The Democratic Disconnect

For four decades, Die Welt, one of West Germany’s leading newspa- pers, refused to acknowledge the existence of an East German state. Since the paper’s editors expected the communist regime to collapse within a matter of years, they put scare quotes around its initials when- ever they discussed the German Democratic Republic (GDR). While other papers reported about the policies pursued by the GDR, Die Welt unfailingly wrote about the “GDR.”

Sometime in the summer of 1989, the paper’s leadership finally de- cided to give up on the pretense that the East German regime was on the verge of collapse. The communists had been in power for so long, and seemed so well-entrenched, that the scare quotes had become an embar- rassing denial of reality. On 2 August 1989, reporters were allowed to drop the scare quotes when writing about the GDR for the first time in the paper’s history. Three months later, the Berlin Wall fell. On 3 Octo- ber 1990, the GDR ceased to exist.

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