Leaders in Germany are calling for cohesion, solidarity and also greater investment in the East as Germany celebrates 33 years as a reunified country, with the main events held in Hamburg this year.
Germany celebrates reunification with a national holiday to mark the day in 1990 when communist East Germany joined the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany, creating a single German state for the first time since 1945.
Hamburg’s Bishop Kirsten Fehrs issued a plea for cohesion, in an ecumenical service held in St Michael’s Church. “Let us hold together what is currently drifting apart in politics and society.”
This is everyone’s job, whether or not they are religious, and applies to East and West, political parties, climate forums, sports clubs and support for refugees alike, she said. “Only together can we bring the tanker through the sea of times, on the stream of life that God wants for us.”
She said Germany has become a different place. “More colourful and diverse, but also older and more fearful.” She said the tone had become harsher and people were very sensitive. “That is precisely why we need common images and narratives, a common language that unites us,” she said.
Refugees were at the heart of a sermon by Hamburg’s Catholic Archbishop Stefan Heße who called for solidarity and reform of the European asylum system.
“We need better refugee protection and a fair sharing of responsibility among all EU member states – in short, we need a humane refugee policy and one based on solidarity.”
In September alone, he said, 5,000 people reached the island of Lampedusa some days. This is first and foremost about people, he said. “Behind all these numbers and challenges are individual, specific people whose dignity is as inviolable as ours and that of every human being.”
Meanwhile concerns remain about the weaker economy in the East and Economy Minister Robert Habeck underlined the importance of investments in the region. He aims to see 20 major investments worth a total of €50 billion ($52 billion) in the region, he said in advance to the Funke Group media.
With projects such as chip factories in Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony or the settlement of battery companies in Brandenburg, anchors are emerging that will lead to further settlements, such as construction companies or service providers, Habeck said.
“Things are moving forward, and the prospects are becoming more and more concrete. And so we will continue to persevere in turning projects into successes.” Economic support for eastern German regions is high on his agenda, he said.
Semiconductors are important for value creation in many sectors, such as the auto industry, said Monika Schnitzer, a member of Germany’s Council of Economic Experts, in comments to the Rheinische Post newspaper.
“From a German and European perspective, it makes perfect sense to have this production locally, especially for geostrategic reasons.” The region around Dresden, for example, can boast a large supply of skilled workers, suppliers and research facilities, she said.
However, Schnitzer also expressed concern about the growth of support for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). She said this increase could not be attributed to economic development.
“Explanations are more likely to be found in the ongoing uncertainty experienced, the impression of constant change,” Schnitzer said.
“Both the AfD’s worldview and its programme are, soberly speaking, location disadvantages,” she said, adding that areas governed by AfD members were at risk of isolating themselves.
Schnitzer’s colleague Veronika Grimm, also a member of the economic council, said despite all the crises and their aftershocks, German Unity Day is an opportunity to look to the future with confidence.
“And to make clear that the increasing support for extremist parties – especially the AfD – is perhaps the only real threat to prosperity.”
Nonetheless, inequalities in the reigon remain, with average pensions in eastern Germany still lower than in the west, according to the Labour Ministry.
According to ministry figures, the average pension paid out after 40 or more years of insurance in the eastern German states at the end of 2022 was €1,329 per month, below the level in western German states which is €1,499.
The differences are occasionally more pronounced at state level, with the highest pensions paid in Saarland (€1,565), North Rhine-Westphalia (€1,554) and Hamburg (€1,529).
The lowest are paid in the eastern German states of Thuringia (€1,300), Saxony-Anhalt (€1,310) and Saxony (€1,316).
“After 33 years of German unity, pension unity is not in sight,” Dietmar Bartsch, chairman of the Left Party in the Bundestag, told the newspapers of the Funke media group.
The differences between pensions in the east and those in the west could even increase again in the future he said, pointing to the fact that wages in the East have been significantly lower than in the West in recent decades – and remain so today.
Hamburg was chosen for the celebrations this year as the city-state currently holds the presidency of the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament.
The official ceremony in the northern port city’s Elbphilharmonie concert hall is also set to include a speech by German constitutional court head Stephan Harbarth to an audience of around 1,300, including the main national political leaders and premiers of the country’s 16 federal states.
The celebrations began on Monday with a large party around Hamburg’s city hall and the the inner Alster lake./dpa-Argumentum.al