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German economy motoring despite popular pessimism

By Frederik Pleitgen, CNN
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Germany's growth spurt
  • Germany recorded second quarter economic growth of 2.2 percent
  • It is the largest growth since German unification
  • Exports made the difference with companies like BMW posting impressive numbers

Berlin, Germany (CNN) -- The Germans are known to be pessimists, so it is probably no wonder that the announcement of record growth in the first quarter of this year didn't excite too many people in one of Berlin's main shopping areas at the Kurfürstendamm.

"I have not seen an economic upswing," one student said, "nothing has changed for ordinary people."

But the economists at Germany's Federal Statistics Office take a somewhat different view.

According to figures published on Friday they say Germany's second quarter economic growth of 2.2 percent -- the largest since German unification -- is due in part to an increase in private consumption.

That's significant because Europe's largest economy has often been criticized by its neighbors for exporting a lot, but consuming very little.

That has not changed even with the positive economic data.

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"If we look at what the statistical office tells us we see that consumption has increased a little, but it is not really what made the difference," says Jörg Rocholl, an economist from the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin.

Once again it was German exports that made the difference. With companies like BMW and Siemens recently posting impressive numbers thanks to robust demand from abroad.

"Germany's economy is very competitive, it is now seeing the recovery that is led by demand for products from China, the U.S. and other countries," Rocholl adds.

But Germany wouldn't be Germany if there wasn't at least some pessimism even with the record numbers. Already some experts warn that demand for German products abroad might wane of China suffers and economic downturn.

Furthermore, Germany's unemployment has remained fairly stable throughout the crisis. Thanks in part to a government-induced short labor program, that will soon expire.

The question for many Germans is, will the good times last? Rocholl believes they could: "The flexibility we've achieved over the last 10 years will also help us in the long term."

Germany's minister for economics, Rainer Brüderle, doesn't seem to share his fellow Germans' pessimism. He has called the data an "upswing in an XL format."

On Berlin's Kufürstendamm shopping street not many share that view. But then again, Germans have always fared well with their pessimism -- under promising and often overperforming.