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Josef Joffe -- Until 1989, Berlin was Walltown

Here are some telling facts:

The unemployment rate in the former East Germany is twice that in the former West Germany.

The fertility rate in the east is lower than the already low 1.3 children per woman in the west.

Some 1.7 million easterners, or 12 percent of the population, have left for the west since the wall fell.

In a poll this year, 50 percent of easterners agreed with the statement that "East Germany had more good sides than bad sides." Eight percent signed off on the statement: "People there were happier and better off than today in reunified Germany."

Just as some easterners long for their lost paradise, many westerners think they would have been better off without reunification.

In the federal elections on Sept. 27, the big winner was Die Linke, the Left Party, which has grown out of the former Communist ruling party of the GDR. In western Germany, the Left Party got 8 percent; in eastern Germany, 26 percent, more than the Social Democratic Party of former chancellors Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schroeder.

So eastern Germany now has its own party (a bit like the historical American South, which voted Democratic for 100 years after the Civil War). Will that redivide the country along old lines and hinder its economic progress?

No. A modern economy, so tightly integrated into the world market, cannot flourish in the ways of the old GDR, with its overweening state, high social protection, and refusal to compete and to individualize. The GDR is history; the reunited Germany will keep moving toward a high-tech and service economy that will be driven by market forces and globalization, not by an all-providing state.

It takes time to move through the desert, as the children of Israel learned; memories of Egypt must die out first. But it will take less time in Germany than in the post-Civil War United States, where the South truly rejoined the North only in the 1960s. History moves a lot faster in the age of the Internet and the iPod.

Think of Angela Merkel. Not only is this chancellor a woman, she's also an easterner. It took the United States until 1964 to elect a Southern president, Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas. And not until 1976 did the country elect a "real" Southerner, Jimmy Carter, from the Deep South state of Georgia. Merkel, by contrast, was chosen 15 years after reunification.

When we celebrate this anniversary in another 20 years, few will remember what life was like in Walltown, Germany. On the eastern side, they will have forgotten the crumbling buildings, the daily shortages (bananas only at Christmas) and the fear instilled by wall-to-wall surveillance. On the western side, they will have forgotten that East Berlin once was farther away than Beijing. It will all be history.

Josef Joffe, editor of the German weekly Die Zeit, is a senior fellow of the Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies and an Abramowitz Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.


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