On the 29th anniversary of reunification, Angela Merkel said more work is needed to create equal conditions between Germany's east and west. Politicians gathered in Kiel to mark this year's German Unity Day.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and other high-ranking politicians marked German Unity Day on Thursday with a celebration in the northern port city of Kiel. This year's central festivities are taking part under the motto: "Courage connects."
During a speech marking the 29th anniversary of reunification, Merkel noted the progress that has been made but underscored that the work to reunify the country is not yet finished.
"Germany unity is not a state of affairs that is wrapped up and completed just once, but rather a continual process — a constant mission that affects all Germans," the chancellor said.
Merkel, who was raised in the former East Germany, said Germany's current diversity should be celebrated and that individuals need to take responsibility in order for democracy to survive.
"Individual freedom cannot be had without individual responsibility," she noted.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier cautioned that the "great fortune that is German reunification" is an ongoing process and cannot simply be "placed in the nation's trophy cabinet."
"Rather, it remains unfinished. It challenges us, it demands something from us," Steinmeier wrote in a Facebook post at the start of the festivities.
Merkel and Steinmeier were joined by ministers and regional leaders for the celebration, which included an ecumenical church service.
'Overnight, opponents became comrades'
Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer praised the role the German military played in reunification while meeting with troops on board the frigate Schleswig Holstein.
"Almost 30 years ago, members of two armies were united. Overnight, opponents became comrades," Kramp-Karrenbauer said. "That this was successful was mainly due to the fact that the people were determined and courageous enough to shape the future together."
Kramp-Karrenbauer added that the German military is "a visible symbol of the successful reunification of our country."
East-West equality to be reached within 'a decade'
In the nearly three decades since reunification, the eastern states that once comprised the German Democratic Republic (GDR) continue to economically lag behind other parts of the country.
A recent government report found that over half of residents in eastern Germany feel like second-class citizens, and that only 38% of those surveyed said reunification was a success.
Despite the obstacles, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said he believes structural differences between Germany's eastern and western states will be eliminated within the next 10 years.
"We believe it will be a decade before we have equal living conditions throughout Germany. This applies not only to the [former GDR] states, but also to structurally weak regions in other parts of Germany," he told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper.
Roland Jahn, the special commissioner for Stasi records and a former East German civil rights activist, called for a pan-German approach to tackling issues facing the country today.
"The problems we have today often have nothing to do with East or West. They're about social issues, about differences between cities and rural areas, between the different regions," he told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.
Germany was officially reunited on October 3, 1990, under the guidance of then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl, after more than four decades of Cold War division — less than a year after the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989.
rs/ng (dpa, epd)