Thursday, October 07, 1999

Siblings’ Lives, on Divergent Paths Since ’60, Trace U.S.-German Divide

An interesting article caught my eye today in the New York Times. Titled: “Siblings’ Lives, on Divergent Paths Since ’60, Trace U.S.-German Divide.” Though the article compared and contrasted the lives of a brother and sister, one who ended up in the USA and another who stayed in East Germany, I think it spoke volumes to an underlying economic issue facing the two countries.

The two siblings, now in their mid-fifties, separated in 1960 while trying to escape East German Communism for the West. The sister struck out and ended up in rural Missouri while the brother ended up marooned in East Germany 17 months before the wall went up. Now the brother is without job prospects and favors social practices while the sister says, “If you want to work, I don't give a damn, you find work” and she wants the government out of her day to day existence. “Hans sees his sister as "way over to the political right." Heidi views her brother as the victim of a German system "that still assumes people are so dumb they need to be taken care of."

What I found most interesting about this comparison however was what must be an inherent difference in a socialistic-based system versus the democratic system of the USA. As a US citizen of German heritage, I’ve thought of German immigrants to the USA as hardy individuals with a strong work ethic.

However, Hans’ story stresses socialistic tendencies in a country where “there are 46 pensioners for every 100 active workers today; (and) in 2030 there will be 96 pensioners for every 100.” Hans receives an almost identical income stream as his sister and relishes the free health care and generous unemployment benefits enjoyed by himself, his wife, and his child. On the other hand, Heidi has raised 11 children and currently runs a day care operation out of her farm house in Missouri while continuing to believe in the value of work for work’s sake.

That two siblings raised in near identical conditions until the age of 16 and 18 and then placed into two entirely different social systems could develop such vastly different outlooks seems to me to be a true testament of the wide range of issues we all need to think about.

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