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German Reunification

Opinion: German reunification should not be judged by statistics alone

In the grand scheme of history, 20 years are a nanosecond. Deutsche Welle's Marc Koch stresses how far reunified Germany has come in such a short time - despite errors and challenges along the way .

A map of Germany with the dates 1990 and 2010 super-imposed

The road from 1990 to 2010 has not been without stumbling blocks

As reunified Germany turns 20, statistics dominate the headlines: dates and figures describing the state of the German nation today. And rightly so: many of these figures reveal that errors were also made in the last two decades. They show that unemployment is twice as high in eastern Germany as it is in the West and that people in western Germany are paid better than their eastern counterparts.

While there's no lack of clever studies about these topics, what do they really say about Germany and German reunification? Not much.

The greatest project of German post-war history is not yet over, and it is not to be measured in figures. Of course, citizens of the former West Germany feel the financial burden of rebuilding the East to the tune of the several billion euros of taxes that have been and will continue to be invested into the former East Germany. Greater yet was the challenge for many citizens of the former German Democratic Republic who had to begin a new life after their country's social, political and economic collapse.

Deutsche Welle's Marc Koch

Deutsche Welle's editor-in-chief Marc Koch

And yet the achievements of reunification have not been fully recognized by the German public. Instead, complaint seems to reign - although these complaints are little more than pure pressure-group politics, on both sides of the country. No one could have expected that two very different societies like East and West Germany would become one in just 20 years.

Anyone who says there should be no noticeable difference between the two just two decades after reunification has not grasped the magnitude of this unprecedented and historically unique event.

And that is not changed by the fact that, between the fall of the Berlin Wall and October 3, 1990, many mistakes were made and many situations misjudged. Today one thing is clear: the architects of German unity had no time for experiments, no time for a slow rapprochement between the two German states. They had to act quickly, taking advantage of a historically unique moment in which the world as they had always known it was undergoing radical changes. And that's what they did.

Of course, it was rash to tell the German people that reunification could happen within a few years and at a negligible cost, as then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl did. Even today those words still serve as cheap ammunition often fired in the course of pub conversations. But they cannot diminish the achievements of Kohl and all those who worked to make German unity a reality.

That's because Germany has profited by its reunification in every regard. In the last 20 years, this country has opened up, become more colorful, more lively and more laid-back. It has learned how to deal with contradictions, unanswered questions, and social conflicts - how to accept them rather than sweep them under the rug. Today, Germany is no longer fishing in muddy waters for answers. Instead, it is now a country of open eyes and inquisitive minds.

Germany is a laboratory, a society at the heart of Europe that is constantly confronting changes, challenges and new experiences. That, too, is a result of reunification, and it says more about this country than any statistic.

Author: Marc Koch (dl)

Editor: Susan Houlton