“Too Big for Europe”: The Recurring German Problem

German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, May 18, 1889

Today’s Germany emerged in 1990 when the formerly communist East Germany was incorporated into the Federal Republic. Nearly half a century of disunion had left an economic and social divide in the country that took more than two decades to mend — and some imbalances remain. Historically, however, the more pertinent geographical divide in Germany has been between its north and south.

This Nord-Süd-Gefälle actually mended an economic divide that had previously been to the advantage of the north. Trade centers like Bremen and Hamburg, as well as Berlin, have since imitated the south’s focus on high technology and employed more workers in services.

Competition between the highly autonomous Länder and Germany’s big cities stems from its long division into different sovereign states. Prussia, which had come to occupy virtually the whole of the North European Plain during the Napoleonic Wars, including today’s northern and western Poland as well as Russia’s Kaliningrad province, was by far the most powerful. Its prime minister, Otto von Bismarck, forged an empire out of the many German kingdoms and principalities in 1871. Continue reading