Germany marks the 15th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Tuesday, but many of its people aren't in the mood for celebration.
One in 10 German workers is unemployed. The nation's biggest retailer has announced plans to close almost half its stores. Berlin's city hall is close to bankruptcy. Political parties led by former communists and neo-Nazi sympathizers are seeing a modest resurgence, buoyed by deep dissatisfaction over not just a weak economy but public perceptions of national aimlessness.
The most recent kick in the pants was Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's proposal last week to scrap German Unity Day as an official paid holiday to commemorate the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990. The purpose: to save money.
"I wonder about the soul of a nation whose government plans such a thing, 15 years after our hard-fought unity," Lothar de Maiziere, the last East German prime minister, lamented in an interview with German television.
In the days after the Berlin Wall tumbled, as the two German states rushed to remove the border that had separated them for a generation, there was a surge of hope and optimism about the newly reconciled nation's potential.
But reunification has proved to be more costly and complicated than expected. In April, a government commission concluded that the estimated $1.5 trillion spent so far to merge the two economies has been an "unmitigated disaster," with most of the money wasted on inefficient subsidies for the east.
While nobody predicts a national divorce, enthusiasm for the new Germany is clearly ebbing. In September, an opinion survey conducted by the Forsa research institute found that a quarter of west Germans wished there was a way to bring back the wall. At the same time, one in 12 east Germans said they wanted their old country back. Unemployment in their part of the country is roughly twice the level in the west.
Ursula Feld, 54, a retired sales clerk from the former East Berlin, was a child when the wall was built and still lives a few blocks from where it stood. She said she didn't long for the old days, not exactly, but was deeply disillusioned with how things turned out.
"Of course we wanted a change," she said. "I cannot say today whether a different country next to West Germany would have been better for us. . . . But maybe it would have been different. Many people have lost their confidence, believed what we were told. I lost my job, and I know many people who have lost their jobs. And now I get even less money. Where, may I ask, will it end?"
Recently Germany has been feeling the prick of insults -- both intended and perceived -- from around the world.
A push by the German government to land a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council has gone nowhere. Relations with the United States, a longtime ally, are at a low point; many Germans are still sore about Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's remark last year belittling the country as part of "Old Europe."
German leaders have bristled at a perceived lack of respect from their neighbors. Last month Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer groused that British stereotypes of German culture hadn't changed much in 50 years.
"If you want to learn how the traditional Prussian goose step works, you have to watch British TV, because in Germany, in the younger generation -- even in my generation -- nobody knows how to perform it," Fischer said.
Some German leaders have called for an end to the moping. In May, outgoing President Johannes Rau blamed a "take-all mentality in parts of the so-called elite" for the nation's blues and urged people to get over it.
"Are we not at times moving toward a collective depression?" Rau asked. "We must overcome the crisis of confidence. We must, most of all, again find confidence in ourselves."
It was against this backdrop of insecurity that the governing party proposed last week to de-emphasize German Unity Day, a holiday celebrated on Oct. 3.
Schroeder's Social Democrats said they wanted to celebrate it on the first Sunday in October, eliminating it as a paid holiday. By requiring people to work one extra day a year, the government reasoned, Germany's gross domestic product would grow about 0.1 percent a year.
Reaction to the plan was swift and angry, even among many members of Schroeder's party. Angela Merkel, leader of the opposition Christian Democrats, said it was a "disgraceful" idea and "forgetful of history."
"The federal government has a remarkable talent of destroying budding confidence, again and again," scolded the Munich daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an editorial on Monday. "What does it say about the state of a country when in order to save a few million euros, national and religious symbols are questioned? And that in a republic that already feels deeply insecure."
Schroeder's government quickly backed away from the proposal.
Along Bernauer Street, where one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall still stands as a memorial, 28-year-old law student Alexander Sick rolled his eyes when asked what he thought of the plan to move Unity Day.
"Nonsense," he said. "It is the most absurd idea this government has come up with."
His girlfriend, Anke Martens, a 27-year-old physical therapist, added: "It's no wonder people in France and England laugh their heads off at us. Who would ever consider getting rid of holidays there?"
Special correspondent Shannon Smiley contributed to this report.