The vision of a unified country
Daniel Medina from Ecuador studied in the GDR during the 1970s and 80s. Several years before the Wall fell, he felt sure that Germany would one day be reunified.
When Daniel Medina looks back at his professional career, he sometimes bursts out laughing in amazement. From the 1980s until recently, the 70-year-old engineer taught in the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning at the university in Guayaquil, a port city in Ecuador. “I didn’t originally want to be an engineer at all,” says Medina. But his academic studies in the former GDR steered his life in a different direction from what he had planned.
When Medina wanted to start studying in the 1970s, he faced a problem. The universities in Ecuador were closed due to political disputes and no one knew when they would reopen. His father suggested an alternative solution: academic studies in the GDR. Medina could not speak German, but after a preparatory course in Leipzig he was ready for what lay ahead.
“A happy accident”
Medina actually wanted to study medicine, but his academic path took a different turn. The GDR authorities allocated him a place at the Technikum, a technical college for civil engineers, in Neustrelitz, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. “That was a happy accident,” says Medina today. “From the very beginning, I enjoyed learning about how buildings were calculated and constructed.”
At the Technikum, he learnt the theory behind his subject and shortly afterwards put his knowledge into practice during a work placement as an assistant to a structural engineer in the Neubrandenburg housing construction combine (Wohnungsbaukombinat). These theoretical and practical skills helped him when he returned to his home country. “Back then, Ecuador was underdeveloped when it came to technology and engineering,” he explains. The knowledge and skills he had acquired in the GDR therefore proved to be a major advantage for him when he applied for a job as a lecturer at the University of Guayaquil.
His contact with former lecturers in Neustrelitz was also valuable in this regard. One of his previous lecturers gave him tips for his syllabus. “I am still very good friends with him to this day,” says Medina.
“A widespread feeling of discontentment”
He returned to the GDR in the mid-1980s for supplementary studies in metal construction. In Weimar, he studied at the university and worked as an academic assistant. Medina has fond memories of this time – of his colleagues at the university and of the many places with a rich history, such as the houses of famous former residents like Goethe, Schiller and Lucas Cranach the Elder.
During his stay in Weimar, Medina had a premonition that one day a peaceful revolution and reunification would take place. “I saw that the people were well protected against poverty, unlike people in Ecuador,” he says. “Nevertheless, there was a widespread feeling of discontentment, for example because people were not allowed to express their views freely in public.” There would come a point where this contradiction would have to be resolved, thought Medina. And he turned out to be right.
Happy that the German people were reunited
A few years after he completed his academic studies in Weimar and returned to Ecuador, he read about the fall of the Wall in the newspapers. In spite of his premonition, Medina was surprised: “I was amazed at how quickly it had happened,” he says, looking back. “And I was very happy that the German people were reunited once again.”
The engineer has not been back to Germany since the 1980s, but he hopes to see his friends from his time in Neustrelitz and Weimar again soon. “And then we’ll all drink a toast to life and unity!”
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