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Germany: Study shows former East and West growing apart

September 26, 2023

Most Germans believe those living in parts of the country once separated by the Iron Curtain have little in common.

Thousands fly German flags and shoot off fireworks in front of a government building
Germans from both sides of the wall celebrated reunification on October 3, 1990Image: Jörg Schmitt/dpa/picture alliance

Six in ten Germans believe the differences between people in the former East and West Germany are greater than what unites them, according to a survey published on Tuesday.

The findings appear to show that, in contrast to the German government's own assessment, the two sides of the country are growing apart.

How the numbers look

Only 37% of people said they believed people in the East and West had now largely grown together as one nation, while 60% saw more division than unity.

The figures show a marked difference with a previous study in 2019, when some 51% saw the country growing together compared with 45% convinced there was more division.

Skepticism was higher in the latest survey among older Germans and those in the former East where, 34 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, 75% were most aware of the divide.

Differences were foremost also in the minds of 69% of Germans aged 60 and above.

The survey, conducted for the news magazine Stern by the polling company Forsa, has taken place regularly over the past 20 years.

The last time the assessments were so pessimistic was in 2008.

People who would vote for Chancellor Olaf Scholz's center-left Social Democrats, which leads Germany's ruling three-way coalition, were the most pessimistic of all, with 71% seeing mostly division.

Neoliberal Free Democrat voters were the only voting group more likely to have a positive assessment than a negative one — 48% compared with 46%.

Berlin set to publish own findings

The German government is set to publish its own findings about East-West cohesivity on Wednesday, but a sneak preview from online news outlet The Pioneer pointed to a different conclusion.

"If you look closely, East and West Germany — despite numerous ongoing differences — turn out to be regions of a united country after 33 years of shared history," it was cited as saying.

East and West Germany were officially reunited on October 3, 1990, less than a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.

In terms of gross domestic product per capita, the five former East German states — excluding Berlin — are still at the bottom of the league in a federal comparison and there are simmering resentments.

A study published last week showed that more than three decades on, eastern Germans remain underrepresented in country's top job positions.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing. 

Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.