SPIEGEL Study Germany Still Divided 18 Years After the Fall of the Wall

To mark the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, SPIEGEL polled over 1,000 Germans who had grown up on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The disturbing conclusion is that, 18 years after the Wall came down, Germany remains as divided as ever.


Tourists walk past the East Side Gallery, one of the few remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall. The caption on the picture reads "There are many walls which need to be broken down."
DPA

Tourists walk past the East Side Gallery, one of the few remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall. The caption on the picture reads "There are many walls which need to be broken down."

Friday marks the 18th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It also marks the day on which children born on Nov. 9, 1989 will become legal adults -- the first generation to have grown up in the country following the collapse of communist East Germany and its reunification with West Germany.

Together with pollster TNS Forschung, SPIEGEL recently conducted a poll of two generations of eastern and western Germans in order to provide a progress report on the extent to which unification has taken place within the national psyche. Does the proverbial Wall still stand in Germans' heads nearly two decades after reunification?

Poll respondents included 500 people from the 14-24 age group. When the Wall fell, the oldest people in this group were just six years old -- too young to get any serious notion of what life was like in a country divided by the Cold War.

In addition, SPIEGEL polled 500 representatives of the generation that were the parents of the post-reunification youth. This enabled SPIEGEL to determine differences between the younger and older generations and their thinking about reunification. The results show that, even 18 years after the fall of the Wall, there is still no such thing as a truly unified Germany.

Eastern Germans are less satisfied with and less optimistic about their situation than those living in the states that made up the former West Germany. They are also less convinced about the virtues of democracy than their western counterparts -- with many believing that socialism is a good idea that just hasn't been implemented well in the past.

Indeed, the biggest differences in the survey come when eastern and western respondents are asked to share their views on life in the former East Germany. The communist state gets far higher marks from those living in the east than from those in the west. A full 92 percent of 35- to 50-year-old eastern Germans believe that one of the greatest attributes of the former East Germany was its social safety net, with 47 percent of their children in the east believing the same thing. By contrast, only 26 percent of western youth and 48 percent of their parents expressed the view that East Germany had a strong social welfare system compared to today's.

Despite the apparent "Ostalgie" for certain aspects of East Germany, most eastern Germans say they would prefer to live in the west if a new Berlin Wall were to be built today.

There is a silver lining in the report in that despite major divergences in views between the older eastern and western Germans, those differences appear to be shrinking with the younger generation in the east and west. Slowly, the country appears to be coming back together.

But how long will it take until unity is complete? That, of course, depends upon who you ask. It won't take longer than five more years, a quarter of all western German and 5 percent of eastern youth responded. When parents were asked the same question, only 12 percent and 4 percent, respectively, shared that view.

Part of the problem is identity. The study found that 67 percent of both eastern and western Germans felt they had different identities from their counterparts. When their parents' generation was asked the same question, 82 percent said eastern Germans were different from western Germans. Nevertheless, differences between eastern and western German youth are no longer as dramatic as they were within their parents' generation.

Many younger eastern Germans see the reunited country as a place where their parents are having trouble finding their way. And although they for the most part never experienced life under socialism, their thinking appears to have been partly molded by their parents' situations and the stories they have shared with them about life in East Germany.

Indeed, eastern German youth view the former East Germany in a friendlier light than their compatriots in the west. In some areas, they even view the now-vanished country with higher regard than their parents -- like when it comes to the standard of living in East Germany. It's a view through rose-colored glasses that sees an East Germany with employment for everyone, daycare for all families and a cradle-to-grave social welfare system. Of course, that generation was not exposed to the negative aspects of life under communist rule -- like long food lines or harrassment by the police state.

Still, positive sentiment towards certain aspects of the former East German remains high. A full 60 percent of eastern German youth surveyed said they felt it was "bad that nothing has remained of the things one could be proud of in East Germany."

dsl/spiegel

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