Brain drain in reverse behind fallen Berlin wall

Brain drain in reverse behind fallen Berlin wall


In 1997, when Siebler was 25, the outlook for engineers in the former East Germany was so bleak that people like him were leaving in droves, creating a huge brain drain from East to West. But in a sign of just how much has changed over the past decade, Siebler, like a growing number of other Germans from the region, is back.
A start-up telecommunications company in Dresden called Signalion persuaded him — without too much difficulty, he adds — to resettle in the city where he grew up.
“The mind-set really changed for me,” Siebler said. “At the beginning when I left I didn’t think about returning.”

Twenty years after the collapse of Communism in East Germany ushered in a searing, but miraculously bloodless transition to capitalism, the region that Germans came to call ‘the five new states’ is flirting with a kind of normality that few would have dared imagine possible.

Eastern Germany has, with great effort and a lot of money, clawed its way to a measure of prosperity, some of it quite noticeable in urban areas like Dresden, once a gloomy has-been of a city remade by a face-lift of its Baroque architecture.
The comeback has helped Eastern Germany start to attract talented people like Siebler. And though demographic trends still weigh heavily on the region, the national government in Berlin is increasingly inclined to treat Eastern Germany not much differently from the rest of the country.

True, Eastern Germany remains far from the ‘flourishing landscape’ that Helmut Kohl, former Chancellor and the Father of United Germany, rashly promised his new compatriots in those heady times two decades ago.

But the gap between East and West has shrunk considerably and there is plenty of evidence that it is continuing to shrink even as the country as a whole is barely beginning to emerge from a wrenching economic downturn. In 1991, the five states that make up the former East Germany had a gross domestic product per person equal to just 40 per cent of the figure for Germany as a whole, reflecting the huge wealth disparity with the Western states that had experienced the so-called economic miracle of the 1950s and 1960s.

Today, those living in the region have reached a level slightly higher than 70 per cent of the overall German figure, according to government statistics.
The progress puts Eastern Germans within striking distance of the mainstream of Western Europe, according to the European statistics agency Eurostat. An Eastern German is now better off than the average Portuguese, about on par with a typical Greek and slightly behind a Spaniard.

And those numbers, economists hasten to point out, do not fully reflect just how prosperous Eastern Germans really are, since the Germans enjoy a thoroughly modern infrastructure — highways, train system, energy networks and the like — that put Greece, Portugal and Spain to shame.
The national government, which bankrolled the transformation with trillions of marks, and then euros, now openly makes the case for Eastern Germany to prepare to stand on its own without extra help from Berlin.

“It is primarily the task of the Eastern German states to identify their own state-specific strengths and build on them in the context of regional economic policy,” Frank Scharr, an adviser to Chancellor Angela Merkel, wrote in a recent essay.
Merkel, of course, is the most prominent of all those from the former East Germany who have found success since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent unification that formally took place about a year later.
But while the old border has disappeared, there are still differences in outlook as well as circumstance.

Some Easterners are inclined to regard the recent complaints of their fellow citizens in Western Germany, whose post-World War II ideal of lifelong security alongside increasing prosperity is now under siege, with a certain amount of disdain. Crisis, Easterners like to say, is what they went through when Communism ended — not the current pay freezes, shorter workdays and modest increases in unemployment.
“The Westerners like to whine right now, but at this incredibly high level,” said Jens Rothmann, a returnee from Stuttgart who now owns his own company in Dresden that makes protective covers for cars. “They are doing fine, but worrying terribly about their jobs and all that.”

While the huge wave of outward migration has slowed from the early years of unification, Eastern Germany has continued to suffer a net loss of about 50,000 people a year in the current decade. In 2008, an estimated 1,36,000 people left, but 85,000 moved to the five Eastern states.
New York Times

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