Germany is about to mark 30 years as one country again after more than 40 years of Cold War division - but how different is life in east and west today?
Photo: Imago

Berlin - Life for those living in the former East Germany is becoming more level with the experiences of people in the rest of the country, but there are still significant regional differences. That’s the main message from the German government’s new annual report on the state of German unity, almost 30 years after the country’s official reunification. The biggest divides are in employment and income potential, as well as in regional infrastructure and public services.

In the five states that made up East Germany between 1949 and 1990 (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia), the average GDP per resident is 73 per cent of the national average.

Berlin recorded a more positive result, with 79 per cent. In 1990, the east’s economic power stood at just 37 per cent. According to the report, that made the entire eastern territory’s economic output comparable with that of “many regions of France”.

Eastern women work more

Household income in the east also comes out poorly when compared to that in the west, standing at 88 per cent of the national average. “Even 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, not one of the former East German states has yet overtaken the west German state with the lowest economic output,” the report explains. Only Brandenburg and Saxony are catching up with Saarland, the weakest western state economically speaking.

Households in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern had the poorest economic prospects. The reasons for the difference are varied. On the one hand, the eastern states suffer from a lack of big and medium sized companies. That leads to a drain on investment and the potential for innovation. On the other hand, sinking numbers of people living there and a low level of immigration among skilled workers contribute to structural weaknesses in the regions.

The differences between east and west are still reflected in family life. Mothers in the former East German states use childcare services – the structure of which is far better developed – much more than their western counterparts. That itself is reflected in the data on gainful employment – while in the east, 74 per cent of all mothers have a job, the figure in the west is six per cent lower. East German mothers are also more likely to work full-time. The report also states significant differences in the make-up of the family. There are more married couples and fewer single parents in the west than in the five eastern “new states”.

Overall however, the views and attitudes of Germans from across the country have become more alike. The report states that 66 per cent of residents in the west define their economic situation as “good”, while in the east that figure was two per cent higher. Only the coronavirus crisis has put a measurable stop to this satisfaction.

East Germans are less trusting of politics

However, unity does not reign across the board. The report described “political values” as “one of the few areas” in which measurable differences could be determined. “This is characterised by a default attitude in the east towards politics which is consistently more sceptical and also more critical.”

The report concedes that a “notable proportion” of people throughout the country is unsatisfied with politics and the government, but this trend is much stronger in the east. Trust levels in the Bundestag (German parliament) and Angela Merkel’s national government are described as “low”. Thirty per cent of east Germans say they are absolutely unsatisfied with the current government, compared to just 18 per cent in the west. Support for democracy as Germany’s form of government stands at 88 per cent nationally, while 78 per cent of east Germans agreed. In 2007 this approval rate languished at 56 per cent in the east.

While views on the fall of the Wall and economic development in east and west are approximately the same, attitudes towards political institutions and “the spread of rightwing extremist viewpoints” are still divergent. But according to the report, these differences are not a fundamental problem, but are of a gradually developing and changing nature.

This article was prepared for the English edition by Elizabeth Rushton.