One day after the fall of the Berlin Wall, on Nov. 9, 1989, former West German chancellor Willy Brandt said: "Now what belongs together will grow together." With the opening of the border, communism in East Germany was doomed. But has Germany grown together, as Brandt predicted?
But there are also lessons to be learned from Germany unification. Here are four -- proposed by Germans from both sides of the now-destroyed Berlin Wall.
A divided country needs a joint mission
The environment has always been a crucial issue in German politics. When the Ukrainian nuclear power plant Chernobyl caused fear and panic throughout Europe after its meltdown in 1986, the Berlin Wall was still standing. Soon after, a united Germany evolved as a world leader both in climate politics as well as in the development of technological solutions.
After the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- who grew up in the east -- reversed her previous stance and announced a surprising and possibly groundbreaking goal: Germany would strive to become the first industrialized country to abolish both coal and nuclear power as energy sources. Renewable energy sources are to fill the void. Succeeding would likely be impossible if reunification had not happened. The east -- highly dependent on coal in communist times -- now produces 30 percent of its electricity using renewable energy, one-third more than western Germany does.
No matter whether one is east or west German, the overwhelming majority of us share the opinion that we need to transform our energy supplies from fossil and nuclear to renewable and sustainable sources to stop climate change and prevent a nuclear catastrophe.In East Germany, renewable energies not only created jobs and economic perspectives in otherwise underdeveloped regions, but – and probably more important – restored the tarnished self-confidence of the east Germans.
It only takes one generation to change attitudes and prejudices
Some argue that Germany's success in renewable energy is tightly connected to a new generation that does not care about the east-west prejudices of their parents anymore. Mike Goller was 16 years old when the Berlin Wall came down -- and before, he had never really thought about East Germany. The neighboring country seemed too distant. One month after the wall fell, he crossed the border to the GDR (the official abbreviation for East Germany) for the first time.
I do not ask myself whether German reunification was a success. It had to happen, and opening the borders of an imprisoned society is a success in itself.Furthermore, we should not always ask the question: What went wrong? German reunification could have gone so much worse. Traditional and economic changes are slow, but if you look at the new generation you will see much less of a divide. Some differences prevail, but they matter much less to those who grew up in a united Germany.
Goller recently worked on a multimedia project called "Germany 25" that features 25 young Germans and what they think about their country. The majority of them consider the country's north and south to be further apart than east and west, according to another, more representative study. Their parents, however, are much less progressive: Many of them would not agree with their children, according to sociologist Andreas Zick, who has studied the different attitudes for years.
Integrating foreigners is important (and eastern Germany would be better off it it had)
Karamba Diaby is worried about another aspect: the conversation around the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He arrived in then-East Germany in 1985 as an immigrant from Senegal. Back then, he knew little about the communist country that would cease to exist only four years later.
Today, he represents his home state, Saxony Anhalt, as a member of Germany's national parliament. When he was elected last year, his success made national headlines: Diaby is the country's first black member of parliament ever.
One aspect has been largely ignored in Germany: the lives of immigrants in the east. Many people came here from other communist countries such as Angola, Algeria, Cuba -- but their fate has largely been forgotten. Some of them returned; others stayed here. Their immigration, however, still needs to be facilitated. Many rural eastern German areas would hugely benefit economically if more foreigners lived there.
To Diaby, there can only be one solution: "Bring people in touch with each other," he says. This might seem an obvious idea, but it's not to many eastern Germans. Only 36 percent of eastern Germans said in a recent survey that they were interacting with foreigners in their daily lives, compared to 75 percent in western Germany.
Unification can lead to prosperity
Manouchehr Shamsrizi, a 26-year-old Yale Global Justice Fellow, is among the most publicly prominent voices of Germany's younger generation as an adviser to the World Economic Forum's Global Shapers Community. According to him, German reunification bears many similarities with the emergence of the European Union.
Those of my friends who traveled a lot and visited other parts of the world really believe that a united Germany must logically aim for becoming part of the "United States of Europe" -- something one can be proud of as a progressive and value-based democratic union, rather than an estranged technocratic government somewhere in Brussels. Europe and other parts of the world could learn a lot from Germany.East Germany is still lagging behind, but there has been lots of progress -- not only economically -- if you consider that in some German cities, about 96 percent of industrial jobs disappeared within only half a year after Germany unified. The cost of unification was high in the short run, but even if you solely look at it economically, the benefits will largely outweigh the disadvantages in the future. Already today, many cities in east Germany, like Leipzig or Berlin, are seen as international hotspots for entrepreneurship.Could the reunification of Germany be a role model for Europe, economically as well as politically? Yes, I think so.
GALLERY: The fall of the Berlin Wall