Post-Unification Blues

Germany: United in Discord

A section of the Berlin wall ready to be shipped to the United Nations
One of three sections of the Berlin Wall delivered to the United Nations (Photo: AFP).

Germans are discontented. In past years, the country hesitantly, yet joyfully, marked unification each Oct. 3 and hoped for a brighter future regardless of the economic, political, and social hardships that came with the fall of the Wall. This year, however, even cautious optimism was misplaced. Yes, the economic gap between East and West is narrowing, and even politically the two Germanys seem to have inched together (with the former Communist Party crushed in the general election in eastern Germany). But 12 years after unification, the “wall in the head” won’t budge.

Whereas in the past, eastern Germany was lagging behind economically and east Germans were the ones who complained about the sluggish economy while the west was still oblivious to the looming economic crisis, now western Germany is feeling the economic strain as well. “We either push reforms together—or not at all,” summarized Uwe-Jean Heuser in Die Zeit (Oct. 3). The tightening of the belt soon will affect the more affluent westerners. “Discontent and frustration will not be solely the business of east Germans anymore,” added Renate Rauch in Berliner Zeitung (Oct. 2). “Then, we truly will be united.”

“It is as if Germany has lost the ground under its feet,” mused Herbert Riehl-Heyse in Süddeutsche Zeitung (Oct. 2) under the headline “Joyless Unity.”

There are even some who suggest rebuilding the wall—but this time twice as high. West Germans consider their eastern region the “Far East.” According to Berliner Zeitung (Oct. 1), 34 percent of westerners show no interest in eastern Germany, as opposed to 97 percent of easterners who have visited the west. But it is more than mere lack of interest or geographic distance that keeps Germans from celebrating. It is inhibition, too. “Germans are jealous of how easily a neighbor like France can rejoice in its holiday,” commented Eckhard Fuhr in Die Welt (Oct. 2). “Germans suffer from conflicting feelings. They suffer from the burden of history, from the guilt of their ancestors. They know how to suffer with ardor and passion....But unification has proved that Germans can also be lucky. There is no reason to suffer. We won’t get more united than we are now.”

“The ice age has got to come to an end,” demanded an editorial in Der Tagesspiegel (Oct. 4). “Compared with the economic hardships of East European countries, Germany’s fiscal troubles seem secondary....We’ve got to look ahead.”

But the current discontent is also the result of shifting political values. Matthias Arning, writing in Frankfurter Rundschau (Oct. 2), accused Germans of lack of vision and ideology—both had kept past politicians busy. Now, the sole ambition of politicians is to fulfill a campaign platform by the end of their legislative period. Unemployment, economic growth, health care, education—checked. “Such politics lack passion,” wrote Arning. But this could soon change: “Political vision awakens at a time of crisis,” he asserted.

Die Zeit (liberal weekly), Hamburg
Berliner Zeitung (liberal), Berlin
Süddeutsche Zeitung (centrist), Munich
Die Welt (conservative), Berlin
Der Tagesspiegel (centrist), Berlin
Frankfurter Rundschau (liberal), Frankfurt