Diana Lehmann was six when the Wall came down.

A month or so later, she remembers, her parents drove the family to Bavaria in their East German-built Trabant to try out this strange new freedom they’d been handed.

With $50 each of “welcome money” from the West German government to spend, they took her into a toy store. But it was all too much.

Back home in the East, she’d have had a choice of brown stuffed animal or a gray one. Here the range of choices, the bright colors and flashing light were bewildering. They left with most of the money still in their pockets.

The shock was only just beginning.

To most outsiders, German reunification was a historic success—the communist guards who opened the gates to the West exactly 30 years ago on Saturday were helping to end the Cold War and spread democracy through eastern Europe.

But to those pitched into the reality of overnight capitalism, it was brutal.

Thousands of companies were shuttered, thousands more sold off in a state fire-sale and more than 3 million people lost their jobs. Lehmann, who’s now a lawmaker in the state assembly of Thuringia, says that growing up, she barely knew a single family that wasn’t affected.

“In the West, there’s too little understanding for what the transformation meant for the lives of people in the East,” she says, walking past the socialist tower block in Jena where she grew up in the precarious years after reunification.

As the battle between globalization and populism rages across the western world, those scars are putting eastern Germany on the frontline again.

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