The East gets its people back

The East gets its people back

© WELT / Gerrit Seebald
Since the fall of the wall, around 3.7 million people have migrated from the new to the old federal states. But the trend seems to be reversing: more and more are moving back to their old homeland. The reasons are varied and personal. Source: WELT / Gerrit Seebald

Guben Mayor Fred Mahro can report encouraging developments. After the Brandenburg industrial city on the German-Polish border had experienced unprecedented emigration for decades, a trend reversal is now emerging. “In 2018 and 2019 there was an increase in the population again for the first time,” said Mahro at a demography conference with experts from politics, science, business and civil society, which recently took place in the Federal Ministry of the Interior.

This is due to both an increased birth rate and the influx. In addition to migration from abroad – especially from Poland – the place also benefits from internal migration. Because Gubener, who had once moved away for a job, to study or for training, are increasingly coming back to their old hometown.

The returnees are very welcome. Not only in Guben. Because this trend is an important sign of hope that too structurally weaker regions of eastern Germany have a future. Flocks of people from the new federal states had flocked to the west since 1990. Reverse migration has also occurred, but on balance the east has lost more than 1.2 million citizens since reunification. And because especially young, often well-educated people – mostly women – went, many towns aged in time lapse.

But since 2017, the Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB) has registered an end to the east-west migration. The researchers determined a migration gain of 4000 people for the five East German area countries in 2017. If you include those who moved from Berlin to the area countries, the balance increases to 14,000. According to the BiB, the profit in 2018 was 652 people. The influx from Berlin to the five area countries once again amounted to 15,900 people. “It turns out that the trend reversal with an increase in the migration rate of the eastern German states compared to western Germany continued in 2018,” says BiB research director Nikola Sander. People also returned from Leipzig or Dresden to the rural regions in the outskirts of the big cities.

© WORLD infographic

Regions woo the newcomers

For the Federal Ministry of the Interior, for construction and home, the changes in migratory movements are an important factor when it comes to the goal of creating equivalent living conditions within Germany. “Some regions like Munich or Stuttgart overheat as a result of the strong influx, while, conversely, in structurally weak regions, towns and cities have many problems due to the rapidly shrinking population, ”said State Secretary Markus Kerber, who is responsible for home. Return movements could thus contribute to relaxation on both sides. It is therefore important to actively promote the new trend politically and to publicly highlight the positive messages from the regions affected, Kerber said.

Source: WORLD infographic

© WORLD infographic
Source: WORLD infographic

Many regions are already intensively campaigning for the coveted newcomers. For example Sven Guntermann. He heads the welcome agency “Comeback Elbe-Elster” in Finsterwalde, Brandenburg, which was once founded by a private association and now coordinates the “” network for the entire federal state. Interested parties who are thinking of returning to their old homeland will receive decentralized support, for example when looking for a place to live or a job, and the initiatives will also provide information about day care centers, schools and leisure activities. Similar projects now exist in many regions of eastern Germany, mostly funded by the public sector and supported by the economy.

“People don’t come back because they failed somewhere else, but they consciously choose their old homeland,” said Guntermann. This is also shown by the results of a survey among returnees, which the Social Science Research Center Berlin-Brandenburg published in 2019. Private reasons were at the top. 70 percent of the returnees cited the family as motivation, 55 percent founded a partnership and 55 percent named friends and acquaintances as motives.

Returnees cut back on salary

As important as the private motives for the returnees are, economic perspectives and local living conditions are also necessary, the participants of the conference agreed. Proper transport connections, good schools and childcare, lively club life and medical care are important factors, especially for families. When it comes to jobs, many returnees are initially willing to cut back on salary. However, good job opportunities for two thirds of those affected are decisive for whether one stays in the end, as the survey shows.

Positive company news that promise promising jobs can therefore often achieve more than a regional advertising measure, however good it may be. The fact that the US automaker Tesla is building its first giga factory for electric cars in Europe in Brandenburg is such a much-awaited signal. That fits the chemical giant BASF in February decided to locate the new production for battery materials in Schwarzheide in eastern Germany.

Such developments make it clear that, 30 years after reunification, East Germany stands for more than the exit from lignite decided by the Federal Government. Should the new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport actually open in the coming autumn, this should also radiate far into the region and certainly trigger further inflows.

Number of moves from the east halved

However, the return movement is still just a delicate plant. However, Heike Liebmann from the Brandenburg Consultancy for Urban Renewal and Modernization (BBSM) in the Federal Ministry of the Interior pointed out that the potential is significantly greater. After all, 3.7 million people have turned their backs on the east since reunification, the city planner said.

The vast majority of the emigrants, as surveys show, keep in touch with acquaintances and families in their old homeland, and many can basically imagine a return. Active advertising within this group of people therefore appears to be a promising approach in view of the growing shortage of skilled workers.

So far, however, the major decline in the trend in intra-German migrations has primarily been the sharp decline in emigration from the east. Shortly after the turn, around 230,000 people had headed west. Another top was in 2001 with over 190,000 migrations.

In the meantime, only around 90,000 people leave each year – a little less than moving in the opposite direction. It is therefore at least as important as campaigning for returnees to ensure that young people in the new federal states see a future for themselves and their families – and never leave.


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