Seoul Searching: Germans Give Pep Talks on Korean Unification

PHOTO: Visitors look at "reunification ribbons" displayed on a military barbed wire fence at Imjingak peace park in Paju near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas, Dec. 25, 2011. N. Korea warned of "unpredictable catastrophic consequences"

The border between North and South Korea is the last battlefield of the Cold War. Currently, a delegate of veteran German politicians -- from the former east and west -- are advising the government in Seoul on how the country might reunify if the opportunity arises in the future. Some see a door opening for change following Kim Jong Il's death.

A few weeks before North Korea's "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack during a train journey, Lothar de Maizière, the last prime minister of the former East Germany (the German Democratic Republic, or GDR), boarded a Lufthansa flight bound for South Korea to intervene once again in world history. De Maizière was accompanied by Rainer Eppelmann, the last defense minister of the GDR.

Today de Maizière is 71 years old and has put on a few pounds since the tumultuous days in late 1989 that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification. Eppelmann, 68, was sporting the kind of peaked cap that former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and German retirees like to wear. De Maizière and Eppelmann looked a bit like they could get lost on the streets of Seoul. But they weren't traveling there alone.

They were part of a 20-member delegation led by Christoph Bergner, the federal commissioner responsible for issues relating to the eastern states and ethnic Germans who have returned to Germany from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Why does one send an aircraft loaded with German former revolutionaries and unification experts to a place like South Korea? The short answer: so history will repeat itself. The somewhat longer answer: It was an idea conceived by Kim Chun Sig, South Korea's deputy unification minister. Korea has been divided since the end of World War II. The communist North has a nuclear weapons program and is supported by Russia and China. The capitalist South is supported by the United States. Korea is the last battlefield of the Cold War, a country that was split in two during the war of ideologies.

Over 60 years after the country was divided, South Koreans would like to see all this change. They have a grand dream of reuniting the two Koreas. Over one year ago, an agreement was reached with the German government to create a commission of experts with the somewhat unwieldy name, the Korean-German Consultation Committee on Reunification. Germany has provided its most experienced specialists from the eastern and western parts of the country, whose job is to explain how one successfully reunites a people. "No country understands our desire to reunite as well as Germany," says Kim.

The deputy unification minister greets the exhausted members of the German delegation at Seoul's luxurious Lotte Hotel. They have been traveling for 12 hours, via Mongolia and China, across a myriad of time zones. Now, they are all attending a welcome dinner in the Garnet Suite on the 37th floor. They will remain in the city for three days as they work on plans for Korea's future. But first they gaze out the huge glass windows at the city far below. Seoul is sparkling in the night. Viewed from above, it looks slightly mind-boggling and pretentious -- like an Asian Manhattan. 'The Koreans Have To Make Their Own Decisions'

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