Three Many years After Reunification, Germans Surprise: How United Are We?

After reunification, the East lost a generation of young people fleeing rising unemployment to seek work and a future in the West after 94 percent of state-owned companies in the region were sold or closed. Since then, the standard of living has gradually caught up with the west, but differences persist.

According to the government, a full-time employee in the federal states, in which economic output lags behind the West by 70 percent, earns an average of 15 percent less for the same job than a Western counterpart. None of the listed German companies have their headquarters in the east, and the region invests in research, development, machines and factories.

The population outflow stopped in 2013 and has recently shown signs of reversal. But the region lost 1.3 million people in the first decades after reunification, a shortage that will take years – if any – to restore. Young families remain rare, which means that fewer people pay taxes or have children.

The problem is exacerbated by widespread hostility towards foreigners in the former east, which makes it less attractive to asylum seekers but also to other immigrants looking for work and who may have in-demand skills.

Only 8.2 percent of people living in the former East are minorities or have a migration background, as government figures show. In recent years there has been a spate of racist attacks, such as an attack on a synagogue and a kebab shop in Halle last year and riots against immigrants in Chemnitz in 2018.

“Demographic development is the GDR’s Achilles heel,” said Klaus-Heiner Röhl, economist at the German Economic Institute.

In order to attract more people to the region, the federal government has created thousands of jobs in the public sector and offers incentives to attract entrepreneurs and start-ups like Heyfair, the company of Mr. Hellmundt.

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