For an East German citizen considering escaping over the Berlin Wall to the West side, there are many factors which might influence their final decision which can be split into three categories: push, pull and stay. The push factors are those which show the disadvantages of living in the East. In the East, shortages of luxury goods were common and one would have to wait for at least fifteen years before being able to acquire a car. After those fifteen long years, the cars received were often in poor condition and could be slow, crude, uncomfortable and smoky.
Western pop music was banned in the East and ‘fashion’ or ‘fashionable clothes’ were neither allowed nor accepted. Wages were very low in the East and the political system was rather corrupt. Citizens never felt ‘trusted’. This was mainly due to the fact that the STASI (secret police) were constantly watching them. Also, no free elections took place and anybody upsetting the government for the slightest reason was sent to prison. The pull factors are those which show the advantages of living in the West.
Unlike the East, wages in the West were very high and skilled workers were desperately needed. Material goods such as cars and watches were freely available; there was no fifteen year waiting list. Commercial goods, mainly from the US (for example, fast food) were also freely available and Western homes were large and well equipped with luxury goods. Entertainment was less censored as young people were allowed to listen to any kind of pop music and television was much more exciting.
Most contrasting to the East, the government in the West was not corrupt as people could vote in free elections. However, possibly the biggest persuasion or incentive for Eastern citizens to cross the border, was the prospect of gaining a passport, a home and one hundred marks ‘welcome money’. The stay factors are those which show the advantages of remaining in the East. Unemployment was not a problem in the East, nobody was homeless, crime hardly existed and basic goods were always available.
Eastern education depicted the West as frightening and evil. The healthcare system was free and very good. However, the heaviest stay factors arose from the act of crossing the border itself. Escaping was so difficult and dangerous that it was rarely attempted as guards stood along the border, and shot to kill. As escaping was so risky, the chances of succeeding were so low that bringing family members along was inconceivable; furthermore, to add insult to injury, any escaper would never be allowed back from the West to see their families.