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Germany

Opinion: A Progress Report on German Unity

It's been over 13 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, but Germans still have a lot to learn about each other before the mental east-west border disappears.

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The flag of a reunified Germany flies near the Reichstag on Oct. 3, 1990.

Thirteen years have passed since German reunification; 13 years in which East Germans and West Germans have had the chance to become acquainted with one another.

Apart from the economic problems in the new German states, there's a growing feeling of togetherness between the east and the west.

The two sides have already demonstrated that they have a common destiny. During last year's record flooding on the Elbe River in eastern Germany, aid came from all parts of Germany, both East and West.

At the same time, West Germans have shown little interest in learning more about the life of their fellow eastern German compatriots during the communist rule of the German Democratic Republic.

People cannot claim, clichés aside, to have sufficient knowledge of those times. But it is important that they do because the differences in the socialization of people that occured in both German states naturally has consequences that reach out far beyond Oct. 3, 1990.

Against this backdrop, a number of TV stations are producing GDR nostalgia programs that focus on the every day life of residents of East Germany. And there is an obvious need to engage in the issues these shows raise. Unfortunately, too few West Germans are viewing.

As things stand now, the borders between East and West Germany, which exist in the heads of most Germans, will only disappear when today's children and youth reach adulthood.

Reunified Germany's new role

This generation is growing up in a Germany that has created a new role for itself in global politics. The old Federal Republic of Germany's sovereignty was always diminished because of the country's division and its need to express reserve on the stage of world politics.

But now there is an obligation for a united Germany to play a stronger role. The country is engaged in military missions in the Balkans and Afghanistan. With these missions, Germany's confidence in international politics is growing.

Germany's clear opposition to Washington's plans for war in Iraq served as a poignant example of this growing confidence. It showed a tenor that, at least in its openness, wouldn't have been imaginable earlier. That's also a byproduct of reunification, a process that has increased the international community's expectations of Germany just as much as it has changed its domestic social structure.

The more these demands increase, so must Germany's reliability and consistency, especially when it comes to issues like Berlin's role in the European Union or maintaining the German-French friendship. The importance of these tasks haven't decreased. They remain of equal importance as the integration of Germany.

The one thing the relationships have in common is this: There is no fixed terminus -- it's a process that will be a lasting challenge.