Coupled with these problems was the difference in attitude to work. The East Germans were so used to being told what to do, that they were virtually incapable of thinking for themselves, or taking responsibility for their actions. They had a very laissez – faire attitude to work, with many workers taking Mondays and Fridays as sick days. This infuriated the West Germans who have (through a series of laws) developed a completely different attitude to work.
Tempted by the ads that they had seen whilst watching West German T. V., the East German shoppers much prefered western goods, which was bad news for the flagging Eastern economy. After the initial exitement of being able to buy what they wanted, and having spent the DM4000 (paid to them on the abolition of the Ostmark) which was seen by the Ossis as a welcome gift, rather than any final payment, most Easterners felt worse off than they had before. The higher cost of food was not compensated by cheaper tobacco, coffee, or alcohol. If buidings were to be repaired and maintained, the previously nominal rents would have to be raised considerably.
On receiving their first pay cheque after Unification, workers were shocked to find that their net income had actually dropped by 15% after tax, insurance, and pension contributions had been deducted. As Easterners began with less, they became increasingly disatisfied with their earnings and there was friction between the Ossies who felt that they were owed a standard of living by the Wessies, who begrudged subsidising them. Eastern German agriculture began to suffer as consumers turned to cheaper and better EC products.
During the Soviet period, farms had been forced into collectives, and were either animal producing , or produce growing units. Both faced harsh times now as neither could meet EC rules. The East German pig farmers, who had for years been subsidised for over production, now had a huge pork mountain. There was also a large pollution problem. Soil had been degraded by years of monoculture. There was contamination both of ground and drinking water, mainly from vast quantities of pig exrement getting into the water system but also from chemical waste being dumped in lakes and rivers.
In 1990 Eastern Germany’s GNP was already declining by 13. 4% and fell by another 20% in 1991. Industrial production fell by two thirds in just two years, but prices rose by 12%. The labour market disintergrated, with 1m unemployed and a further 1. 6m on reduced hours the Eastern economy lost almost 2m more jobs. Particularly vunerable were the older workers who were forced to take early retirement and women. Rejoining the West was a ‘gigantic social experiment’ for the East.
Virtually every area of life was affected. Decades of communist rules and structures needed to be overturned to enable a return to common patterns. A one party dictatorship had to metamorphosise into a pluralistic parliamentary democracy – which was difficult as few political figures in the East had any experience of this. A puppet judicary and corrupt legal system had to become a defender of civil rights. And an indoctrination apparatus had to evolve in to a system of free and politically unbiased education.
To the people already trying to cope with economic problems, this ‘liberation’ was a shattering experience. Whilst most Easterners welcomed reform, they resented being ‘reconstructed’ by far off bureaucrats and Wessi outsiders. The transformations in the workplace were especially unsetteling, as Easterners defined themselves through their jobs. Practically everyone had their comfortable routines and social ties disrupted by Unification. For those who did manage to hold onto their positions, work became much more demanding.
The free market called for companies to be more competative and the old communist work ethic of ‘the state pretends to pay me and I pretend to work’ could no longer prevail. Some individuals responded well to the challenge but the majority were just left feeling dazed and confused by this ‘brave new world. ‘ The Old social structure based on a lower middle class pattern of wage equality coupled with party privelages, buckled under the weight of these changes, and a new political elite of dissedents emerged.
Ideological hierarchies were overturned by this new competative market, and social inequality increased. Overnight East German’s had to learn new rules and regulations for health care, child support, and other legal requirements. Many Westerners failed to understand this difficult and painful process of realignment, and thought the Easterners lazy and work shy. With these changes came the difficult question of Germany’s national identity, and with increased unemployed an upsurge in xenophic feeling.
For many years Germany’s Gastarbeiter had played an important part in reconstrcting Germany, these foreign workers now became easy targets to blame for taking ‘German’ jobs and housing. In 1992, encouraged by cheering chauvenistic adults, and police ‘blindness’, racial attacks increased and 17 people died in violent skirmishes, After mass rallies against the Neo-Nazis, politicians and business leaders were shamed into condeming this attitude in order to improve Germany’s image abroad. And with increased police prosecution the violence subsided.
But many inside and outside Germany are still wary of a rise of the extreme right if unemployment remains unchecked. Although the physical division has been removed, it will take longer for the mental barriers to disappear. But people nevertheless remain positive. Dr Cromme, the Chief Executive of Krupp, who was involved in the restructuring of the Ruhr in the 60’s and 70’s offers this advice:- “It is politically impossible to have employment rates in Eastern Germany of 50 or 60%. Our experience in the Ruhr indicates that because restructuring is a very painful process you should do it fast. Let me give you an example.
If you have an elastoplast on your leg, it is better to pull it off fast and not hair by hair, and thats exactly what I think should be done in Eastern Germany” Dr Cromme is not completely insensitive to the pain that unification has caused, he continues .. “There will be a lost generation, the people now between 50 and 55 years old, for them it will be very, very difficult” But he remains optimistic…. “It is just a question of time. We have been surprised by the problems. We did not think they would be as big as they are. It will take longer than we thought but the ultimate result will be the same. “