“The huge wall that split our country is gone,” said Steinmeier at Unity Day celebrations in Mainz. But he added that the results of the national election in late September showed that “other barriers have been built that are less visible, without barbed wire, and death strips.”
“The new walls are built of alienation, disappointment and anger, which are so deeply rooted that arguments don't get through to people any more,” he said.
In the election, the governing grand coalition of the centre-right Christian Union and the centre-left Social Democrats suffered heavy losses, while the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered the Bundestag for the first time after winning 12.6 percent of the vote.
The arrival of over a million refugees in Germany during the last legislative period has been blamed for the rise of the far-right party, and Steinmeier said it was time for an honest debate on the subject.
He argued that the Germans need to differentiate between those people fleeing political persecution and those fleeing from poverty.
“The same rights to protection do not apply to both groups equally,” he said.
Steinmeier also said that public discussion needed to focus on the questions of “what type of migration and how much migration we want, and even need”.
He added that only controlled migration and when Germany offers legal entry into the country can the polarization in the debate be overcome.
“People who are in need should never be ignored by us,” he said, but added that Germany only had a limited capacity to take in refugees.
Unity Day was celebrated in Mainz, the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate in western Germany, on Tuesday. Around half a million visitors were expected in the city for the festivities, which were attended by Steinmeier, Chancellor Angela Merkel, and around 1,200 invited guests.