Recession bites but few feel the pinch: For most Germans life goes on as normal, reports Steve Crawshaw from Cologne
Sunday 07 February 1993
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?'
- 1 King Salman: Just five days in, Saudi Arabia's new king has already overseen a beheading
- 2 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Presidential optical illusion offers clues to how brain processes faces
- 5 Grumpy Roald Dahl letter warning student to 'eschew beastly adjectives' rediscovered after 35 years
King Salman: Just five days in, Saudi Arabia's new king has already overseen a beheading
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary: Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
Presidential optical illusion offers clues to how brain processes faces
Chilling drone footage captures Auschwitz ahead of 70th anniversary of liberation
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant (ACCA / CIMA, ...
£11 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A 10 year old girl who has profound an...
£30000 - £35000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...
£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Development Manager ...