East Germans Disappointed by Reunification | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 12.01.2005
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East Germans Disappointed by Reunification

East Germany in 1989 was in the midst of a peaceful revolution. Its citizens aged from 35 to 50 were also in the midst of their adult lives back then. But for the majority, hopes of a better future have been dashed.

Mixed feelings and disappointment -- that sums up the general view of East Germans aged 50 and up, according to a new report by the charitable organization, Volkssolidarität.

The "Social Report 50plus 2005" found that while most East Germans say they are satisfied with their lives, when asked specifically about their expectations for reunification, 69 percent said things were worse than expected 15 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Job worries

Jobs are the biggest source of worry, said Prof. Gunnar Winkler, head of Volkssolidarität.

"Our organization is again having to fight suggestions to keep people working beyond the age of 65 -- suggestions which only aim to cut pension payments," Winkler said.

"And such demands can only have an impact if there were jobs for every senior citizen who wanted to continue working."

According to Winkler, Germany's eastern states lack almost a million jobs for the 50 - 65 age group alone. Only 41 percent of people in this group currently have jobs, almost a third have already retired, while almost another third are either unemployed or in job training schemes. Many are earning below average salaries, and are having to get by on small pensions. They hardly fit the stereotype of the well-to-do German pensioner, said Winkler.

Gemeinschaftswerk Aufschwung Ost in Magdeburg

"Our organization is also having to combat this notion that everyone age 50 and up is part of the so-called 'Inheritance Generation' benefiting from large sums of money," he said.

"That's not the case in the eastern states, and it only applies to a fraction of the western states. The historical developments in eastern Germany didn't allow, and didn't require anyone to save up large amounts of cash."

Lack of savings

Under the East German socialist system, the state was meant to provide for its citizens from cradle to grave, making private financial resources obsolete. Today, 15 percent of East Germans aged 50 to 65 are affected by poverty. And the number of those whose income lies just above the poverty line is much greater.

Although the poverty risk of this group is much lower than that for children or single mothers, East Germans on the verge of retirement don't have much ground for optimism -- 42 percent responded that they were either "dissatisfied" or "very dissatisfied" with their future prospects.

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