German leaders were gathering Monday to mark the 15th anniversary of the country's reunification, an occasion that comes amid economic gloom and uncertainty over the future.
President Horst Koehler and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder among others were expected to attend a ceremony in Potsdam, outside Berlin. But, with the formerly communist east still struggling to catch up with the affluence of the west, there was little sign of the euphoria that greeted the November 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and Germany's reunification, less than a year later on Oct. 3, 1990.
"In a decade and a half since then, we have achieved a great deal, thanks to the strength and solidarity of Germans in the east and west," Koehler wrote in a weekend article for an eastern daily, the Schweriner Volkszeitung. He noted that "the streets of eastern Germany have a new luster."
"But the reality also is that too many people do not have work, too little is being invested, public budgets are highly indebted, society is aging and we are having too few children," Koehler wrote. "A lot of these problems come together in the eastern states."
Over the years, the federal government has transferred billions of euros eastward in a bid to equalize living standards - a so-called "solidarity pact" that expires in 2020. But lack of jobs in the east has led many to leave, especially young, easterners. "It is a matter of honesty to tell people that the same living conditions cannot be created everywhere in Germany," Koehler said. Fifteen years on, easterners and westerners still vote differently, with the Left Party - dominated by ex-communists from the east - scoring far better in the east than the west in Germany's Sept. 18 election.
That vote produced an inconclusive result nationwide, reflecting ambivalence among Germans about the prospect of pushing through deeper reforms of the generous welfare state and strict labor laws in an effort to boost the sluggish economy, the AP reports.