East-west divide between Germans remains strong

Nearly 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the social divide between eastern and western Germans is getting bigger than ever, according to one of the country’s leading experts on the subject.

East-west divide between Germans remains strong
It seemed so simple in 1989. Photo: DPA

Klaus Schroeder said, “The prejudices are not being reduced, but have become solidified and have in part even become greater.”

And this is not only to be seen among those who experienced the days East and West Germany, he said.

“The animosities are, in many families, being passed on to the younger generations,” he said.

Both sides have prejudices about the other. “If you pick out the key elements of the reservations, the West Germans believe that the East Germans are permanently in a negative mood, that they whine a lot and cannot or will not really work. The East Germans think the West Germans – simply put – are egoistic, pushy and superficial.”

He said the difficulty was the current political and economic debates make both sides feel justified in their preconceptions.

History is constantly being bent to fit the idea that things used to be better – in the west as well as in the east, he said. “West-nostalgia is now overtaking that for the east,” he said.

“It is not popular to admit it in public, but many West Germans are now saying, “Before 1989, without the East Germans, it was better, we were doing better.” He said that a study conducted last year by the polling company Allensbach confirmed this.

One of the roots of this problem is that the politicians had promised the West Germans that unification would not cost them any money, he suggested. “This was a central mistake.”

“They should have told the West Germans clearly at the time, “Unification will cost a lot of money – it is the result of the long years of division, and we have to show solidarity.” And the East Germans should have been told, “Things will get better for you quickly, but complete equality will take longer than one would like due to the different starting points.”

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