Seoul Searching: Germans Give Pep Talks on Korean Unification

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"I asked them: 'Do you know what the North Koreans want? What they're yearning for?' But the South Koreans don't know," says de Maizière. "They say: 'It's up to us in the South to solve the unity problem. We have the money.' Well, it was no different with us. That was, of course, the German problem. Afterwards there can be a very pronounced feeling of colonization." Eppelmann nods. Schönbohm remains silent. "Historical ruptures always leave behind a lost generation," says de Maizière. "That's tragic, but history has never been a just affair." Perhaps de Maizière is talking about Korea -- or about himself. He's a sensitive, intelligent man, and it's easy to imagine how he suffered from the fact that he was actually no longer needed after Oct. 3, 1990 -- the day when Germany was officially united.

There was no room for anyone next to Helmut Kohl, the chancellor of German unity. It's very possible that this has also motivated the Germans to come here -- especially those from eastern Germany. They want to win back their place in history. South Korea is still soft and malleable, and it has a challenge to meet. The Koreans address de Maizière with "Excellence" and "Prime Minister," as if he were still in office. As for Eppelmann, one has the distinct impression that his beard has grown since his arrival -- and has again reached civil-rights-activist proportions. 'I Will Live To See Korean Unifiaction'

As night falls on Seoul, they all step in front of the restaurant. The Korean proprietor takes a picture of the German delegation. The mood is fairly upbeat, at least after drinking some rice wine and a few beers.

De Maizière whistles a melody from "Fidelio," an opera that he says was banned in the GDR because of this line: "Oh, what joy to breathe at ease in the free air!" Johannes Ludewig, a former head of Germany's national railway operator, Deutsche Bahn -- and a former commissioner for matters related to the states of the former East Germany -- calls out to the Korean restaurant owner: "And the next time we'll see each other in Hanoi!"

The whole group laughs.

"No, come on, you mean Pyongyang!"

"Yeah, right, Pyongyang," says Ludewig.

They all seem painfully out of place here.

A few hours later they are sitting again at the long table in the Lotte Hotel, in the Peacock Suite on the 36th floor -- ready for a new day and a new round of talks. The topic: "How can Germany and Korea work together to promote the reunification of the Korean Peninsula?" Staff from the Ministry of Unification are bustling everywhere, carrying papers and refreshments into the room.

A Wary Search for Unity The Ministry of Unification dates back to 1969. Today it lies at the heart of South Korea's efforts to reunite with the North, and has its headquarters just a 10-minute drive from the conference hotel, right next to the Foreign Ministry. It occupies two stories in an office building and employs 500 people. But what are they actually working on?

"We draw up visions for how Korea could look after reunification. And we look after the North Korean defectors," says Deputy Unification Minister Kim.

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