter and then started one of the first striptease clubs in Dresden, eastern Germany.

Seeing a gap in the market, Western entrepreneurs jumped in as early as 1990 when the country unified.

German entrepreneur Wolfgang Foerster poses in his Go-Go bar in Dresden on 8 2009

“The girls liked East German guys because they were gentle and timid but complained about Westerners who thought their money could buy anything,” said Foerster, whose club was located near one of the mobile brothels. “When regulations were established, many of the operations shut down and the pioneers disappeared. Many were amateurs who had not managed to make it in the West.”

Eventually the eastern demand dropped off. The lack of money had something to do with it. Reunification was harder than many expected and unemployment in eastern German states is still much higher than in the west.

A different kind of Ostalgie

Beate Uhse still makes most of its money in more prosperous western German states.

But in the intervening years, a nostalgia for “love as it was before” has risen in the east.

Back then, “men and women depended on their own imagination,” said Berlin writer Jutta Resch-Treuwerth, 67, who wrote a lonely-hearts column for young Easterners for some 20 years. “That made [the act] less stressful.”

“In a rigid state that wanted to control everything, citizens were more emancipated with respect to their … life, women in particular,” Starke added.

Better access to higher education and jobs along with free abortion and contraception and generous family policies favoured a less traditional role for women in the East than in the West at the time.

And in bed, women took the initiative more often and reached climax more often than their Western counterparts, at least according to polls taken then.

Said Starke: “Eastern women did not talk about [it] for hours, they just let themselves go.”

Etienne Balmer / AFP / Expatica