Recession bites but few feel the pinch: For most Germans life goes on as normal, reports Steve Crawshaw from Cologne

'PROSPERITY, farewell' said one magazine front-cover headline, accompanied by an illustration showing a plate with a large, dry bone, a slice of lemon, and a solitary piece of tomato. The message could not be clearer: in Germany, the good times are over.

Relatively speaking, at least. Not a day goes by without another analysis of the country's plight. More soul-searching followed a sharp monthly rise in unemployment announced on Friday - from 6.6 to 7.4 per cent in the western half of the country. But visit a place such as Cologne - population 900,000, Germany's third biggest city, not especially rich nor especially poor - and the 'crisis' seems mild, at least compared with what Britain has endured.

The winter sales have just ended and the streets have been particularly busy. But sales here are occasional affairs: Cologne does not have the desperate sales-for- every-season that have become a feature of the British high street.

Few retailers admit to feeling any strain. Boutiques and department stores say they are doing good business. The manager of one of the main jewellery shops says that spending has not decreased: the only difference is that people are buying 'in a more targeted way - they know what they want, they think about it'.

Dieter Neumann, a BMW dealer in the city, said that business was down on last year. 'But the last two years have been a huge boom, because of the Anschluss (annexation) of the new federal regions, in the east. So we can't compare with that. We can say that it's at least as good as in earlier years. Clients are cautious, but it would be much too dramatic to talk of a crisis.'

Outside the old cathedral there was a beggar (a Romanian woman with her baby); inside the nearby railway station, the largest junction in Germany, several men, young and old, were sleeping rough. Depressing, certainly - except when compared to the streets of London at any time in the past few years .

Turks have long been Germany's poor. There are few of them in the bustling shops on Hohe Strasse, the main shopping street. Travel out to a satellite suburb such as Cologne-Chorweiler, however, and you will find the Turks among tower blocks that are indistinguishable from their sisters across Europe. Chorweiler is one of the most neglected areas of Cologne. But compared to Hulme, in Manchester, or parts of Hackney, in east London, there are none of the boarded-up shops that are a standard feature of Britain's inner-city landscape, and the range of stores and cafes would not look out of place on a Surrey high street.

But of a group of five Turks, sitting chatting on a bench outside the shopping centre, four are unemployed and have almost given up hope. All nod in agreement when Ali, who used to work in a dairy, says: 'There's less and less work. And it's always the Turks who lose their jobs.'

To combat the economic problems that have arisen since reunification with the east, the government has proposed a 'solidarity pact', which seeks the support of the parliamentary opposition and the unions for spending cuts, in order to help build up the east. Those proposals have run into enormous difficulties - not least because Chancellor Helmut Kohl, in 1990, told fairytales about how unity would be painless for all. People resent those broken promises, as much as they resent the payments themselves.

Now, many in the west feel that the feared spending cuts represent a step into the economic abyss: affluent Germany has not needed to cut back before. But, although most Bonn politicians do not wish to admit it, the greatest pain will continue to be felt in the east, not in the still-comfortable west.

As recent opinion polls have made clear, west Germans have had enough of digging into their pockets - as they see it - for their poorer brothers. In the words of one Cologner: 'Why should we pay for what they (the east) failed with? If you ask me, we should have made the wall a few bricks higher.'

Despite the real hostility in the west, the burning issue is not, perhaps, the western lament of 'farewell, prosperity' but rather the question that could be asked in eastern Germany: 'Prosperity, will we ever see you?'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions