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German Reunification

East-West couples defy claim that reunited Germans remain worlds apart

Only four percent of all post-reunification marriages have brought together men and women from both parts of the country. The different outlooks clashing under one roof can be a boon, says one couple.

Wedding rings lying on a red rose blossom

Marriage between easterners and westerners is rare

The Farthmanns were an unlikely match. In 1990, Hermann, who came from Bielefeld, western Germany, and Birgit, from Magdeburg, eastern Germany, were competitors. They both marketed and sold X-ray products when Hermann arrived in Birgit's hometown with suspicious motives.

"He was planning a hostile takeover of my hospital," Birgit said. "It was my home turf, and I wanted to sell my products there. But he wanted the same thing, and so there was a lot of confrontation when we met first."

Hermann, however, was quickly smitten with his resolute business rival.

"That first meeting was an eye-opener for me indeed," he said. "I was used to western German women being housewives, and here there was this woman full of self-confidence going about her job like a man. That impressed me."

Hermann Farthmann standing on the banks of the river Havel

Hermann Farthmann moved east for love

Five months and umpteen phone calls later, Hermann took an irreversible decision. He left his wife, sold the house he'd just finished building and moved to Berlin with his daughter. The plan was for Birgit to wrap up her life in Magdeburg and join him in the reunified city.

"He sort of held a gun to my head, saying it's your turn now," Birgit recalled. "It was not easy - as I looked back on 15 years of marriage myself. But then that new excitement and all the sparks flying in my heart eventually made me follow suit and leave my family behind, too."

Hermann's fascination with Birgit grew as they started planning their life together.

"I looked up to a woman who was very successful in her job, and on top of that managed all the household chores without ever complaining," Hermann said. "That worked like a magnet."

Domestic tensions

While the couple was mastering their everyday challenges in harmony, it was more problematic with Hermann's 14-year-old daughter.

"Berlin was an exciting place for his daughter," said Birgit. "Strolling down Kurfuerstendamm boulevard and having an ice cream was easy. But back in our apartment we quarrelled about household chores. She was just so incredibly spoiled and used to every wish being fulfilled immediately."

Hermann's daughter left out no opportunity to fire broadsides at what she perceived as dumb, backward eastern Germans. But her behavior did not prevent Birgit and Hermann from finally getting married in 2000.

Portrait of Hermann and Birgit Farthmann

10 years into their marriage and still happy

By then, the couple had settled in the picturesque town of Caputh, amid sprawling forests, lakes and the Havel River. Hermann continued selling X-ray technology. Birgit, however, decided to realize her dream of running a country-style hotel - with Hermann's help.

But his efforts to build the hotel didn't win him many friends in the eastern German town.

"I kind of understood the locals," he said. "It used to be so quiet here, and then somebody from the West with a big black Mercedes comes along and leaves no stone unturned," he said. "People watched us building the hotel, many of them thinking we'd go bust before completion anyway."

Even the building authorities seemed to eye the western businessman's intentions with suspicion. The documents he handed in to secure approval went missing for half a year. At times the couple felt like abandoning the project in the face of all the red tape.

Birgit Fathmann in front of her hotel in Caputh

Saleswoman turned hotel owner

But they stuck it out. Now, 13 years since the hotel opened for business and 10 years since they married, Birgit and Hermann agree that, all in all, fortune has smiled on them.

"We've grown some gray hair because of it, but we wouldn't want to be without the experiences we gathered as an east-west couple," Birgit said. "And we're still such a strong team."

Hermann nodded his head as he swung his arm around his wife.

"I think we've done everything right," he said. "If you look at the situation in the whole of Germany right now, we are definitely not among the losers in this country."

Author: Hardy Graupner
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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