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Germany in the 1990s


German reunification
German reunification

While Die Wende (the change) brought together long-separated families and friends, it also brought numerous economic and social problems to Germany. These included housing shortages, unemployment, and increases in crime and right-wing violence against foreigners, and led to strikes and demonstrations.

Initially, especially in the autumn of 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, Germany experienced universal euphoria. But the practical aspects of integrating the two countries were complex. The policies of Kohl’s administration did not address the complexities; instead, they simply imposed West German practices onto the East. As a result, two large problems emerged. The first major problem was the cost. Providing goods and services to the eastern part of the country proved a severe strain for western Germany. Western Germany lost more money than expected, while eastern Germany did not get appreciably richer. Large transfers of capital from the west to the east to improve the infrastructure of the former GDR led to budget deficits.

These deficits were made worse by an economic recession, which the government fought by cutting social services, increasing taxes, and reducing government subsidies. The government also privatized industries in the east that were too costly to support.

Unification increased the market for consumer products, but it also significantly affected the strength and competitiveness of the German economy. Many of the industries in the east, used to being protected under the Communist system, were far too inefficient to be competitive in Western markets.

To bring these industries up to speed required time and capital, which slowed the German economy overall. Public and private investment sought to bridge the gulf between the two Germanys in standards of living, industrial performance, and infrastructure, but the task remained immense. The second large, overriding problem was the anger of the relatively poor eastern Germans whose way of life was being destroyed. As eastern state industries were closed and sold, hundreds of thousands of workers lost their jobs.

Many also lost their homes under a new law permitting the repossession of land or property that could be proved to have been illegally confiscated by the Nazi or Communist governments. Salaries in the east remained lower than western salaries for exactly the same jobs, and state pensions were also lower. Eastern television and radio stations, periodicals, and familiar consumer products disappeared. Most important of all, the unemployment rate in the east was several times higher than the prevailing rate in the west. In the port city of Rostock, unemployment was particularly high. Rostock had been East Germany’s largest port; with unification, it could not compete with the major western ports of Hamburg and Kiel, and most of its workforce lost their jobs.

The political past of East Germany continued to trouble the unified nation. In 1991 each East German citizen won the right to see his or her complete file that had been compiled by the East German Stasi. Many people learned that they had been betrayed by close friends and associates; many others who had been informers were overcome with guilt. It also came out that the East German secret police had hired West Germans to track and kill defectors and critics of the East German government. Erich Honecker, who had found asylum in the Chilean embassy in Moscow, was returned to Berlin to face political charges in July 1992. The charges were later suspended due to Honecker’s poor health, and he died in 1994.

In 1997 Egon Krenz and two codefendants were given prison terms for their roles in the deaths of East Germans who had attempted to flee to the West before 1989. The defendants were responsible for giving border guards shoot-to-kill orders, which led to nearly 600 deaths between 1961 and 1989. "Germany" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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