It can be hard for visitors to Berlin to imagine where the Berlin Wall once separated Germany's communist East from the U.S.-friendly West. Today, commuters run to catch a metro where trains stood for nearly 30 years. Curried sausages are sold and illegal (but popular) parties are celebrated in empty warehouses just feet from where East Germans were shot by their own countrymen as they tried to cross the border to the west.
Next week, Germany will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and at first glance, it seems as if the country is more united than some nations that were never split. [RELATED: 4 simple lessons the world could learn from German reunification]
But numbers and images illustrating differences in lifestyles and problems between East and West Germans tell a different story. While 75 percent of Germans who live in the east said they considered their country's reunification a success in a recent survey only half of western Germans agreed. And that's not the only distinction indicating that the separation of the past prevails today.
Berlin, photographed from a Space Station
The photo above was taken by astronaut André Kuipers from the International Space Station in 2012. It shows one division of Berlin: While the yellow lights are in east Berlin, the green parts mark the western part.
Daniela Augenstein, a spokeswoman for Berlin's department of urban development, explained that each side historically used different streetlights. The lights themselves reflect another difference: The streetlamps used in West Germany were much more environmentally friendly, reflecting the emergence of the western German environmental civil movement in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time East Germany was still heavily polluting, and heavily reliant on coal. Today, eastern Germany is the heart of the country's renewable energy transformation. But viewed from space, the historic differences still define Berlin's nightly appearance.
Data reveal further cleavages between east and west.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, formerly communist eastern German companies and factories suddenly had to compete with their much more efficient western counterparts. Capitalism came too fast. Many eastern German companies went bankrupt and some regions never recovered from the shock. Until today, income levels are much lower in the east than in the west.
Why did right-wing politicians prosper in the once-communist east. The explanation is complex, but scientists often attribute it to a mixture of anti-leftist worldviews after the wall fell and the economic downturn in the east. Many people were disillusioned by Western capitalism, but few wanted a return to communism. Right-wing politicians were quick to fill the void. The great majority of eastern Germans, of course, are welcoming.
In the east, it was also much more common, and politically supported, to get a flu shot. Even today, eastern Germans are more committed to this practice, as the German news website ZEIT ONLINE recently noted in a comparison between eastern and western habits and beliefs that is definitely worth a read. (According to the site, eastern Germans also own significantly fewer legal small arms than citizens living in west Germany.)
Finally, if you travel Europe and you see two German groups at a campground, you might easily be able to distinguish them. Eastern Germans usually sleep in tents, while western Germans prefer to travel with trailers. We did not find a scientific explanation, but one might posit that it's rooted in western Germans' longer experience traveling the world. Furthermore, many young eastern Germans couldn't even afford a car under communism. Trying to buy a trailer would have been more expensive and nearly impossible for most eastern Germans. While those in the west were able to explore beyond their borders, eastern Germans remained practically imprisoned by their government for nearly 30 years -- until 25 years ago.
Despite the prevailing differences, many consider the German reunification a successful role model. Next week, we will investigate why, and take a look at Germany's younger generation.