"Discover Eastern Europe"
Ms Romaniec, what is the first thing that you think of when you think of Germany - is there a personal anecdote you associate with our country?
Rosalia Romaniec: Openness, tolerance, liberal thinking - this is what occurs to me immediately when thinking of Germany today. And since a few years ago, it is a country that can also surprise, for example with a phrase such as "Wir schaffen das" (we can do it). Germany surprised the whole world with this phrase. It suddenly showed a completely new side to Germany, not strict, but very human.
In the 1980s, I still grew up with an image of Germany that was significantly influenced by the Second World War. In my school books, Germany was primarily the "country of the perpetrators".
Then I came to Germany at the beginning of the 1990s, and got to know a very multicultural and diverse country. It was by far not as tolerant and open as today. But even then I was very pleasantly surprised. The city of Heidelberg, in which I ended up as a student, was like a melting pot of nations, and yet still a very German town. There, I found both. I felt immediately at home, and this is still the case today. I live in Berlin, but when I come to Heidelberg, it is my small, German home town.
How do you experience united Germany after 30 years of reunification?
Romaniec: Seen from the outside, Germany today is of course a united, liberal and open country. But viewed from the inside, you can still perceive a split. Sometimes I wonder why so little of the East German narrative can be found in the overall German narrative. For example, where are the directors of large companies, the Constitutional Court judges, the editors-in-chief and the university presidents with East German biographies? I am amazed that no progress has been made after 30 years. I believe that the task for the next 30 years is to change this drastically. This would be good for the country.
In your opinion, what effect did the reunification of Germany have on Europe?
Romaniec: As someone born in Poland, I would say: In Poland, the peaceful revolution started in Europe, and reached its conclusion in Germany. German unity was also a gift by several countries to the Germans. They agreed to the unity, although many feared the ultra-large, united Germany.
At the same time, German unity was also a gift to Europe. Without it, Europe would never have grown together so much. Thanks to German reunification, we now all sit in the same boat. And Germany has now become my second home country.
What does Germany specifically mean to your home country – do you know what is desired from Germany in the future?
Romaniec: Germany and Poland particularly share a very difficult history. Even many decades later, this influenced the relationship – between the countries, as well as the people. For many Polish families, even in 2020, Germany remains a country which brought disaster to their country and to Europe.
At the same time, Germany is Poland's most important partner in Europe – economically and politically. And culturally, Poles and Germans are more similar than they think. They just don’t see this as such, because the Second World War caused alienation which persisted for a very long time.
I find it interesting that 30 years ago, Poland felt much closer to the West Germans. East Germany was on the doorstep, but was foreign. Today it's different. The cooperation along the border has led to many positive changes.
What does Poland desire from Germany? For Germany to remain economically strong – a lot depends on German prosperity. From a personal perspective, I can say: when I speak with my mother about Germany, who lives in Poland and doesn’t speak a word of German, she says: "I hope that Germany remains such a people-friendly country". For her, the "Willkommenskultur" (welcoming culture) was a pivotal moment in her perception of the Germans. Since then, she sees the country primarily as very liberal and people friendly. And she wishes it to remain that way. Me too.
What do you think is the biggest weakness and the greatest strength of the Germans?
Romaniec: The biggest weakness is the tendency to over-regulate: there is a rule for everything. There are situations in which common sense would be much better and achieve the desired goal faster.
German strengths are the economy, the diversity and the pragmatism. This mixture creates positive momentum. I like the German passion for technology and precision - this is particularly pronounced here. Also with the German language! I speak several languages - but something like a "Lebens-Abschnitts-Gefährte" (life phase partner) and similar constructions are unbeatable in their exactness. Fascinating! Just a single word describes half a life story. What’s more, many things work in Germany. One should make better use of this in future, for example for the environment.
Finally, what do you wish for the Germans for the next 30 years of unity?
Romaniec: I wish that Germany retains its strong civil society. That is our foundation. This country is also developing so well because so many people get involved and stand up for something.
I wish that the west of the country realises that the east has brought along its own identity, which is an enrichment for all. This is the only way for what belongs together to grow together.
I wish that the Germans would learn from their neighbours: for example, that "la dolce vita" does not stop at the Italian border, that you must pay a bit extra for a good steak, that more lightness of being does no harm.
In addition, I wish that more Germans discover Eastern Europe and engage with it. It has a lot more to do with them than they think. And it is on the doorstep! But for some, the Seychelles are still closer than Warsaw.
Rosalia Romaniec has been the head of Deutsche Welle's Berlin Studio since February 2020. There, she was previously responsible for the areas of politics and Eastern Central Europe. Before that, she worked for 20 years as a freelance writer for various German and Polish media, among others for the Polish programme of Deutsche Welle, several ARD broadcasters and the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. From 2006 to 2008, she was chairperson of the Verein der Ausländischen Presse in Deutschland (foreign press association in Germany).