Berlin Wall: German reunification 'a success story'

The bills have totalled $3 trillion but the former East Germany is catching up to the West by many - but not all - measures.

Balloons mark Berlin Wall route for 25th anniversary

Germany celebrates 25 years since the fall of Berlin Wall

8 years ago
Duration 2:53
8,000 helium-filled luminous balloons will be released into the night sky on Sunday to mark the anniversary of the wall coming down

Berlin is divided once again.

No longer by a wall, watch towers, guards or death strips, which tore the city apart for 28 years. But by 8,000 helium-filled luminous balloons.

They run along a 15-kilometre stretch of the city, marking where the Berlin Wall stood 25 years ago.

The balloons will be released into the night sky on Sunday to mark the anniversary of the wall coming down.

That historic event, on Nov.  9, 1989, set the wheels in motion for the reunification of East and West Germany a year later.

Since then, the government has spent $3 trillion bringing the former German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, into the fold.

Reunification 'a success story'

Chunks of the old Berlin Wall and sidewalk plaques like this one will still be there after the balloons get released. (Waqas Chughtai/CBC)

Christoph Bergner was responsible for that task for the past three years. He is a member of the German Parliament, with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union.

"We had to manage transformation from a former communist-guided, central-planned economy and central planned society to an open society, to a market economy," he told CBC News at his office in the Bundestag. "This transformation is no easy process, it’s highly complicated."

For the most part the German government has done quite well at bringing East Germany up to par.

  • Life expectancy in the East is now on par with the West.
  • Unemployment in the East is at its lowest level since the 1990s, though it is still higher than the West.
  • The GDP of the East is about 70 per cent of the West, the same as it was 10 years ago.

While that may seem low, economist Gert Wagner argues reunification is a success story. He says in the early 1990s, the GDP of the East was only about 30 per cent of the West.

"There is no example in history that an economy with such low productivity could catch up in 25 years to a really high, a really efficient and effective economy as we have in West Germany."

Young people staying put

For the first time, young people are staying put.

a concert at the Brandenburg Gate on Nov. 7 is part of the 25th anniversary celebrations. The luminous balloons mark where the Berlin Wall once stood. (Waqas Chughtai/CBC)

In the years following reunification, more than 2 million people moved to the West.

"They were under duress in the 1990s," says Michael Burda, an economics professor at Humboldt University. "Young people had to get jobs so they left; they just went to the West. But a lot of those guys have thought about coming back."

Many are now moving to the East.

In fact, for the first time since reunification, almost the same number of people moved to the East and to the West.

Another way to measure the success of reunification, says Burda, is by looking at what people are buying.

"If you look at things like ownership of televisions, ownership of cars, of telephones, computers, East German households have pretty much caught up with West Germans; they have very similar patterns of ownership."

Room for improvement

There are, though, still areas of improvement.

Big banks and businesses, along with much needed capital, are still based in the West.

Salaries in the East are about 20 per cent lower than in the West.

While Berlin today is a vibrant city with few signs of division on the ground, from the sky the picture is different.

A tweet sent out by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield last year clearly outlined how the city was divided. The lights in the East are still old and powered by gas, while in the West they are electric.

But this weekend, the status of reunification is on the back-burner.

The focus is on the anniversary and those luminous balloons running through the city, a beautiful reminder of the ugly eye-sore that once dominated this city.