How big is the divide between eastern and western German states?

Lots of progress has been made since German reunification - but there are still differences and division between east and west, according to a new report.

How big is the divide between eastern and western German states?
Archive photo shows a flag with graffiti that translates to 'easterner or westerner' in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rainer Jensen

Germany’s five eastern states still lag behind western regions economically – but they are catching up, a new study on German unity has found. 

However, the federal commissioner for eastern states has flagged up political differences in the east that he believes could endanger democracy. 

According the annual study released on Wednesday, the economies of Brandenburg, Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia trail western states by 18 percent.

In total, economic output in eastern Germany is 77.9 percent of the level in western regions, according to the report which is based on 2020 data. Including Berlin, which used to be split into East and West, that number is 82.8 percent. 

The report states that the gap between east and west is gradually closing.

“At the same time, however, the comparisons of figures make it clear that even more than 30 years after the fall of the Wall, there is still a clearly recognisable gap in economic power between east and west,” the authors of the report add. 

Germany reunified in 1990, a year after the Berlin Wall fell. 

READ ALSO: The East/West divide is diminishing but differences remain

In recent years, regional differences across eastern Germany have been increasing. Economic performance in the capital Berlin has caught up considerably in the past five years.

In 2020, Berlin even reached the German average for the first time, with 100.1 per cent of economic output – measured by the GDP per working hour per employed person.

This year Germany started phasing out the ‘solidarity surcharge’ – a contribution that everyone in Germany had to pay – which was meant to help rebuild eastern states and bring them up to the level of western regions.

READ ALSO: Berlin Wall fall: The unbelievable moment that changed the world forever

‘Dangerous to democracy’

Yet political attitudes – at least in a large minority of people – appear to be very different across East and West. 

The federal government’s commissioner for former eastern states, Marco Wanderwitz, said he had observed a “deep and fundamental scepticism” towards politics and democracy in eastern Germany.

An exhibition at the ‘Platz des 9th November 1989’ where the Berlin Wall first opened more than 31 years ago. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

“Of course, it’s a minority – but it’s a minority which is larger than in the western states,” the CDU politician told DPA. ”It’s dangerous to democracy.

“Somehow, we have to convince people of the merits of democracy and the constitutional state.

“We have to find a way to escape this predicament of living in fear before every single east German state election, dreading the moment we will have to look at the results to see how many points the far left and far right have gained.”

Before presenting the annual report in Berlin, Wanderwitz, who was born in East Germany, emphasised the importance of listening to people.

He said the aim was to speak to people more in eastern states “in workshops and seminars”.

Wanderwitz said Germany needed to “listen to them properly and explain to them why certain things haven’t always worked out the way we wanted them to”.

He describes this as a laborious process.

“I’m under no illusions,” he said. “For a certain proportion of those who have come to hate democracy, it’s hard to imagine that this will make any difference to them.”

Wanderwitz recently stirred up some controversy with his statements about people who grew up in East Germany.

“We are dealing with people who have, in a way, been socialised by a form of dictatorship, so that even after 30 years they still don’t feel at home in a democracy,” Wanderwitz told the Germany daily newspaper FAZ in their podcast.

READ ALSO: 10 things you never knew about German reunification

Some of the population, according to the politician, has “chronically undemocratic views”. These suggestions were met with heavy criticism.

But Wanderwitz refused to back down from his statements, reiterating that “we have a situation on our hands where many people in the east have a deep and fundamental scepticism towards politics and democracy”.

However, Wanderwitz said that the process of German reunification had made substantial strides forward. 

“The process of economic recovery has been successful. We have made real progress in settling authorities and research institutions in the new federal states, and structural reforms in the lignite mining regions are on the right track too.

“A whole host of projects are already in the implementation phase.”

Translation by Antonia Harrison

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‘A good thing’ for footballers to express values, says France’s PM

France's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne - speaking in Berlin - said that footballers should be allowed to express their values, amid controversy over FIFA's stance against the 'OneLove' armband on the pitch.

'A good thing' for footballers to express values, says France's PM

“There are rules for what happens on the field but I think it’s a good thing for players to be able to express themselves on the values that we obviously completely share, while respecting the rules of the tournament,” said Borne at a press conference in Berlin on Friday.

Germany’s players made headlines before Wednesday’s shock loss to Japan when the team lined up for their pre-match photo with their hands covering their mouths after FIFA’s threat to sanction players wearing the rainbow-themed armband.

Seven European nations, including Germany, had previously planned for their captains to wear the armband, but backed down over FIFA’s warning.

Following Germany’s action, Wales and the Netherlands have since come out to say they would not mirror the protest.

Borne’s visit to Germany was her first since she was named to her post in May.

Following talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the two leaders signed an agreement for “mutual support” on “guaranteeing their energy supplies”.

Concrete measures outlined in the deal include France sending Germany gas supplies as Berlin seeks to make up for gaping holes in deliveries from Russia.

Germany meanwhile would help France “secure its electricity supplies over winter”, according to the document.

France had since 1981 been a net exporter of electricity to its neighbours because of its nuclear plants. But maintenance issues dogging the plants have left France at risk of power cuts in case of an extremely cold winter.

The two leaders also affirmed their countries’ commitment to backing Ukraine “to the end of” its conflict with invaders Russia.