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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

German Unification Day

Today is a holiday in Germany, to celebrate the reunification that followed the collapse of the Socialist Paradise of the German Democratic Republic, known in the west as "East Germany." I find it interesting that today's 'unified' Germany is territorially around 20% smaller than it was in 1939 and probably around 40% smaller than it was in 1914. The reason is that it's eastern provinces have been reclaimed or incorporated into Poland. One, East Prussia, has become a Russian enclave on the Baltic. Kaliningrad was formerly the East Prussian city and Hansastadt of Koenigsberg.

Until Bismarck's 'reunification' in 1848 - 71, "Germany" was more a concept than a reality (some idea of the 'lost' territory can be gained from the map on the Wikipedia entry). It was essentially a hegemony of some 300 independent states, principalities and mini-states, some no larger than the 'ruling' lord's personal estate. Equally the language diversity was pretty wide with a lot of 'local' variation which made unification tricky. Bismarck's solution was to impose 'Hoch Deutsch' - the modern 'pure' German language of literature and commerce. The 'local' variations still exist and to an extent thrive, but now, at least, everyone can understand (more or less) what everyone else is saying.

That reborn national spirit contributed to the two world wars of the 20th Century as the new "German Nation" tried to assert its status in the world. Geographically it suffered then (and now) by being sandwiched between France in the west and Russia in the East. Both traditionally see a strong Germany as a threat to their ambitions territorially and commercially. The orginal fragmentation of the German state in the late Middle Ages was in large part due to French and Russian interference and aggression. From the reign of Louis XIV onward the French attempted to gain complete control of all the territory along the Rhine and in the East Austria and Russia seesawed back and forth grabbing bits of Prussia, Silesia, Pomerania and other states along that front. Frederick the Great brought a level of security with his miltary campaigns against Austria and Russia, but Napoleon's invasions almost undid everything. It took the Prussians to lead the establishment of a stable state and the creation of a strong power in Europe.

Today the Germans celebrate the political reunion which followed the exposure of the charade of socialist Utopianism. There is still a huge difference between "East" and "West" in Germany. The cost of living is higher in the west than it is in the east, but unemployment is still higher in the east. Everyone in the west is still paying a tax surcharge for 'reconstruction' of the eastern infrastructure and lack of maintenance of everything the east suffered under communist rule lasting 42 years. Some of the damage is still visible. It will be interesting to see where the 'unified' Germany is in another 20 years.

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