German Reunification Continues to be a Huge Issue


I get tired of the same people who comment about how "World War II" this and "World War II" that was what defined Germany. There is some truth to that, but, of far greater importance, is the process of German reunification:
The air here used to stink from the low-grade coal people burned for heat. That is easy to forget 20 years after East and West reunited and well more than a trillion dollars has been spent to prop up and rebuild the dilapidated region that was the German Democratic Republic.
The day the air cleared, when the sweet smell of the surrounding forest literally broke through, is the day that Birgit Kummer remembers as the start of her new life in a united, democratic Germany, one that offered her opportunities she never dreamed of under Communism.
“You could barely breathe,” said Ms. Kummer, a lifelong resident of this history-rich city, where Martin Luther studied, Napoleon met Czar Alexander and the first small step toward unification occurred when leaders of the East and the West met in 1970. “For me, it was a sign that everything would be better, when the air was clear.”
As Germany prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of reunification on Sunday, there has been a heated national post-mortem on the process, with much emphasis on thedisappointments and shortcomings. One official from a struggling former East German state declared that what happened was not reunification but an anschluss, or annexation, a word that recalled the Nazi takeover of Austria before World War II.
The discussion has primarily emphasized financial disparities: wages in the east remain at 80 percent of the west’s; the unemployment rate in the east is nearly 12 percent, about double that in the west; and the average wealth of an East German family is about 40 percent lower than its West German counterpart. And of course, those in the West often complain about the $1.7 trillion paid — so far — to rebuild and prop up the east.
Of primary importance here in Germany is the standard of living. That, and gardening. The Germans just want their gardens, their strong currency, and a nice walk. Reunification is the thing that continues to threaten to destabilize all of that. No wonder the Germans are agitated about immigration, bailing out Greece, and the weather, in particular. No one talks about the war. You can't even tell there was a war unless you go into a German cemetery.

As far as reunification is concerned, ask a South Korean how he or she feels about trying to "reunify" with their country cousins up north. You might get a similar answer from a Bavarian.

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