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Walls in their minds: East–West split remains

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Walls in their minds: East–West split remains
The Berlin Wall, before and after German reunification. Photo: DPA.
12:20 CEST+02:00
A lack of women in the East, more wealth in the West, and lingering bitterness - a report published on Wednesday exposed the stark differences that still exist between East and West Germany 25 years after reunification.

This October 3rd will mark a quarter of a century since Germany reunited at the end of the Cold War after 40 years of division.

This turning point, referred to in German as the Wende, was supposed to usher in a merging of culture, economy and shared historical past.

But research by the Berlin Institute for Population, outlines clear and persistent differences across the now invisible divide.

“The results astounded us,” said institute director Reiner Klingholz in a statement. “Whether you're looking at population development, economic power, wealth, legacy, or the size of agriculture, it appears overall to be reflective of the old borders.”

The study revealed that about half the German population say there are still differences between East and West.

One-third of Easterners told the researchers Westerners are arrogant while their western counterparts described those in the East as discontented and demanding.

The only thing they seemed to have in common, the report states, is that each side said the others were know-it-alls.

“The reunification of the German state 25 years ago is broadly speaking a success story. But the years of separation and the upheaval of the years after reunification have left behind their marks,” the report states.

“For the formerly separate pieces to truly start to grow together, it will take at least another generation for there to be unity.”

Lack of women and a lack of wealth

Photo: DPA.

Both men and women from the East have left to study and work in the West in large numbers, meaning the overall population in the East has declined since reunification, while the West has grown.

But as a nationwide trend, cities have continued to expand while the population in remote rural areas have declined.

Men have shown more of a tendency to return to the East after heading westward, causing a “deficit of women” in the region.

But for the women who do stay, the report said they have a higher participation in the labour force and better childcare opportunities than women in the West. The notion that children are negatively impacted by being placed in childcare at a young age is less pronounced in the East than in the West, the study said.

In the communist East Germany, there were many more working mothers than in the West and the state had a robust system of free nursery schools that allowed mothers to work more.

A main attraction for those migrating west has been the better wealth potential.

East Germans earn about three-quarters of what Westerners do each month on average, but still work more each year with less productivity - a consequence of the small-scale economic structure that emerged after the collapse of East German industry, according to the report.

Of the 500 richest Germans, only six live in areas that used to be part of the socialist German Democratic Republic.

The report also noted the way residents of each side viewed immigration.

In the East, where there are far fewer non-Germans, only 50 percent of people says immigrants are welcome, compared to the West where two-thirds said they were open to immigration.

“Unity is just not a political act of volition,” institute director Klingholz said. “It is rather a slow process.”

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