Crumbling houses, empty streets and often not a soul in sight – a drive through the countryside around Berlin, in what was formerly East Germany, reveals the sad reality of the rapid exodus from the country to the city.
According to a recent study by the German Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR), the future is grim for many German villages.
The statistics show that, from 1993 to 2013, the German cities with the strongest population growth were Münster (+8.9 percent), Frankfurt (+7,6 percent), Darmstadt (+7.3 percent) and Munich (+7.0 percent).
All of these cities are located in what was once West Germany, until the country’s re-unification in 1991. It serves as yet another sign that the former East Germany, which was under Communist rule until 1989, still has lots of catching up to do some 25 years later.
The rural areas of East Germany have been most affected by the exodus to cities: 84 percent of municipalities there are shrinking, compared to 41 percent in West Germany, according to the study.
Many of these villages are caught in a downward spiral: A shrinking population means fewer people to finance the cost of maintaining the town’s infrastructure and more money needed to care for the aging inhabitants – the mean population age of people in rural municipalities is 50.
The BBSR argues municipalities shouldn’t be abandoned to face the music on their own.
“The structurally weak regions are in danger of being left economically further behind,” said Harald Herrmann, BBSR’s director. “Maintaining living standards in these regions will become one of the main challenges.”