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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 October, 2004, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Germans still feeling the divide
By Ray Furlong
BBC correspondent in eastern Germany

Germany is marking the anniversary of the day in 1990 when East and West formally came together.

Celebrations at Brandenburg Gate
The wall came down to scenes of jubilation in 1989

The most potent symbol of the divided Germany, the Berlin Wall, came down the previous year.

Throughout that time hopes were high that reunification would bring the prosperity which the west had enjoyed to the country's less well-off, eastern sectors.

But the promise has turned to disappointment.

Today, parts of the east seem poorer than ever and unemployment is soaring, as is disillusionment with the national government in Berlin.

I spent a week travelling around eastern Germany, gauging the mood of its people.

Soured hope

Joergen Schoenfelder's front yard is stunning - a huge rocky outcrop jutting more than 400m into the sky, skirted by pine forests and dotted with climbers.

Called The Lilienstein, it is one of the top attractions of the picturesque region near the border with the Czech Republic.

Tourists flock to the Lilienstein but Joergen Schoenfelder has had rather too much time to contemplate its majestic beauty.

He has been unemployed since 1999 and is desperate to find work.

As we sipped fruit juice in his immaculately kept garden, he explained he had re-qualified as a sales rep after losing his original job as a plumber, but to no avail.

They think people in the east are all lazy and stupid. I couldn't stay
Katrin Meiner
Football steward

For all the natural beauty around, the local economy offers little hope of work.

On the contrary, Mr Schoenfelder is now expecting things to get worse.

Next year, when government welfare reforms come into effect, he will lose a third of his benefits.

"I live a quiet life," he says, "with my wife and small son. We don't go out much and don't spend much, but times will be harder."

This is the reality of life for many eastern Germans, 15 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

They were promised blossoming landscapes when Helmut Kohl presided over the euphoria of reunification.

Instead they have experienced economic ruin, with jobless rates twice as high as in the west.

Protests in Leipzig against welfare reforms
Plans to cut benefits have proved particularly unpopular in the east
In the villages around Mr Schoenfelder's house the streets are peppered with placards for the NPD, a far-right party that gained 9% of the vote in the recent elections to the Saxony State Assembly.

This is one of the results of the frustration that is felt across eastern Germany.

Behind the facade

Elsewhere, people are voting with their feet. The population of what was once the German Democratic Republic has fallen from 14.8 million people to 13.5 million since 1990.

The small town of Luebz in the north-eastern state of Mecklenberg Pomerania is a typical example.

Almost 20% of its residents left in the years following reunification.

Luebz lies in the middle of the Mecklenberg plains, a landscape dotted with lakes and criss-crossed with tree-lined lanes.

The town centre has been lovingly restored with brick and gable buildings along freshly cobbled streets.

But the main hotel and restaurant on the market square, an imposing ensemble of red-brick buildings, is closed.

A hand-written sign in the window offers it for sale for $190,000 (£150,000).

In the café on the square there were three customers.

They told me the owner was round the back. He obviously was not expecting any business and in the time I drank my coffee nobody came.

I had to knock on the kitchen door to pay.


Luebz has received considerable funds, but they only provided a short-term building boom.

A lot of the money invested in the east - a trillion dollars (£850bn) - since reunification, has been squandered the same way.

There have been huge projects which never got off the ground, like a factory to build Zeppelin-style airships. It went bust before it started.

The developer is now pondering setting up a tropical theme park in the cavernous shell of the shipyard.

Some 1,300km of roads have been built.

I have always found the deserted autobahns [motorways] of the east make for unusually pleasant motoring - there is some comfort in an economic wasteland.

But eastern Germany does have its oases of prosperity - a cluster of IT and car factories near Dresden, the spa town of Binz on the Baltic coast, and suburban clusters around Berlin occupied by the managers who come from across the country, often from the west.

There are also those who have been west and come back disillusioned.

'I couldn't stay'

In Cottbus I met Katrin Meiner, who works as a steward for the local second division football team.

She earns less than she did in the west, where she had been a waitress, but she says she is glad she came back, because the Wessies were so prejudiced against her.

"They think people in the east are all lazy and stupid," she said, "I couldn't stay."

Sentiments like these highlight the ill-feeling and divisions between east and west caused by the failures of the last 15 years.

Of course they are not universal. A Wessie friend of mine has just married an Ossie girl and they are very happy together.

But nevertheless there is an increasingly heated discussion in Germany on what went wrong, marked mainly by mutual recriminations.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 2 October, 2004 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

German unification poses problems
20 Sep 04  |  Business
Germans protest at reform plans
30 Aug 04  |  Business
Timeline: Germany
21 Sep 04  |  Country profiles

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