Monday, 21 September 2009

Germans Want the Berlin Wall Back?

by Kathryn Hadley

A survey published last week by the German magazine Stern revealed that one in seven Germans wanted the Berlin Wall back. Of the country’s 82 million inhabitants, 15% were in favour of the wall because they believed that they were better off during the 28 years that Germany was divided by the Berlin Wall.

The survey was carried out by the Forsa institute, two months ahead of the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th, 1989. Between September 9th and 10th, 1,002 Germans living in both former eastern and western Germany were questioned. 16% of those living in former West Germany, ‘Wessies’, wanted the wall back, against 11% of ‘Ossies’.

For the most part, those living in western Germany resented paying higher taxes to pay for the rebuilding of the formerly communist east. Over the past twenty years, approximately 1.2 trillion Euros worth of state funds have been transferred to eastern Germany.

Eastern Germans complained, above all, of unequal income levels between western and eastern Germany. In the former GDR income levels are on average only 80% of Western levels. Higher unemployment in former East Germany has also caused depopulation in certain areas of the east. It is estimated that the population has declined by approximately two million since 1990.

55% of Germans believe that unification could be helped if the ‘solidarity tax’ to help fund the costs of rebuilding former East Germany was abolished; 50% argued that higher pensions for easterners would also ease tensions between eastern and western Germany.

In 1985, the American sociologist Richard L. Merritt considered the possible effects of future reunification on the divided city of Berlin. In the light of the results of this recent survey, his words appear somewhat prophetic.

‘If the city is politically amalgamated on the basis of new international
agreements, it will be fairly easy to rebuild a unified municipal government,
and with time it will be possible to construct the links to tie together divided
water and sewage systems, streets and subway lines, and the like. More difficult
to reconstruct will be the sentimental ties of community […] Rebuilding a common
set of expectations, demands and identities among Berliners will doubtless be a
very slow process, quite possibly slower than that which had forced them apart
in the first place’.

In After the Cold War: The Private Side of German Reunification published in our latest, and newly designed, October issue, Paul Betts explains how what Merritt predicted for Berlin has been equally true for the nation as a whole.

For further information on the impact on history and memory of the collapse of Communism, read articles in our special After the Cold War series.

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