/ The East holds the Key to the Future
“The standard story in the 30 years since German unity has been that the country’s eastern states have no chance of catching up with the western states.” Germans are still full of pessimism about the future of eastern Germany. Yet there have been so many major achievements, such as the political accomplishment of the country’s reunification, its enshrinement in law in the Unification Treaty and the economic revitalisation of the eastern German states. The currency union, privatisations and massive investments in the public sector, economy and housing, schools and universities, as well as the transport and communication infrastructure, all contributed to the successful rebuilding of eastern Germany. Eastern Germany today has a modern economy that is highly integrated in the global division of labour. For many years eastern Germany has been experiencing growth.
But there is still much to be done because the gap between the East and West has remained relatively constant over the past two decades in some sectors. After the initial catch-up spurt in the 1990s not much else has happened. 30 years after the Berlin wall fell we are finally in a position to initiate a second spurt – a new start for eastern Germany. However, before that can happen we have to fundamentally the mind-set: away from analysing and complaining about what has not been achieved to a focus on future objectives. We have experienced a great deal together over the past 30 years. During that time many things have happened in eastern Germany. A generation has been spawned that no longer thinks in the categories of ‘east’ and ‘west’. This new generation is united by its drive, its spirit of innovation and its desire to collectively shape the future.
In our #GenerationAufbruch (New Generation) campaign (www.generation-aufbruch.de) we provided numerous examples of how the eastern German states are becoming increasingly attractive for young German entrepreneurs. The ‘10 Gründer*innen für den Osten’ (10 reasons to found a start-up in eastern Germany) podcast series featured interviews on the hopes and experiences of people in western and eastern Germany who have driven change in eastern Germany. Our brochure, ‘30 Fakten zu 30 Jahren Deutsche Einheit’ (30 facts about 30 years of German unity) presents the economic and social issues in the form of statistics. How big is the unemployment gap? How many people are migrating from east to west and vice-versa? And what differences exist in terms of innovative strength? In addition to ‘hard’ economic facts, the brochure includes a number of fun facts about the differences and similarities between East and West.
A representative survey commissioned by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation among start-up founders and companies in October 2020 revealed that the majority of them believe there is greater growth potential in eastern Germany than in western Germany. “Policymakers have to kick-start ‘a new beginning in eastern Germany’ with a smart business promotion scheme’. We need a strong eastern German start-up culture and creative strength, supported by science and industry. This will make it possible to leverage the untapped potential in eastern Germany and allow the ‘new states’ to permanently catch up with the ‘old states’,” said FNF Management Board Chairman Karl-Heinz Paqué.
Although there are still differences between East and West, eastern Germany is making an impressive effort to close that gap. In some areas it has already overtaken western Germany. Now it is up to the new generation to bring German unity to a successful conclusion, both economically and socially. The conditions and time are right for a second spurt – a new beginning in eastern Germany after the rebuilding process.