Twenty-five years of German unification
Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s prediction in 1990 of flourishing landscapes springing up everywhere following German unification may have come true—but definitely not in East Germany. Instead there has been massive depopulation: 2 million of a former population of 17 million have left their home regions and migrated to Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg in Western Germany.
The populations of all East German regional states have shrunk, while the Western ones have grown. For example, Saxony-Anhalt has lost more than 20 per cent of its population, and, like most East German regions, it is ageing. The young, highly qualified—and especially women—are gone. The population loss in the East will most certainly continue.
What about the people of East and West Germany? How have they practised unification? If East-West marriages are anything to go by, the relationship remains uneasy: only 1.6 per cent of all new marriages are “mixed.” This corresponds approximately to the rate of marriages between Germans and people with a migration background.
There are dramatic discrepancies between East and West in all kinds of areas. A far greater percentage of people in the East are affected by obesity and alcohol-related death. In the West there is a much higher purchasing power for watches and jewellery. This is, of course, due to poverty and unemployment, as income levels in the East have never averaged more than three-quarters of those in the West. The employment rate in the Eastern states is not likely to match that of the West in the foreseeable future.
Very few of the GDR’s achievements have survived. Child care is one example. Despite a decline in the number of day-care centres in the East, and an increase of these in West German cities, there is still a substantially higher quota of 52 per cent in the East—almost double the West German norm.
Another instance is non-membership of religious denominations. The policy of the governing Socialist Unity Party seems to have been a long-term success; even in the West a kind of catching up can be observed, as secularisation approaches Eastern levels. Three-quarters of East Germans do not belong to the major churches, while in the West the ratio is—still—the exact opposite. However, in 2012 alone four times as many people left the church as joined it in Germany as a whole.
Twenty-five years after unification, the territory of the former German Democratic Republic has become an impoverished internal colony in the heart of one of the richest countries in the world.