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In Germany, East Is Still Uneasy With West Despite Unification : Europe: The two sides are still not mixing well after five years together. Character, values and the economy seem to keep them divided.

October 01, 1995|FRANK BAJAK | ASSOCIATED PRESS

BERLIN — Markus Roth is plastering the neighborhood with room-wanted notices. Up they go on the crumbling facades of century-old buildings, on a newly installed telephone booth, at trendy sidewalk cafes.

Gentrification has forced the 22-year-old student from his apartment in Prenzlauer Berg, an east Berlin district long famous for art and revolution. Since German unification, it has become the capital's chic address.

In no other corner of Germany do so many settlers from the west, mostly the well-educated young like Roth, live side by side with easterners.

The two sets of Germans are not mixing well five years after the champagne-dizzy fireworks of Oct. 3, 1990, when East Germany joined with West Germany to produce the dominant land in Europe, home to 81 million people.

Roth knows only a few easterners, though he has shared sidewalks with them for more than a year. They are not very open or approachable, he said: "They seem frustrated. Maybe lots of them can't cope with reunification."

Or maybe they resent westerners, who are generally distinguishable by their louder, less constrained, manner.

The problem, many easterners contend, is that unification has been too much a one-way street. Western businessmen and politicians have called most of the shots and nearly all the casualties have been easterners.

Family- and community-oriented virtues of the communist system they grew up with have been shunted aside, ignored by a system that stresses money and the self, say easterners like Katrin Rohnstock.

The 34-year-old writer says an "emotional wall" replaced the concrete barrier that once separated "Ossis" and "Wessis"--easterners and westerners.

"There are parties where there are no westerners, where westerners are not welcome," said Rohnstock, who writes about relations between Germans, east and west.

Wessis befriended through work "invite me to their birthday parties or whatever, and I'm always the only Ossi, always," she said.

Rohnstock has watched Ossis abandon the string of cafes at the foot of Prenzlauer Berg's brick water tower to well-heeled Wessis.

Of course there is near-universal relief that the police state that ruled by terror is gone. But people pay scant attention to the continuing trials of former East German government officials and border guards, most of whom have received suspended sentences.

Materially, east Germans are far better off than any of their former Soviet bloc allies--thanks in large part to about $700 billion in government spending for welfare and public works. Bonn is expected to keep up annual subsidies of at least $70 billion for another decade.

With a 9% rise in economic output last year, eastern Germany has Europe's highest regional growth rate. Eastern wages have climbed to 76.1% of the western average, from 41.5% in 1990.

In ownership of color TVs, cars and washing machines, Ossis have caught up with Wessis. Gleaming new shopping malls abound. Long-neglected highways are being widened. Inner-city face-lifts are in full swing.

But a new coat of paint cannot hide cracks in the plaster.

Store shelves may have offered little variety during the Communist era and the abysmal pollution shortened lives, but almost everything was guaranteed: job, child care, adult education, even the main meal served midday at work.

All that is gone. Ossis had to learn to hustle, to cook dinner at night. Their colleagues at work became their competitors.

"East Germany was for many the ideal state of the dumb and lazy," said Reinhart Eckert, a former socialist true believer who now counsels the unemployed at Prenzlauer Berg's social welfare bureau. "Those who were capable of learning and applying themselves, they all found work in united Germany."

But adjusting has had its shocks.

"It is not easy for a society accustomed to little opportunity and risk to enter a new phase of great opportunity but also great risk," said Ruediger Pohl, a westerner who is director of the Institute for Economic Research in the eastern city of Halle.

The over-50 generation was essentially put out to pasture as state-owned industries were closed, dismantled, sold. Nowhere else in east-central Europe has the reorientation been so radical.

Official unemployment in eastern Germany stands at 13.9%, compared to 8.2% in western Germany. But actually one in four easterners who want work cannot find it. Tens of thousands are in retraining programs, government-created jobs or early retirement.

The women have suffered most. All who wanted work had it in East Germany, although production was highly inefficient. And child care was guaranteed.

In 1991, more than 97% of eastern women ages 25 to 34 still had jobs. Now, just 60% do.

"The richest municipality in eastern Germany is still always poorer than the poorest in west Germany," the author of a UNICEF study on child poverty in the east, Chemnitz sociologist Bernhard Nauck, told the newspaper Berliner Zeitung.

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