Unification: A Tale of Two Cities | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 03.10.2005
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Unification: A Tale of Two Cities

Back in 1990, pundits predicted it would take a generation to meld the two Germanys. DW-TV sent two reporters to take a look at how the other half lives 15 years later, just beyond the halfway mark.

A few new skyscrapers aren't enough to rebuild a nation

A few new skyscrapers aren't enough to rebuild a nation

Zittau in the former East Germany and Dortmund in the West are a good place to start -- two cities on either sides of the country that are both former industrial centers and now suffering from high unemployment.

Dortmund, once home to coal mines and steel plants, was a city looking to renew itself in the late 1980s. But then came German unification, and money for big public spending projects headed eastwards.

Many locals are still angry about the investment in the East, and say they need it just as badly. The city's former mayor doesn't agree. He has little time for those who complain about the cost of unification.

"It's nonsense, it's just old hat," he said. "I'm convinced that most people see it that way as well. Of course you'll always get the odd person saying they'd have more money if it wasn't for unification. And I just say -- exactly how much more would you have? Ten euros 50?"

Lingering resentment

But others insist the easterners still haven't realized that there's no such thing as a free lunch. "They don't show any initiative," complained one man. "They just expect more money. But you have to do something for yourself."

People in Dortmund obviously feel they have little in common with their eastern neighbors. "A wall still exists," pointed out a local woman. "An invisible one. The country is still divided."

And to many, the differences are still glaring. "You can tell if someone's from the East -- even if you don't hear it straight away," said one passer-by. "You can tell just from the way they are."

Behind the scenes in Zittau

Marktplatz und Rathaus in Zittau


Meanwhile in Zittau -- on the south-eastern tip of what was once East Germany, right next to Poland and the Czech Republic -- unification has brought the city a much-needed face-lift. The air is cleaner now too. But behind the spic and span facade, this is still a depressed region. One in four people are on welfare, while one third of the city's population has upped and left. The factories are gone, and so are the jobs.

"I'm out of work," said one local. "My wife is too. We live on welfare. That's what German unification has done for us."

Local officials are well aware of the problems people here are facing.

"It's very difficult for eastern Germans to get used to living off the state for a long time," explained Zittau Mayor Arnd Voigt. "That's certainly one of the reasons why people here say German unification hasn't achieved what they expected it to."

Across Germany , women bear the brunt

It's especially hard for women to find a job. Many have given up any career ambitions, and just stay at home. The development dismays Kersten Kühne, a lecturer at the local college. She's started offering courses aimed at getting more women to study for science qualifications.

"In the former East Germany, it was completely normal for boys and girls to both do science at school, and to see it is a possible career," she said. "It was nothing unusual. It wasn't something that was just typical for men. And I think that's a huge failing now in our society, that that isn't the case any more."

Jungunternehmerin mit Kind (Anja)

Women in Dortmund face a different problem. Many mothers here want to get back to work as quickly as possible but are unable to find suitable daycare facilities for small children. Here the west of the country is lagging behind the East.

"I was really lucky to find a place in a nursery," said one mother in Dortmund. "It's not something you can take for granted in Germany. You normally only get one if you're a single mother who's out at work. Anyone else has to be really lucky to get a place."

Hopes dashed

Shortly after the Wall came down, civil rights activist Horst Schiermeyer moved to Zittau from the West, keen to be part of a new dawn. But the euphoria quickly evaporated. The people of East Germany had taken to the streets in a people's revolution -- but were soon disappointed by how little "people power" unification actually brought them.

"Many of them recognized quite quickly that scope for actually realizing they'd stood up for -- democracy, co-determination, shaping their own futures -- was much more limited in a unified Germany than they expected," he explained.

Unification wasn't just a rude awakening to the easterners. West Germans also had to come to terms with new and harsh realities. The steel plant in Dortmund, for example, couldn't turn a profit and was soon shut down.

Attracting investment

Konrad Hachmeyer is in redevelopment, and his vision is to create a lake on the site for the former steel furnaces, with homes and offices and hi-tech businesses around its shores.

"Water in a city is always a big attraction for people and for visitors. And it can also attract companies and offices and investors. Around the area where the lake will be, we're going to build office space and residential space, and then in 2008, we'll flood the lake," he said.

Holger Knüpfer in Hradek

Holger Knüpfer

This lake in Zittau, on the site of a former coal mine, is the result of a similar project. It's just one of a series of projects brought about with the help of Holger Knüpfer (photo). He's battled to find funding for initiatives that have attracted new investment to the city and created 1,500 new jobs.

In Zittau, as in Dortmund, hopes for the future are built on the promise of new industries and new technology. But even Holger Knüpfer knows that there are limits to what can be achieved.

"It won't ever be possible to get companies here that require a huge amount of manpower," he said. "And that isn't the aim of our economic development projects. The fact is that for companies that need a lot of manpower, the conditions in terms of labor law and labor costs are much better across the border in Poland or the Czech Republic."

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