In the German Democratic Republic (GDR) the overthrow of the socialist regime did not only bring about both an economic and political shift, it resulted also in the inclusion of the GDR into the Federal Republic of Germany. The fall of the Wall brought with it transformations in everyday life as well as changes in social identities.
This study examines how people who grew up in the GDR define the East and the West in unified Germany, as well as identifying which concepts play a role in the self-interpretations given by former GDR citizens. Through applying discourse theory, I investigate how identities are partially fixed and change over time, relating this always to historically situated discourses. In the analysis, East and West are considered as floating signifiers, which, through articulations made with other categories such as class, nation, place and gender, come to be filled with meaning. The study is based on twenty-five life story interviews conducted in Eastern Germany. The group of interviewees consisted of fifteen women and ten men born in the GDR between the years of 1970 and 1979, all of whom had different levels of education.
The demise of the socialist state and the transition to a capitalist society is central in the interviewees’ life stories. Their narratives about the past are formed in a discursive order other than the one in which the events themselves took place. Conversely, the past is used as a foil against which the present is compared. With the dislocation, the interviewees have developed a reflexive stance to both themselves and the world. The study reveals both how East and West are still used to make the world intelligible in a number of fields and, at the same time, how these same concepts are transcended. It shows in what ways the interviewees employ different strategies to adapt to the new circumstances and to handle a potentially marked position in unified Germany.