This Reuters article taking a look at life in the East German border city of Eisenhüttenstadt, besides making the point that Germany's not a homogeneous country in the sense that all Germans are winners from European integration, takes a look at the ways in which East Germany remains a peripheral area of unified Germany. Even two decades after reunification, East Germany is less prosperous than the former West, and East Germany's demographic considerably less promising--birth rates aside, it sounds like Eisenhüttenstadt, at least, is a place that people come from.
This fading industrial city, like many in Angela Merkel's former East German home, is stony ground for the chancellor's message of European integration and fertile soil for opponents trying to stop her winning a third term next September.
[. . .]
Originally called “Stalinstadt”, it was built in the 1950s as an industrial complex and “the first Socialist city in Germany”. The pride of the GDR, it was renamed in 1961 and had 50,000 inhabitants in its heyday.
In a familiar story across east Germany, reunification meant mass unemployment as communist-run industry failed to compete on the free market. About 40 percent of the town's population went west and much of the housing for GDR workers stands empty.
In a country whose conservative chancellor dedicates a lot of time to blue-sky thinking about the future and demographic change, the most demographically-challenged areas of Germany do not feel their plight is a political priority.
“Future? We have no future,” said Suzanne, wheeling her bicycle past an abandoned prefab tower block with broken windows on the banks of a canal. She would not give her surname, like many people in a country with historic sensitivities about privacy.
Merkel's plans for a third term, if she wins, are typically undramatic and give the impression of fine-tuning a well-oiled machine. The Christian Democrats (CDU) will make her the focus of a personality-based campaign which will be new for Germany.
“The election will be won by whoever is most convincing that our currency and jobs are safe,” said one senior Merkel ally.
Judging by what people in Eisenhuettenstadt would like to see discussed - a legal minimum wage and greater job security - there is still a lot of work to be done convincing people in the east, where unemployment is way over the 6.9 percent national rate and incomes are a fifth lower than the average in the west.
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