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East Germany stops population exodus, study shows

More and more people are moving to Germany's former East, turning a decades-old trend on its head. But it seems only big cities are benefiting, at the expense of rural areas.

More than two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany's former East has experienced a major first: more people are moving there than are leaving for western Germany, or abroad. A study by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development published Tuesday found that some cities in the East have become prime destinations.

"We have a trend reversal," said Institute Director Reiner Klingholz at the study's launch in Berlin on Tuesday.

In the paper, titled "Im Osten auf Wanderschaft" ("On the move in the East"), the researchers looked at population changes in 2,695 East German municipalities between the Baltic Sea and the Ore Mountains, excluding Berlin.

2012 was the first year that the former East saw net migration, a trend that has continued since then.

The turnaround wasn't wholly unexpected, Klingholz said in an interview with DW.

"There you can see the fruits of the East's construction and urban development," he said. "They put a lot of money into the reconstruction of the East to keep the region from being bled dry."

Big winners, big cities

The biggest population increases were recorded in Leipzig, Dresden, Jana, Rostock, Erfurt, Potsdam and Weimar. Many of these larger cities attract young people seeking study and training opportunities. Klingholz says improvements in the labor market also meant many were likely to find a job and stay put after completing their education.

"That means the East German states are finally able to compete with national and international cities," he said.

Leipzig, for example, attracted 44,000 more people than it lost between 2008 and 2013. In 2015, the city gained 16,000 new inhabitants.

The downside is that many newcomers come from rural areas, with some places losing as many as 90 percent of their young residents. The researchers said cities and larger towns were also proving attractive for families and older people wanting to have access to more cultural activities and doctors.

Dr. Reiner Klingholz

Klingholz: Refugees could be more easily integrated in rural areas than cities

Refugees in rural areas

Around the time of German reunification, the five new federal states in the country's East lost around 1.8 million citizens. The study released Tuesday found that despite increases in cities in recent years, in 85 percent of eastern municipalities migration outflows still outweigh new arrivals.

"That means the gap between growing and shrinking areas is increasing further," said Klingholz. The study's authors say refugees who've come to Germany could help change this.

"This opens up the opportunity to attract new residents,” said Klingholz. "Where refugees settle permanently, schools can be saved from closure, new shops or small businesses emerge, and vacant spaces made into living areas."

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