30 years ago, on November 9, 1989, jubilant crowds streamed into the western part of Berlin after the German Democratic Republic (GDR) had lifted travel restrictions for East Germans, giving in to mass protests that had spread from Leipzig to other parts of East Germany in the autumn of 1989. The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the imminent end of the communist GDR regime and paved the way for Germany’s reunification, which was officially completed less than a year later, on October 3, 1990.
Despite the fact that Germany has been reunited for nearly 30 years now, a sense of division remains, as the East still trails the West economically and differences in mentality and political views remain obvious. The recent rise of the right-wing populist AFD in Eastern Germany is viewed with unease and disbelief in the West, amplifying a tendency of Western Germans to look down on their compatriots from the East, many of whom still feel like second-class citizens. Even though Eastern Germany has had a lurking problem with right-wing extremism for a long time, the recent success of the “Alternative für Deutschland” would not have been possible if it weren’t for the persistent structural weakness of the region.
As our chart shows, Eastern Germany still trails the Western part of the country in terms of disposable income and GDP per capita, while the unemployment rate remains significantly higher than it is in the West. While the situation certainly has improved compared to the early 1990s, when the gap was much wider, a lot of work is still necessary to erase the structural deficiencies that have now persisted for nearly 30 years.