Yesterday I cried for people I have never met. In my native Germany, October 3 is the day we traditionally commemorate the anniversary of the reunification in 1990.
We remember those who lost their lives protesting and trying to flee East Germany in the years prior to the reunification. We remember those who, armed with hammers and chisels, peacefully brought down the Iron Curtain that had divided our country for 28 years. We remember those who could finally embrace their loved ones again.
Much of the media coverage, however, has focused on the cost and the problems of the reunification. Indeed, the united Germany is economically much weaker than West Germany used to be.
Although differences have narrowed in recent years, unemployment is still higher in the east, while income levels remain lower. The population in the east has also shrunk by two million young people as they moved west in search of jobs. (article continues below)
The process has been painstaking. Many, however, have failed to look beyond the numbers.
“Although differences have narrowed in recent years, unemployment is still higher in the east, while income levels remain lower”
The reunification brought freedom and democracy to eastern Germany. Today, the united Germany benefits from a greater variety of opinions and skills.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, spent the first 35 years of her life in communist East Germany.
Yesterday, she moved many of us to tears. In a speech, she acknowledged the contribution of those who used to live in the East and honoured their courage to fight for freedom. Their efforts were met with a huge wave of solidarity from the west.
“Only because of this unity we have managed to rebuild the east and create a country with world wide respect,” she said. “Today, young people do not grow up in the east or the west. They grow up in Germany.”
Economists estimate that the cost of the reunification has reached nearly €2 trillion (£1.7 trillion). For us Germans, however, the benefits are priceless.