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Germany

Teenagers in Western Germany are confident and easygoing

Some 20 percent of Germans don't remember reunification because they were born after 1990. They have embraced a unified Germany, because it's the only Germany they've ever known.

A group of young people sitting together

For teens unification isn't a process, it's a fact of life

Petra Linssen is a history teacher at the St. Irmgardis Gymnasium in a pleasant middle-class neighborhood in the south of Cologne. Today she's discussing the recent German history with her class.

"In West Berlin the Wall was bright and colorful," she told her students, more than half of whom have seen the remnants of the Wall themselves. "What do you think it looked like in the East?"

Ms. Linssen's history class

East Germany, West Germany - it's all history to students

"There was nothing on it," one pupil responded. "You couldn't even get up close to the Wall on that side."

The student is, of course, correct. There was a death strip and watchtowers keeping East Germans from approaching the Wall - and the rest of the German-German border outside of Berlin.

East Germany, the fall of the Wall, reunification: these are things that the 17 and 18-year-olds know mostly from movies. It's the reunified country that is real to them.

"I don't think there's still a Wall in our minds," one student said, referring to the common saying that Germans use to describe the psychological divisions that remain in the country. "I grew up with the idea that it's one country." The others nod their heads in agreement.

Eastern and western teens are one group

After 20 years of reunification, eastern and western teenagers are a homogenous group, according to Thomas Gensicke, a sociologist in the social research department of Munich's TNS Infratest institute.

While the teenagers grow up under almost identical conditions, there is one difference, Gensicke said. The westerners are overall financially better off. This has led the eastern teens to be less optimistic about the future and more worried about their livelihood. It's a development that doesn't surprise Gensicke, "because the unemployment rate is twice as high for young people in the eastern states than in the west."

Easterners more political

The St. Irmgardis Gymnasium in southern Cologne

Matteo studies at a prestigious school in a pleasant middle-class neighborhood

Matteo Brossette from Cologne doesn't need to worry about money because his family is doing well. He's a student at St. Irmgardis Gymnasium. Right now he's focused on getting good grades, then studying architecture at university and someday living abroad, preferably in his favorite city, Madrid.

Matteo said he's interested in politics, but he is not really politically active. He said he thinks eastern German youth are more likely to get involved in politics. At a recent electro-punk concert in Leipzig he said he couldn't help but notice political slogans on teenagers' T-shirts.

"There were lots of 'Rave against neo-Nazis' and 'Make love, not war' t-shirts," he said. "We would wear stuff like that to a demonstration, but in eastern Germany they just wear their political T-shirts wherever they go."

Josephine, one of Brossette's friends, said she had a similar experience of a different political slant. She was taken aback by some teens she met on the island of Usedom in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in eastern Germany.

"I was in a small village where everyone listened to the band the Boehse Onkelz," she said. The group denies having neo-Nazi tendencies but is popular in the right-wing scene. "I thought it was crazy. They're all running around with far-right band T-shirts on."

Western youth less critical of German system

Matteo and Josephine on a motor scooter on their way to visit friends

The future is wide open for teens like Matteo and Josephine

Right-wingers are a minority in eastern Germany, just as in western Germany, Gensicke said. He does see a trend, however, of young people in the eastern states questioning the political, economic and societal underpinnings of the country more than their western counterparts. Gensicke said he believes it's because the parents, schools and media in western Germany convey a more positive attitude towards the system than in eastern Germany.

Despite the differences between the two regions, Josephine said she could still imagine moving to eastern Germany, as long as it was to one of the big cities there. But few young people from western Germany are as open-minded about the eastern states as Josephine.

In fact, a study published at the end of September by the weekly Welt am Sonntag newspaper showed that 20 percent of former West Germans had not even set foot in what used to be East Germany. Nearly half (49 percent) of West Germans said they "rarely" or "very rarely" visited eastern Germany. Two thirds of eastern Germans said they "often" or "very often" visited western Germany, the survey showed.

Most young people believe that there are better educational and employment prospects in western Germany. They are not alone in thinking this way. Most eastern German youths think their future lies in western Germany too.

Author: Birgit Goertz / hf

Editor: Rina Goldenberg

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