Study: Effects of German division have endured longer than expected

30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall it is time to bring back the spirit of '89 to forge a new rEUnaissance, argues Luca Jahier. [Raphaël Thiémard/Flickr]

25 years after reunification, the old German-German border is still recognisable in many aspects of life, according to a new study on the state of German unity. Tagesspiegel reports.

A quarter of a century after the end of Germany’s division, the differences between West and East are still clearly noticeable. This distinctness was not anticipated by the authors of a study by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, which focused on the state of German unity. “The results even surprised us,” said Reiner Klingholz, the institute’s director.

Whether it was the age structure in the population, economic strength or the share of school leavers – as soon as the researchers transferred the results to a map of Germany it almost always presented the same picture. “The old border between the GDR and the Federal Republic can still be seen everywhere,” Klingholz said.

>>Read: 25 years after fall of the Berlin Wall, divisions in Germany remain

The effects of German division have lasted longer than many thought in 1990 at the time of reunification. In the study This is how unity works, presented on Wednesday (22 July), the researchers analysed 25 subject areas.

Percentage of young people much lower in the East

After the fall of the Wall, many young, well-educated East Germans went to the West. For this reason, and due to a significant decrease in the birthrate, former East German states lost more than 2 million of their 14.5 million residents between 1991 and 2013. Simultaneously, populations in Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Schleswig-Holstein increased considerably. But since then, the trend has plateaued. In 2012, there were about as many moves from West to East as from East to West, Klingholz indicated.

The migration patters in the East and the West are also aligning: people in rural areas are being attracted to larger cities. Today, the study points out, Dresden, Leipzig or Erfurt are “Islands of growth in a sea of shrinkage”. But only a few cities in eastern Germany have been able to achieve this trend reversal. By contrast, Eisenhüttenstadt or Hoyerswerda, for example, lost almost half of their populations.

But even if not nearly as many people in former East Germany are leaving their homes, the migration of the past 25 years has had long-term effects on the so-called “new states”. The percentage of people under 20 years of age is considerably lower in the new states than in the old Federal Republic. At the same time, states in the former East have experienced an above-average increase in the number of elderly within the population. “In the East, there is a lack of young people who can start a family,” Klingholz said.

Differences in income and consumption

Though the differences in income have decreased between East and West, they are still clearly recognisable. On average, people in former East Germany only earn three-fourths the monthly gross income of Germans in the West. So it is no wonder they cannot spend as much on private consumption. This is especially noticeable for expensive products like watches and jewelry but not so much for entertainment electronics.

To this day, there are clear discrepancies in the areas of immigration and migration. In the five East German states, the percentage of people with a migration background is under 5%. Meanwhile in Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen, but also North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse and Baden-Wuerttemberg, more than one in four residents has a migration background. At the same time, negative views on migrants are more widespread in former East Germany. Both parts of the country drifted apart with regard to their reservations, the study indicates, referring to an analysis by the Bertelsmann Foundation. While there were hardly any differences in the culture of acceptance in 2012, by 2015 only 50% of eastern Germans said immigrants are welcome in the population. In the West the amount was one in three respondents.

To a large degree, East and West have reached similar levels with regard to life expectancy, number of children and completion of secondary education. And the former East does not always perform worse than its counterpart. Employment rates among mothers in former East German states is higher than in the West. And considerably less respondents in the East believed a mother’s professional activity has a negative impact on her children.

Persistent clichés

Almost half of Germans are convinced that there are more differences than similarities between citizens in the East and the West. Of these, one in three respondents in former East Germany said they consider “Wessis” to be arrogant or full of themselves. Conversely, East Germans were viewed as “pretentious” or “discontented” by a small number of those surveyed in the old West German states. Even 25 years after reunification, clichés have remained persistent.

During a revolutionary wave that swept across the Eastern bloc, on 9 November 1989 an East German government official announced after a misunderstanding that all citizens of East Germany (GDR) could visit West Berlin and West Germany freely. Tens of thousands of East Germans immediately swarmed to the border crossings. The East German border guards did not oppose them. 

Crowds of East Germans climbed onto the wall, crossed it, and were soon joined by West Germans on the other side in a celebratory atmosphere. Over the next few weeks, parts of the Wall were destroyed. The fall of the Berlin Wall paved the way for Germany's reunification, which was formally concluded on 3 October 1990.

>>Read: The journalist question that fractured the Wall

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