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Germany marks 25th anniversary of reunification

Published 03/10/2015

German Chancellor Angela Merkel poses for a selfie with five-year-old Marie during the celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the German reunification in Frankfurt (AP)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel poses for a selfie with five-year-old Marie during the celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the German reunification in Frankfurt (AP)

Germany is celebrating 25 years as a reunited nation, with two leaders from the formerly communist east now heading a country that increasingly asserts itself as Europe's political heavyweight.

West and East Germany united on October 3 1990, ending a process that started less than 11 months earlier when the east's communist leadership opened the Berlin Wall under pressure from massive demonstrations.

Evening out the differences between east and west has been a far slower process, and some inequalities persist even now.

However, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a video message that on the whole, "things worked out well - so many people pitched in, showed verve, began to learn new jobs".

In a speech at this year's unification celebrations in Frankfurt, German president Joachim Gauck - also from the east - compared the integration of hundreds of thousands of newly arrived refugees to the task of reuniting East and West Germany 25 years ago.

"Like in 1990, a challenge awaits us that will keep future generations busy," he said. "But contrary from before, what did not belong together up to now, should now grow together."

Mr Gauck's quote came in reference to a famous expression by former German chancellor Willy Brandt who in 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, said that "now what belongs together, will grow together".

Since reunification, some 1.5 trillion to 2 trillion euros have been funnelled into the east to help bring the region up to speed after its outmoded industry collapsed.

A steady post-1990 drain of people from east to west appears finally to have been stemmed, with more people moving east than the other way for the first time in 2013.

Even though unemployment remains higher in the east than the west - at 8.7% compared with 5.6% - the gap has narrowed.

Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's promise to easterners that they would live in "blooming landscapes" no longer looks far-fetched.

"This is true for many parts of former East Germany," said prominent German historian Heinrich August Winkler. "The beautiful countryside of the Mecklenburg lake district, and the Baltic Coast, as well as the clean-up of the polluted industrial areas in Saxony and elsewhere, a lot has happened there.

"The economic disparity between east and west is also a lot lower than it used to be," he added. "But that's no reason to be smug. The absence of large, productive companies in eastern Germany shows that a lot more could be done."

Those concerns apart, Germany has cemented its place as Europe's biggest economy and, in the past few years, has shown increasing ambition as a political and diplomatic heavyweight.

Mrs Merkel has been a leading advocate of the reforms and spending cuts demanded of countries such as Greece in exchange for aid in Europe's debt crisis.

On the diplomatic front, she and her government have also played a leading part in tackling the crisis over Russia's actions in Ukraine - after years being perceived as balking at a front-row role.

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