East German Academic Degrees

March, 2013

Berlin -- What with all the recent interest in German academic degrees, I have to recount an old story from the days of German re-unification.

My family and I were traveling on Germany's Baltic Coast not long after the East German state had been dissolved. We drove up from Berlin to show our children where their maternal grandfather had worked, long ago, on guidance systems at Peenemünde and to spend New Year's Eve on the beach at Usedom.

A few hours before midnight on New Year's Eve, we walked from our hotel down to the water's edge to see many townspeople dragging their Christmas trees onto a huge pile, to be burned to welcome in the new year.

But then a few townspeople tried to stop the event; a great deal of shouting and pushing ensued. Fights broke out. It seems two factions were disputing control of a tradition. The town's communists were opposed to the event, as it had not been observed during communist rule; the others wanted the town to return to the pre-communist tradition of a great Christmas tree bonfire.

The communists were routed and chased back up the banks away from the beach. The traditionalists shouted insults all the way, telling their communist neighbors they weren't in charge anymore, and to get off the beach and to take their phony, worthless East German doctoral degrees with them!