Germans celebrate 20 years of unity

Street parties and official events planned to mark the unification of East and West Germany.

Top dignitaries are to attend official events to mark the occasion [AFP]

Germans are celebrating 20 years since reunification of the capitalist West and the communist East, which merged after decades of Cold War division that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Several hundred thousand people were expected in the northern city of Bremen on Sunday for a series of street parties and official events led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, herself brought up in East Germany.

In a video podcast on the eve of the celebrations, Merkel paid tribute to East Germans for having “the courage to fight for freedom”.

“At the same time, there was a huge wave of solidarity from the people in West Germany. It is thanks to these joint efforts that we have been able to rebuild so quickly and make Germany a country that is respected in the world.”

Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary-general, were also expected to attend the reunification celebrations.

‘Historic achievement’

Barack Obama, the US president, congratulated Germany, praising “the courage and conviction of the German people that brought down the Berlin Wall, ending decades of painful and artificial separation”.

“The peaceful reunification of East and West Germany was a “historic achievement,” Obama said.

After World War II, the US, Britain, France and the Soviet Union carved defeated Germany into four sections.

With the advent of the Cold War, Moscow erected a border between its eastern section and the three western Allied sections, including the Wall that split Berlin in two.

On October 3, 1990, just under a year after the Wall was brought down in a bloodless revolution, the reunification treaty bringing the two halves of the country together came into effect amid joyful scenes.

In a recent poll, 84 per cent of Germans said that they believed national unification after four decades of division had been the right decision, despite a lingering economic gap between east and west.

Just 14 per cent said unity had been a mistake, according to a survey by ZDF public television.

Bridging divide

While Germany has become a leading light on the international political stage and is Europe’s top economy, the country is still battling to overcome yawning gaps between the west and the east.

Hajo Funke, professor at Free University in Berlin, told Al Jazeera that though there are lot of economic exchanges between east and west, “there are still problems with that”.

“We are still a capitalistic country, and with respect to ethnic differences, we have to chase it and solve it and this is what the German government needs to see to.”

Unemployment remains nearly twice as high in the eastern states and living standards considerably lower, despite an estimated 1.3 trillion euros ($1.8 trillion) in transfers from west to east.

And 20 years on, old stereotypes still run deep in German society, surveys suggest, with the Westerners perceiving the Easterners as ungrateful. Easterners in turn consider West Germans arrogant.

There were some protests against the reunification festivities, with around 1,800 mainly left-wing activists conducting a march in Bremen on Saturday.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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