Germans return home 30 years after Wall’s fall

Isabelle LE PAGE –
For years after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the mantra for millions of former East Germans was to “Go West” for better jobs and opportunities. But three decades on, an increasing number are returning to their roots to seek a fresh start. With new industries taking shape and offering a variety of career paths, better childcare options and relatively cheap housing, the former communist states are starting to look a lot more attractive to young families.
Take the Hoffmanns for instance.
Peggy, 29, had wanted to return to the office full-time after having two children, but in western Germany, she felt a stigma associated with working mums. Undeterred, she looked all over and finally found a job in insurance in the eastern city of Magdeburg last year.
Crucially, another key piece of the puzzle fell into place quickly — a full-day childcare spot for her two sons rather than the half-day offers in the west. “For a woman who works, that’s the dream,” said Peggy, in her apartment in Glindenberg, a village in the suburbs of Magdeburg. Despite the initial reluctance of her husband Carsten, the family moved back to the couple’s native state of Saxony-Anhalt.
A decade ago, she had joined Carsten in Stuttgart, where he had gone for his studies, driven, he said, by a wish to “discover something new”. The return “was very difficult for me in the beginning,” said the 33-year-old, explaining that he had to give up a full-time job in the knowledge that wages in the east lagged behind those in the west.
But he, too, managed to find employment and without taking a pay cut. The Hoffmanns are the kind of family that Saxony-Anhalt and the other former communist states badly need. While regional and federal governments have pumped hundreds of billions of euros into reviving the east, companies drawn by subsidies and other favourable conditions complain that any investment plans are often hampered by the severe lack of skilled workers. The east “lost about 1.2 million people between 1991 and 2017”, said Nico Stawarz, researcher at the Federal Institute for Population Research in Wiesbaden.
The first exodus wave came right after reunification, when the communist-run industries collapsed. The second wave happened in 2000, when unemployment shot up to almost 20 per cent among the working-age population. And it was the young and well-educated who fled, leaving a fast-ageing population behind.
The researcher noted the difficulties of making up for such a dramatic brain drain, but said that the positive trend was that the outflow has stopped. In a recent study, the institute noted that in 2017, for the first time, the number of arrivals in the east was higher than departures — even without taking Berlin into account which for years has seen this trend. — AFP