Germany, 20 years united: growing together or falling apart?

Saturday 31 October, 12.15pm until 1.15pm, Henry Moore Gallery Lunchtime Debates

The reunification of Germany in 1989 marked the end of the Cold War. The collapse of the Berlin Wall was widely celebrated as step towards more freedom and progress for all Germans, as well as a sign of hope for the rest of the world. Many things have indeed changed for the better: politically, socially and economically. The Aufbau Ost redevelopment programme has poured £843bn into old East Germany. But large parts of the former GDR are still economically weak. In a popular song of 2005, Rainald Grebe expressed the solitude felt by many: ‘I feel so empty today, I feel Brandenburg’ (the state surrounding Berlin). Although Wolfgang Tiefensee, Federal Minister for Transport, Building and Urban Development, can say the gap between East and West is ‘closing’, this is as much a matter of West Germany’s export-led economy racing down to meet an East German economy where unemployment is at 20% or higher, and which 1.7m people have left since 1989.

Opinion polls show there still exists a kind of ‘wall’ in people’s minds, with significant social and cultural divisions between the two Germanys. Some 75% of East Germans still believe that Marx’s critique of capitalism has more to offer than free market ideology, while the party system in the West has been falling apart since the Wall came down, and the renewed Stalinist party Die Linke has not only regained influence in the East, but increasingly in the West too.

Germany’s reunification also had tremendous symbolic resonance across the world, signifying the promise of something new, but also uncertainty about a world without the old ideological sign posts. As Barack Obama put it to the crowds in Berlin in 2008: ‘The fall of the Berlin Wall brought new hope. But that very closeness has given rise to new dangers – dangers that cannot be contained within the borders of a country or by the distance of an ocean.’ So what is the true legacy of 1989 for the world, and for Germany itself? And what is needed for the people of the two Germanys to really unite? To make Willy Brandt’s words come true: ‘At last, what belongs together can grow together’?

Jurgen Kronig
UK editor, Die Zeit; broadcaster; author, The Secret Face of Nature

Professor Jan Palmowski
head, school of arts and humanities, King's College London; author, Inventing a Socialist Nation: Heimat and the politics of everyday life in the GDR, 1945-1990

Sabine Reul
translator, Textbüro Reul GmbH

Thomas Deichmann
editor, NovoArgumente; author, Die Steinzeit steckt uns in den Knochen: gesundheit als erbe der evolution

Produced by
Angus Kennedy convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination
Thomas Deichmann editor, NovoArgumente; author, Die Steinzeit steckt uns in den Knochen: gesundheit als erbe der evolution
Recommended readings
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Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the social and economic hurdles facing eastern Germany are by no means cleared. The cities may be booming, but it's a different story in smaller towns and in the country.

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Citizenship and National Identity in Twentieth-century Germany

By considering how Germans defined themselves and others, the book explores how nationality and citizenship rights were constructed, and how Germans defined - and contested - their national community over the century.

Geoff Eley & Jan Palmowski (eds.), Stanford University Press, 15 December 2007

Disenchantment with Market Economics: East Germans and Western Capitalism

The life-worlds and personal experiences of workers and employees in three enterprises in East Berlin at the moment of political and economic upheaval stand at the centre of the book.

Birgit Müller, Berghahn Books, 25 September 2007


Rainald Grebe, YouTube, 2005

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