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Post Column: Berlin Wall kept alive through stereotypes

I’m standing in front of the East Side Gallery — a remnant of the Berlin Wall — trying to picture the 1989 revolution and verify whether the air in East Berlin was as stinky as what Dragan Wende said.

Dragan Wende is the focus of documentary Dragan Wende — West Berlin. Twenty-three years ago, Dragan was a living legend; he had money, ladies, champagne, drugs, and a Yugoslavian passport that could get him across the Berlin Wall freely. Then the wall fell, and so went Dragan’s life. He is now “an eccentric pimp and small-time dealer who lives off social welfare and memories of a glorious past.” For Dragan, freedom is worthless if it ruins his kingdom.

The reunification may be a good thing on national and international scales. But when it gets down to various individuals, each one of them has her or his unique perspective. It’s not for us outside schmucks to judge. What I can say for sure is that even though the superficial wall was brought down, the wall in people’s minds is still there.

In daily conversations, quite a few Germans still introduce themselves specifically as from the West or the East, especially those from West Germany. When talking about lifestyles, my German friends here often put an emphasis on the differences between the two parts of the country — the age to get married, for instance.

A friend of mine spent quite some time in West Germany and observed the willingness of the Germans to speak English in front of foreigners — in more of a showing-off manner — but people in the East are very reluctant to speak English, even if they know how.

Another friend of mine is working in Nuremberg, which is in former West Germany. He is from a country thousands of miles away from Germany, yet he managed to “blend in” very well. When I told him that I’m studying in Leipzig, he said, “Why did you choose East Germany? It’s not a good place. Come to Nuremberg!”

Not only does the wall still exist, it’s also a virus that spreads beyond culture.

Think about it: Isn’t it the same case with racial discrimination in the United States? One night, I was walking alone on a street in uptown Chicago. The insecurity of being Asian and a stranger to the neighborhood was further intensified by three African-American boys hanging out on the sidewalk in front of me. I quickly connected this image with the gangsters I saw in some Hollywood movies and criminal news. Our eyes made contact. Somehow I managed to act cool and felt relieved when they didn’t do anything to me after I passed.

But relief didn’t last long. I felt terrible to have thought in that way. How ridiculous that I, someone from outside the U.S., was unconsciously affected by the image of African-Americans in the media! Even my deep friendships with some African-American and African friends did not make me feel secure at that moment. I felt so ashamed that I was aiding some fear without noticing it.

Here come the goosebumps — creating fear against an “other” is such an effective way to control people and is unexpectedly disseminating even among us.

Maybe sometimes it’s not racial discrimination, but self-protection under the influence of stereotypes.

This brought me to the wall between American youth and Chinese youth in Athens. The voices regarding China as a threat are all over the media. I heard some of my American friends mentioning their teachers urging them to work hard, framing the Chinese as upcoming competitors.

Under some unspoken fear, American youngsters are brewing a stereotype of their Chinese counterparts: clustering within their closed community, driving fancy cars, luxurious clothing, etc.

On the other hand, Chinese students are living in a strange, unfamiliar environment. Out of the need to establish self-identities and gaining “face,” Chinese may have tagged their American peers as constantly fooling around, too arrogant to regard other cultural backgrounds, polite on the surface without showing their true heart.

I’m very concerned that an “Athens Wall” is being built. That’s not going to help our future at all. China and America — what two great nations and representatives of the East and the West! And we are also the two countries that need to learn from each other the most: Chinese people are relying on the group too much, yet Americans are too self-centered. If we stop talking, if we continue to allow the gap between us to become wider, then we are bound to be narrow-minded and eventually stop our own progress.

Under the name of fear and self-protection, how much hate have we generated? And the more we hate each other, the more righteous we feel about ourselves? The more you disdain another country, the better patriot you are? This can’t be our future!

“There is no significant division between us and other people, because our basic natures are the same,” said the Dalai Lama. I’ll remember these words and strive to take down the walls bit by bit.

Bingxin “Sophia” Huang is a master’s student at Ohio University who is studying at the University of Leipzig this semester and a columnist for The Post. Send her your thoughts at

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