German reunification in 30 words : #14: Tal der Ahnungslosen
To mark 30 years of German reunification, we're taking you on a linguistic journey through 30 key German words and phrases that charted Germany's Cold War division, reunification and what happened next. Today: Tal der Ahnungslosen.
Berlin - Getting caught watching Western radio or TV could get you into serious trouble in East Germany – but that didn’t stop those living close enough to the West German border doing it anyway. However, residents of the so-called Tal der Ahnungslosen, the “valley of the clueless”, were not so lucky. The term referred to two regions, one surrounding Dresden in the east of the country, and another area encapsulating parts of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Brandenburg in the very northeast, which were too distant to pick up Western TV signals.
The sarcastic expression referred to the belief that Western broadcasts were more critical and informative than the government-sanctioned Eastern equivalents – although people living in the "valley" were still able to keep themselves informed via Western radio.
The term has been used unkindly by some media and historians to refer to the Dresden area and other eastern cities like Chemnitz due to the stronger presence of far-right groups like Pegida and voting patterns in support of the AfD there.
Using the term to tar all easterners as ignorant seems pretty unfair in our view - and not faithful to its light-hearted origins.