German unification prompted expectations of harmonization in political culture and promises of equivalent living conditions across the federation. Almost three decades later, the revival of narratives based on East-West differences has raised concerns whether inner unity, a term coined to describe political and material convergence across the former East-West divide, has stagnated or fallen behind. Frustration with the process of unification based on East-West contrasts, however, tends to downplay achievements and, importantly, regional diversity across the federation. I advocate a shift in perspective to the subnational (Land and communal) levels and illustrate regional variation with examples that address equivalent living conditions and demographic change. North-South differences coexist with East-West and within-region differences, suggesting not two but four or five Germanies. The eastern regions still occupy a special place in the unified Germany; they contribute to agenda setting and policy making with important implications across the federation.
Helga A. Welsh is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University. Her research has focused on the former East Germany, German unification, transitional justice, and education policy in Germany. She is the co-editor of German Unification. Process and Outcomes. Her most recent book Germany Today. Politics and Policies in a Changing World (co-authored with Christiane Lemke) appeared in 2018. She is one of the editors of “German History in Documents and Images,” a project administered by the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC. Her articles have appeared, among others, in journals such as Comparative Politics, European Journal of Education, Europe-Asia Studies, German Politics, German Politics and Society, and West European Politics.