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How The Berlin Wall Still Exists In Germany 30 Years Since Its Fall

The fall of the Berlin Wall, one of the biggest symbols of worldwide political division, happened almost by accident.

On the evening of November 9, 1989, Socialist Party Chief of Berlin Günter Schabowski held a press conference to announce the relaxing of travel restrictions for East German citizens. The announcement was broadcast live on both East and West German television and journalists were invited to attend.

The new travel laws weren't set to come into effect until the next day, but in possibly one of the most significant public relations oversights in history, Schabowski hadn't been briefed properly and was unaware of this fact.

When a West German journalist asked when the measures would come into force, he said they were effective immediately.

Günter Schabowski at the press conference announcing new travel laws for East Germans on 9th November 1989. Image: Getty Images.

Parts of the Berlin Wall soon became flooded with East and West Germans alike, who hurried to the border to cross it. Iconic images of Germans from both sides standing on the wall, hugging and cheering circulated all over the world.

The dismantling of the Berlin Wall prompted both Germans and communities around the world to hope for a future free of divide.

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The Wall Still Exists In The Minds Of Germans

Now, 30 years since it fell, the Berlin Wall has been down longer than it stood. While the physical barrier no longer exists, residual marks of the wall still exist in modern Germany.

The concept Mauer Im Kopf (Wall In The Mind) describes how people from the East still feel they are second class citizens in modern-day Germany.

The Berlin Wall
East Germans looking through the wall in the late 1980s Image: Getty Images.

The Wall, once a physical barricade, left separations in parts of Berlin and wider Germany that still transcend 30 years later.

"Certainly at the time, there was the hope that those differences would have disappeared by now. ... It does take time and those mental residues and economic ones just do take a long time to go away," Peter Monteath, Professor of History at Flinders University, told 10 daily.

Economy and Unemployment

Perhaps the greatest divide in Germany still exists in economic strength between former Eastern and Western states. The East German planned economy was integrated into the West's capital market economy as part of reunification.

Fundamental differences in the systems, as well as discrepancies in worker training, currency and technology meant many eastern workers lost their jobs and businesses. Most were unable to find work in the West.

"I think there was a perception at the time, and I think overall it was accurate, that reunification was a takeover. This wasn't the case of two sides who came together and sharing what they thought was best for the other," Monteath said.

The Berlin Wall
Berliners celebrate on top of the wall as East Germans flood through the dismantled Berlin Wall into West Berlin. Image: AAP.

Eastern states continue to trail the West in both employment rates and productivity. The unemployment rate in the six former DDR states is 6.9 percent according to the 2018 'Status of German Unity' report, compared with 4.8 percent in the 10 western states.

Wages are also lower in the East, where citizens in former DDR states earn roughly 86 percent of the incomes of their western counterparts.

Voting Patterns And Political Leanings

Support for different sides of politics varies between the old eastern and western states.

'Die Linke' (The Left) has roots in the Socialist Unity Party of Germany -- the ruling party of the DDR. The majority of Die Linke's political support comes from eastern states, especially at local and state levels.

A 'Die Linke' political sign. Image: Facebook/ Die Linke.

Far-right party 'Alternative For Germany' (AFD) also gets the majority of its support from former eastern bloc states.

"The levels of the support for far-right groups are much higher in the Eastern states and I think the reason for that ...  is ongoing social deprivation in the East.

People are looking for something to belong to, they are looking for solutions to their problems," Senior Lecturer in Germanic Studies at the University of Sydney Dr. Cat Moir told 10 daily.

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Religion

The DDR government implemented a repressive policy towards churches and religious expression in a once religious area.

"Churches were tolerated but they lost a lot of the special privileges that they had prior to the division," Moir said.

"Members of religious organisations were persecuted and weren't allowed to hold positions in public offices."

The state became the new religion in the DDR. Image: Getty Images.

According to recent research conducted by Pew Research Centre, West Germans still regard religion as more important than their eastern counterparts.

More than half (56 percent) of adults in the former West agree with the statement “God plays an important role in my life,” while 72 percent of adults in the East disagree.

Nostalgia For The East

The hardship experienced by East Germans during reunification lead to the rise of a concept called 'Ostalgie' (nostalgia for the East).

The hundreds of events held in Berlin last week ahead of the anniversary on the 9th of November allowed Germans to remember the fall of the DDR as either a victory or a tragedy.

"I think what we forget is that when the wall fell in November 1989 what the Easterners were looking for was not reunification ... what people were looking for was a way to create a new kind of East Germany," Monteath said.

The Berlin Wall
Germans celebrating the opening of the border between East and West Germany on the Berlin Wall. Image: AAP.

Both Monteath and Moir acknowledge the factors that continue to divide Germany may take many years to be completely dismantled.

"I think what we are talking about here is a situation of transgenerational trauma. The legacy of the divisions and reunification take a long time to work through," Moir said.

Contact Siobhan at skenna@networkten.com.au