Berlin hails Bush as ‘architect’ of German unity

German leaders paid tribute to former US president George H.W. Bush on Saturday for his role in their country's reunification, calling him a "true friend".

Berlin hails Bush as 'architect' of German unity
Former US president George H. W. Bush with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and German chancellor Helmut Kohl in 2005. Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined the role that Bush, who died on Friday aged 94, played in overseeing the end of the Cold War.

“Germany owes a lot to George H. W. Bush,” she said in a statement.

“It was a stroke of luck in German history that he was at the head of the United States of America when the Cold War came to an end and Germany's reunification became possible.

“The German people had a true friend in him…” because at that historical moment he “…gave us his trust and support”, Merkel added.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said German unification in 1990 would “not have been possible without the trust and friendship” of the US and Bush.

“Germany will always remember with deep gratitude his unwavering support for German reunification,” he said in a telegram to US President Donald Trump.

“Germany is mourning a true friend”, he added.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Bush had been “among the architects of German unity” who supported unity “without reservations” from the start.

“In 1989, at a time of upheaval and challenges, when the blocs were staggering and the decades-long confrontation was beginning to crumble, he bravely seized the opportunity to end the Cold War,” Maas said.

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, west and east Germany were unified in 1990.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert also called Bush a “friend” for Germans, adding on Twitter that “we will never forget his contribution to our reunification”. 

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30 years on: German government hails success of reunification

Almost 30 years on from German reunification, the former East Germany has largely caught up with the west economically but still has a lower level of trust in democracy, according to an annual report presented Wednesday.

30 years on: German government hails success of reunification
Germans celebrating at the Brandenburg Gate to mark reunification on October 3rd, 1990. Photo: DPA

GDP per capita in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) has reached 79.1 percent of that in the rest of the country, according to the report presented to the German cabinet.

At the time of reunification on October 3rd, 1990, that figure stood at just 37 percent, compared to their western counterparts.

READ ALSO: 'Freedom is the most precious possession': How the Berlin Wall's fall sparked joy and upended lives

“Some things have taken longer than planned. But in many areas we can basically say: unity accomplished,” said Marco Wanderwitz, the government commissioner for the former East German states.

The income gap has also narrowed: In 2018, average income in the east was 88.3 percent of that in the west — partly thanks to a growing network of small and medium-sized tech companies, the report said.

But the gap still exists, partly because of lower population density in the east, which has more rural areas and whose urban areas are not as well developed.

'Small-scale economy'

“Another important reason is the so-called 'small-scale nature' of the economy, ie the lack of corporate headquarters and of large medium-sized companies,” the report notes.

The unemployment rate in the former GDR was more than 15 percent in 2005, but has now fallen below 10 percent and as low as 6 percent in some areas — close to the 4 percent recorded in some areas of southern Germany.

This development is partly due to the retirement of previous generations, the report suggests.

READ ALSO: Stark divide in wages between east and west Germany persist 30 years on

In some areas, the east is doing better than the west. Women in the former GDR are more likely to be in full-time work (74 percent compared to 68 percent), largely due to better childcare facilities.

Despite these improvements, some indicators remain less favourable, the report says.

Support for democracy as the best political system for Germany stands at 91 percent in the former West Germany, but just 78 percent in the east.

There are also “differences” between east and west when it comes to attitudes towards foreigners, Wanderwitz noted.

Other than Berlin, Germany's eastern states have the highest rates of support for the far right — running at 20 percent in some areas.