Mental Divide Between East and West Persists in Germany

Posted by Meredith Smith on 06/12/13
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A united Germany has become the economic powerhouse of Europe, but over two decades since reunification (23 year ago yesterday since the signing of the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany), Eastern Germany still lags behind the West in many respects. Despite billions of Euros being directly pumped into the region through fiscal transfers over the past two decades, wages in Eastern Germany are still well behind those in the West and unemployment is chronically higher.

The euphoria that followed the collapse of communism in Europe soon gave way to disillusionment as millions lost their livelihoods in the painful transition from socialist planned economies to a liberal, free-market system. Hundreds of thousands migrated to the West to escape what had become a desolate wasteland of gutted factories and nostalgia became commonplace as people searched for their place in an unfamiliar world.

Despite the initial disappointment, the economies of East and West Germany converged steadily throughout the 1990s. Since the beginning of the new millennium, however, stagnation has taken hold. Many persistent structural problems can account for this stagnation. The regions industrial base is weak and, in stark contrast with the German economy as a whole, seriously lacks in export-based businesses. Even today, the East still suffers from a brain drain, as the best and brightest pick up and go West to build their lives.

Often overlooked is the mental division still present between East and West. Today, the last generation to grow up in the GDR is graduating college, but coming of age in East Germany is still a unique experience that is not often spoken about in the media. The socioeconomic realities of the East strongly continue to strongly shape the identities of young Ossis (Easterners) and they must deal with long-standing prejudices on a daily basis.

Dritte Generation Ost (Third Generation East) is an organisation in Germany founded three years ago and devoted to young people struggling with the legacy of East Germany. The group has published a book featuring 33 authors that grew up in the former GDR. Through their stories, they expose their experiences of growing up in the East. The founders hope to help young East Germans share their collective experiences and, beyond Eastern Germany, begin to change the superficial perceptions of the region that still exist in the German mentality.

An interview with one of the groups organisers can be found here.

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