Opinion: Two-thirds unity not a cause for concern | Opinion | DW | 22.07.2015

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Opinion

Opinion: Two-thirds unity not a cause for concern

That a study of eastern and western Germany focuses on differences is no surprise and not a reason for worry, writes DW's Rupert Wiederwald. But there's at least one statistic where all Germans are united.

Twenty-five years on, German reunification is a success story. At least, when looking at Germany as an outsider. No other former Eastern bloc country has caught up with the West to the same degree as the former East Germany. No other has improved its standard of living and had such economic growth as that part of Germany that is still referred to by many as "The East."

Yet problems - and a sense of discontentment - still prevail. More than 50 percent of Germans still think there is more that divides eastern and western Germany than unites them. It's a view that is still especially widely held in eastern Germany.

It was the citizens of the former German Democratic Republic who had to cope with the fact that their socialist system more or less collapsed overnight. In its place was a completely new system. In the West, not much changed at first. Almost 2 million people left the five East German states - most of them young people and, especially, women. The effects of that migration are still evident today in the nicely restored eastern German cities that seem oddly lifeless; in the companies that can't find any new hires; and in entire villages that are simply dying out.

The 'two-thirds' East

At the start of the 1990s, large parts of the East German economy disappeared. East German companies that weren't competitive were either bought up or went bankrupt. And when they went, so did the jobs. For a long time, eastern Germany had more than 25 percent unemployment. Today, the jobless rate in the "new federal states" is just over 10 percent.

But it still seems like something of a miracle that people in eastern Germany today have achieved two-thirds of their western compatriots' economic power. Two thirds is also the relation of eastern to western German income. It is also still the case today that people in the eastern states earn and save less than their western German counterparts. People from Rostock to Chemnitz have amassed half as much wealth as people between Hamburg and Munich.

Rupert Wiederwald Korrespondent Hauptstadtstudio

Rupert Wiederwald reports for DW from Berlin

It's only natural for those at the bottom of the scale to be much more aware of these differences. At the same time, an honest assessment has to point out that all these differences could be much greater. If you compare eastern German states' per capita GDP with the former "brother countries" in the Warsaw Pact, then Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia are each clearly ahead of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

United in childlessness

There are other often-cited numbers showing gaps between eastern and western Germany. For example, it's much easier to get a spot for a child in kindergarten in eastern Germany, where every other child under the age of three has access to day care. In the West, that's only the case for every fourth child.

It was part of the Socialist ideology that everyone be employed, and the duty to work also applied to women with children. The state, therefore, ensured that work and family were compatible by providing ample day care. Because of its family policies, the GDR had a birthrate in the 1970s that was almost twice as high as that in West Germany, where women were liberally taking the birth control pill. The increase in the East German birth rate is known as the "Honecker bump."

That bump is now history. After reunification, women in eastern Germany seemed to stage a form of birthing strike. In 1992, the birthrate sank to a worldwide low of 0.74 children per woman. This is one statistic where eastern and western Germany have achieved balance. From north to south and east to west, the birthrate is now at a modest average of 1.4 children per woman.

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