The fall of the Berlin Wall from the perspective of Works Council representatives

There’s always a lot going on in Berlin, and that’s also true of the city’s Daimler sites, which include Mercedes-Benz Sales Headquarters Germany, the Mercedes-Benz production plant in Berlin-Marienfelde, and Daimler Group Services Berlin. We recently talked to four Works Council representatives about the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago and how the city has changed since then.

Left: Annett Schönfeld (1990) as a member of the then sales organization in the GDR; right: at the East Side Gallery in 2019 (in front of the artwork „Test The Rest“: Birgit Kinder).

Where were you when the Wall came down?

Annett Schönfeld (Deputy Chair, Works Council of Mercedes-Benz Sales Headquarters Germany): “On November 9, 1989 I spent a relatively long time shopping in East Berlin after work. I couldn’t have imagined what would be happening there later that day. Back then, I was 18 years old, and I was working at the GDR television station in Berlin-Adlershof. Unfortunately, I didn’t find out that the Wall had opened up until I was back home with my parents. We lived on the outskirts of Berlin. Back then it wasn’t easy to get back to Berlin via public transportation — especially at that time of night. In retrospect, I was a bit annoyed that I hadn’t known anything about it. If I had known, I would have stayed in town and been able to experience it all right there. When I got to the office on the following day, half of my colleagues weren’t there. Many of them were spontaneously taking the day off after all the celebrations or using the opportunity to go to the West.”

Manuela Enslen (Representative Body for Severely Disabled Employees, Berlin-Marienfelde plant): “Well, what can I say? I suspected nothing, because I was fast asleep. I was simply lying in bed as usual. On that Friday morning I was awakened by my radio alarm clock — and of course the fall of the Wall was the top story on all the news broadcasts. I was half-asleep, so I didn’t realize it was the news. I thought it was a radio play. Eventually I realized that these people were serious! At that point, there really was an atmosphere of excitement. Later on at work, everyone was in a frenzy. Many people headed for the border crossings. People were streaming into East Berlin and vice versa. We West Berliners celebrated together with the East Berliners on the Ku’damm. I was 25 years old at the time, and that was my first encounter with the East.”

Mirko Scherraus (Chairman, Works Council Daimler Group Services Berlin): “Back then I was 11 years old, and I was in the fifth grade at the POS, the General Polytechnic Secondary School of the GDR. I was getting ready for the next schoolday. I didn’t find out about the fall of the Wall right away on Thursday evening. It wasn’t until the weekend that I really understood that the Wall had come down.”

Fevzi Sikar (Deputy Chairman, Works Council of the Berlin-Marienfelde plant): “That was a special day for me in two different ways. I was 18 years old, and on exactly that day I had been in Germany for ten years. I followed the news reports from start to finish at home. I could see the happiness in people’s eyes. Even on the TV screen, you could really feel it. For me it was a supreme moment of joy.”

Left: Fevzi Sikar at the age of 18; right: at the East Side Gallery (2019).

How long have you been living in Berlin? How has Berlin changed since the fall of the Berlin Wall?

Fevzi Sikar: “I arrived in Germany from Turkey on the night of November 9, 1979, exactly ten years before the Wall came down. I had flown from Izmir to West Berlin with my mother and my two brothers. That was my first flight in an airplane, to a foreign land and a foreign city. I was eight years old. On Monday morning, I had to go directly to school. That was actually a small shock for me — lots of things were different. You have to keep in mind that we West Berliners were fenced in, too. We were like an island in the middle of the East, but with the privileges of the West. You could drive to the West, but all the same it was very different from living in Stuttgart, for example. All that has changed completely over the last 30 years.”

Mirko Scherraus: “A lot has happened since the Wall came down. The former frontier zone is now full of buildings and greenery, and people have grown closer to one another. Berlin as a whole has changed greatly since then. Today it’s hipper and younger than it used to be — it’s simply more attractive. We can be proud of ourselves, not only in Germany or Europe: Berlin has become a world metropolis. Today our city is a popular tourist magnet.”

Annett Schönfeld: “I was living about 30 kilometers from Berlin in a village in Brandenburg. That’s why I don’t have very intense personal memories of the first years after the Wall fell. I’ve only lived directly in Berlin since 1998. Everything has become much more colorful. Back then, you had the feeling that all the buildings in the East were gray. Now there’s always something going on, and there are always new construction sites. Even if you’ve been on vacation for only two or three weeks, you might not recognize some places any more. The constant hustle and bustle, the constant change, and international appeal — those are the things that set Berlin apart.”

Manuela Enslen: “Thanks to the start-ups and the influx of young people, many things have changed. When you’re going somewhere in the subway, there’s a real babel of different languages. The city is multicultural.”

Left: Manuela Enslen in front of a border sign (1986); right: at the East Side Gallery (2019).

From a Works Council representative’s perspective: Do people still feel the separation of the East and the West today?

Fevzi Sikar: “In spite of the happiness we felt back then, the fall of the Wall meant that many East Berliners and other GDR citizens lost their jobs. The change was definitely the hardest for them. The city’s scars — meaning the remains of the Wall — have practically disappeared. We West Berliners no longer remember exactly where the Wall was, and that’s a good thing. West Berlin and East Berlin have grown together — probably faster than the other parts of the East and the West. Unfortunately, however, the working conditions have not yet grown together everywhere.”

Manuela Enslen: “After the Berlin Wall came down, we had a very close relationship with our colleagues at the Marienfelde plant in the south of Berlin and the Ludwigsfelde plant in Brandenburg. We supported them as they built up their Works Council activities, and we also gathered information, provided documents, and got everyone up to speed. People formed friendships, and we really grew together. However, our plants are also the best example of the fact that people still feel there’s a separation between the East and the West today. That’s because we’re located in different pay scale areas. Marienfelde is in the Berlin-West pay scale area, which is Pay Scale Area 1. When you cross the Spree River, you’re immediately in Pay Scale Area 2.”

Mirko Scherraus: “It’s unfair that even after 30 years, the unification process still hasn’t extended to pay and conditions. It’s just not right to still have two different pay scale areas in a city like Berlin. And that’s how it is not only inside Berlin but also beyond it.”

Left: Mirko Scherraus (1989); right: at the East Side Gallery (2019)

Is there still a Wall in people’s heads today?

Manuela Enslen: “That’s less often the case with young people. They haven’t experienced the Wall. In my generation and the previous one, some prejudices still exist. People still say that things are ‘typically Ossi’ or ‘typically Wessi.’”

Annett Schönfeld: “Prejudices are more deeply rooted in some people, less deeply in others. I think it also depends very much on people’s individual life experiences, and on whether they were lucky in the period after the Wall came down or if their personal circumstances grew worse. For the younger generation, these issues are no longer relevant.”

Mirko Scherraus: “That period, the whole story, was a formative experience. During the period right after the Wall fell, the prejudices were certainly closer to the surface. At the moment, I feel that’s no longer the case. My colleagues, friends, and acquaintances who experienced a divided Germany — and were working during that time — tell me there have really been a lot of positive developments in the past 30 years. Prejudices have disappeared, people have joined together. Most of the people who work with us at Daimler Group Services Berlin haven’t experienced a divided Germany. In my opinion, we’re completely free of these prejudices in our daily lives and at work. We look toward the future, and we’re no longer interested in where individuals originally came from.”

Fevzi Sikar: “Prejudices are now a thing of the past. When people talk about things that are typical of East Germany, they’re referring to geography.”

In the former GDR, workers had organizations called Workplace Union Management (Betriebsgewerkschaftsleitung—BGL), whose main activities included assigning vacation opportunities, taking care of retired former workers, helping workers look for nursery places for their toddlers, and organizing workplace celebrations. Codetermination and the representation of trade union rights according to the West German model — such as the codetermination of working conditions and wages — played only a secondary role in the BGLs’ activities.

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