Happy 25th anniversary reunited Germany! Beware of continuing differences

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I’m witnessing the 25th anniversary of Germany’s reunion through the veil of heritage media and social media. The anniversary greets me whenever I check Twitter, click through the websites of German public television, magazines, and newspapers or listen to German public radio podcasts. They report about the details of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the unsung heroines and protestors bringing about this peaceful revolution, and the persistent differences between the former East and West Germany.

Among the pieces I saw and read, oddly enough I liked an article in the U.S. press very much. The Washington Post, as one of the U.S. newspapers of record, acknowledged this moment in German history with compelling graphics that outline the ongoing differences between former West and East Germany. This is quite interesting and necessary to update the image of Germany among the wider U.S. public.

The vast majority of U.S. Americans I’ve encountered so far are familiar with the former West Germany. As they are usually happy to share with me, their ties to former West Germany came about because they were”military brats” (their words); had friends or exchange students from Germany; or traveled to Germany for leisure, work or to discover family history. I’ve only met about a handful of U.S. Americans who had traveled to former East Germany. Those who did usually visited either East Berlin or another big city in the East before people brought the Berlin Wall to fall on November 9. 1989. It’s seldom that I bump into a U.S. American who set out to visit former East Germany in the recent 25 years.

I’ve encouraged everyone who has talked with me about Germany to visit former East Germany. I’m happy to report that I’ve done my share to “bring” almost two dozen U.S. Americans to the East, particularly to Leipzig, Dresden, Weimar and other smaller towns in the heart of Germany where the reformer Martin Luther lived and preached. I smile when I realize that I introduced J. only to bigger and smaller cities in the states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia — three of the five New States that make up the landscape of former East Germany. (Exceptions are his visit to the Eagle’s Nest of Hitler in Bavaria, airport lay overs in Frankfurt/Main, and must-see stops in Berlin.)

In my experience, most U.S. Americans only know of the differences between East and West Germany before 1989. Few have heard of continuing higher wages for the same work in former West Germany. The graphics on income and unemployment below demonstrate this discrepancy from yet another perspective: income is higher in the former West; unemployment is higher in the former East.

The roles of men and women differ. The overwhelming majority women with children worked full-time in the former East, out of economic necessity for the federal budget. Women with children in the former West most often stayed home or worked part-time. German laws still reflect this and make it difficult for families with children. The graphic on childcare below is a glaring example of what hampers women’s return to full-time work and their career, especially in the former West, after giving birth.

Another discrepancy are internet adoption and literacy which are higher in the former West. The Washington Post did not include a graphic for this but data exist. I also noticed this in my own research. In three separate studies, during which I interviewed a total of over 100 bloggers in Germany, the overwhelming majority of bloggers (women and men), and especially those with a claim to fame, are located in the territory of the former West Germany. This reflects the migration pattern of especially young people (and women) from former East to former West for better opportunities, higher pay and life quality. You can see the problem visualized in the graphic on demographics. This, by the way, also has created potentially more conflicts between adult children and parents in the former East. As these children move to the former West and find partners there visits home in the former East are not as frequent as for adult children who can stay in their home region in the former West.

So I was thrilled to discover an article in a major U.S. publication that acknowledges these differences between former East and West. Below are a few of the compelling graphics from the Washington Post (inspired by the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit). They also touch on the hot button issues of xenophobia, vaccinations (mandatory in schools in former East Germany), and people with migration backgrounds. (It’s not politically correct to call them “foreigners.”)

*This is the politically correct language for former East Germany: New States [Neue Bundesländer]. Former West Germany is now called Old States [Alte Bundesländer]. Since most U.S. Americans are not familiar with this terminology – as the article in the Washington Post also reflects — I will stick with (former) East and West Germany.

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2 responses to “Happy 25th anniversary reunited Germany! Beware of continuing differences

  1. Are they actually talking about Germans with non-German roots or, indeed, foreigners..?

    • That is a good question. The graphic and the article do not make that clear. But in the text underneath the graphic in the Washington Post, the newspaper talks about the people who “settled” in the West and the “Turks” who were invited. So the term “people with migration backgrounds” is the one they should have used.

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