Teenagers feel more divided;International News;News amp; Opinion

5th November 1999 at 00:00
TEN YEARS after the Berlin Wall came down, schools in the former East have become more like those of the West. They have shed their ideological education, so important under the Communists, but lost their emphasis on pastoral care, which distinguished the East from the chalk-talk-and-go-home system of the West.

The time children spend in school has fallen dramatically from all day, to half-a-day, free lunches have been abolished and state organisation of extra-curricular activities and free time reduced to the bare minimum.

The Young Pioneers, who once indoctrinated the young, also provided then with structured after-school activities and contact with their own age group.

Even those determined to grasp the opportunities of reunification look back on the young pioneers with ostaligia, nostalgia for the old East Germany.

Says Sebastian Hinz, 22: "If you go out in the evenings with a lot of people from the East, they sometimes sing their old pioneer songs. I feel a bit left out of it then."

Some sociologists say the attraction of neo-nazi groups is a hankering after ideology and structure.

Since reunification, the number of places in selective grammar schools has been increased from 10 per cent of those under communism to almost 30 per cent now, providing similar university opportunities as in the West.

Yet youngsters in eastern Germany are still more nervous about their future than their western counterparts.

"They feel they are more deprived than the West, even though they work as hard at school. Potential rewards are lower in the East," says Kai-Uwe Schnabel, of the Max Planck Institute for Human Resources in Berlin. Many have seen employment opportunities reduced since reunification, have parents who have lost jobs and have watched westerners take the best jobs.

Nonetheless, studies show pupils in eastern Germany are less likely to play truant, keener to get good grades and more willing to work hard to achieve them than westeners. They also decide on a future career much earlier.

A study by the University of Potsdam found "more similarities than differences" in youth culture and values in the East and West, 10 years after reunification. "The process of growing together as a nation seems to be easier for the younger generation than for their parents," says Professor Rainer Silbereisen of the University of Jena.

The present generation of teenagers - who were in primary school when the wall came down - "has comparatively the least baggage", says sociologist Ralf Kuhnke. Those who were leaving school as the Wall fell, watched the system they had grown up in collapse and suffered severe disorientation. They found few role models in West Germany.

If studies show eastern youngsters are more aggressive and less helpful, the differences are small says Professor Silbereisen, although there is greater xenophobia in East Germany.

Yet reunification has not removed the divide. There is more, not less antipathy between eastern and western youth.

"The readiness to really get to know each other is slight, and acceptance of each other has even gone down in recent years," says Professor Silbereisen.

Although only a 20-minute underground ride separates Humboldt University in the former East and the Free University in the West, 70 per cent of Humboldt's students come from eastern Germany, and 70 per cent of the Free University's from the West.

Eastern school-leavers prefer the more structured courses and guided teaching of the East. Western teachers complain that they "cannot think for themselves".

While three-quarters of eastern pupils have visited western Germany, only a third of its children have visited the East. Eastern pupils complain that their region is largely forgotten in western perceptions, heightening prejudices.

"We did post-war history at school. But the funny thing was, we only talked about what was happening in West Germany, as if the East did not exist," says Dorothea Weiss, 18, from the eastern town of Schwerin, now at school in Berlin.

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