THE DEPOPULATION OF EAST GERMANY
Excerpts from GUARDIAN: "Martin Schiller has a problem familiar to many 17-year-old boys: not enough girls. Schiller's difficulties, however, are not of his making. Nature has not been kind to him. Not in terms of his looks, but his birthplace.
"For his home town of Königstein, a cluster of red-roofed traditional buildings tucked in a picturesque bend of the Elbe river beneath a giant 700-year-old castle, has recently been revealed to have the biggest demographic imbalance of anywhere in Europe between young men and women.
"On Saturday nights, there is a party at Königstein's youth club. 'We have to get the girls to come from Pirna,' says Schiller, referring to the nearest major town, 10 miles distant. Or even, he says, from Dresden, a 40-minute drive away across the rolling, wooded, depopulated Saxon countryside.
"The reason for the imbalance, he adds, is simple: 'The job opportunities for women here are even worse than for men. So they leave.'
"The depopulation of the former East Germany has reached a crucial stage, say experts. For the first time it is recognised that communities expected to become economically successful after German reunification are 'not going to make it'. And now, also for the first time, there are calls for the massive subsidies pumped into the east since reunification to be cut off.
"'These villages are dying,' said Frank Weber, of Berlin's Institute for Population and Development, a respected think-tank. 'We need to ask whether it is not time to cut off the life support and give them the ability to decide themselves if they want to slip peacefully into oblivion or if they are prepared for radical change.'
"In the not too distant future, swaths of eastern Germany will be depopulated, demographers say. 'For many places it is too late,' Professor Hartmut Häusserman, of Humboldt University in Berlin, told The Observer. 'Politicians need to recognise that.'
"One unexpected beneficiary has been wildlife. Not far from Königstein, wolves have made their reappearance, many decades after being forced out of old habitats by a then growing population. Elsewhere, lynx are making a comeback. As nature advances, man retreats: around 300,000 homes have been demolished in eastern Germany in recent years. In Königstein, 200 flats have been levelled.
"The problem of rural depopulation, common throughout Europe, is given a particular twist in eastern Germany by the exodus of women. Up to 500,000 women aged under 30 are believed to have left for the economically successful west in the past 15 years. In parts of the state of , in the crucial 18 to 29 age group, there are 82 women for every 100 men. In Königstein, the figures are worse, though Frieder Haase, the mayor, insists they are distorted by the presence of an asylum-seekers' centre. His 24-year-old daughter has headed west to Frankfurt where she is an events manager. 'She just didn't have a chance to do what she wanted here,' he said.
"At the town's bus stop, Sandra Zimmerman, 15, said that she wanted to head west to study graphic design when she leaves school."
"Gulia Zunkeller, 25, left her native town of Schneeberg in Saxony to be an optician in the western city of Stuttgart. Out of 30 girls in her last year of school in 2002, only five are still in east Germany. Zunkeller herself is now married to a highly paid automobile worker. 'I did not feel sad about leaving. I met my husband a month after getting here,' she said.
"There is some hope. In one village, efforts to halt decline by offering property and land online (at cut-price rates of less than £500 an acre), and providing a range of services such as childcare and sports clubs, are bearing fruit. The population of Frauendorf in Brandenburg is now what it was 20 years ago.
"'We cannot stop the decline of the birth rate, so we have to make it attractive for people to move to our village to keep the area alive,' said Mirko Friedrich, Frauendorf's mayor. 'It's a struggle for survival. You either win or you lose.'