July 21, 2009 / 1:27 PM / 10 years ago

East Germans disillusioned 20 years after fall of Wall

BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - Nearly 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, only one in four Germans from the former communist East feels properly integrated.

Some 77 percent of eastern Germans surveyed by social and welfare association Volkssolidaritaet complained their living standards still lagged western levels. Moreover, over half believed the gap had widened in the last decade.

“Many people in the eastern states do not believe they have achieved equal living standards,” said Gunnar Winkler, Volkssolidaritaet president in a statement, saying people felt they lacked the opportunities to improve their lot.

Unemployment levels are still far higher in many parts of eastern Germany than in the west and migration, especially among young people, is a big problem which has left some towns in the former East almost deserted.

The poll is a reminder of the difficulties of reunification, even as Germany is gearing up for big celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November.

In addition, hostility toward foreigners in eastern Germany remains at a high level. Some 41 percent thought there were too many non-Germans, even though only two percent of eastern German inhabitants come from other countries.

Winkler cited economic anxiety as the main reason for the xenophobia.

“In former East Germany, Germans and foreigners were not used to living amongst each other. Most (non-Germans) were housed in homes and barracks and kept to themselves,” he said.

Many German politicians have expressed worry about the strength of neo-Nazis in eastern Germany and about far-right crime, including racist attacks in recent years.

About 35 percent of those surveyed, particularly the unemployed or those living near borders with Poland and the Czech Republic, thought immigrants exacerbated problems such as unemployment and crime rates.

The survey showed some 60 percent of those asked thought they were better off in reunited Germany but they still did not feel as if they properly belonged and nearly half believed depictions of life in the former East were unjustly negative.

The results are part of an annual study of 1,900 East Germans over the age of 18 conducted since 1989.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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