25th May 2019

East-West divide still exists in Germany

  • In October, Germany will celebrate 25 years of reunification, but the situation on the ground shows marked differences between east and west. (Photo: Merlijn Hoek)

The Berlin Wall separating East and West Germany may have come down over 25 years ago, but the two parts of politically unified Germany remain "remarkably different" according to a new report published Wednesday (22 July).

“Whether in population development, economic strength, wealth, inheritance or the size of farms: everywhere looms the almost exact border”, said the report by the Berlin Institute, a German think tank.

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  • Part of the border in Berlin, 1963. (Photo: Roger W)

The report, titled So geht Einheit – Thus goes unity – compares several aspects of life in former West and East Germany. The graphs often show two very distinct lines moving in the same direction, but with a gap that does not close over time.

Workers in the west of the country still earn on average about €800 euros more than their eastern counterparts. Productivity – gross domestic product per hour worked – increased in both parts since 1991, but is still much higher in the western states.

Unemployment has also been consistently higher in former Communist East Germany in the past 25 years.

After the Berlin wall fell in November 1989, a political process was started to reunify the two parts of Germany. At the time, some raised concerns about the feasibility.

In a news report in the Washington Post published 25 years ago this week, East German Defence and Disarmament Minister Rainer Eppelmann was quoted as objecting to the speed of reunification.

“In the past, we allowed a little more time between getting to know one another and jumping into bed than we do today”, he said according to the paper.

The German unification process was completed on 3 October 1990. That was the theoretical part.

As for the practical part, the researchers of the report said they had expected it to come sooner.

“The result [of the research] surprised even us”, they noted.

The differences are noticeable in a range of areas outside of economics too.

In western states, BMW is by far a much more popular brand than Skoda, whereas in the eastern states, the opposite is the case.

Voter turnout in national elections is consistently higher in western states, although the difference has hovered between almost 3 and 8 percentage points.

Former East Germans are also more pessimistic than those in the west. In a scale of 1 to 10, they grade their life around half a point lower.

There are also some stark prejudices about each other. Thirty-four percent of East Germans think West Germans are arrogant – only 7 percent of West Germans think that about themselves.

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