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CNN's Chris Burns on Germany’s reunification anniversary

October 3, 2000
12 p.m. EDT

(CNN) – The 10th anniversary of the unification of Communist East Germany and capitalist West Germany was celebrated October 3 throughout Germany. International dignitaries including French President Jacques Chirac and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright attended a gala ceremony in Dresden. Speakers chronicled the accomplishments of the past decade and warned against right-wing violence.

Chris Burns is CNN’s Berlin bureau chief and correspondent.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Chris Burns, and welcome.

Chris Burns: Hello everybody! It's been a very interesting day here in Dresden, a very moving experience seeing Germans celebrate the 10th anniversary of unification.

Chat Moderator: What is Germany doing to celebrate the 10th anniversary of reunification?

Chris Burns: Germany has a series of celebrations, particularly in Berlin and Dresden. The main one is in Dresden with President Rau of Germany and President Chirac of France. The objective was not only to show Germany unity but also its unity with Europe, its ties to the larger Europe, dispelling any concerns that Germany might go its own way since it unified. That is the reason Chirac is speaking here.

Question from Banjo: What was the biggest obstacle the East German people had to overcome after the Wall came down?

Chris Burns: The biggest obstacle was trying to adapt to a market economy. Millions of East Germans lost their jobs and had to retrain for new ones. That process continues. We see that with 17 percent unemployment.

Germany today

Question from Test: Can you tell me about the overall economic situation in Germany after the reunification,10 years later?

Chris Burns: There are still two Germanys in some ways when it comes to the economy. The people here often speak in terms of the Eastern or Western German economy. Eastern Germany benefited from a construction boom in rebuilding a lot of old buildings and factories and that has tapered off, which has affected the overall economy. It is not growing as fast as it should. On the other hand, there is a rising proportion of high tech in Eastern Germany, which is not ending it but helping to offset it.

Chat Moderator: What has been the highlight of the celebration so far?

Chris Burns: The highlights were the speeches by the leaders. Perhaps the most moving moment was when the last prime minister of East Germany, Lothar De Maiziere, spoke of how East Germans -- armed only with candles -- faced down a Communist regime that was heavily armed. Now, they suddenly have to adapt to a new kind of economy. "A painful transition," he called it. So perhaps the heart of Eastern Germany is speaking there.

Question from BO: What is West Germany's unemployment level?

Chris Burns: Around 7 percent and it also faces difficulties because of high taxes and rigid labor laws. In a strange way, Eastern Germany has had a positive effect on Western Germany by causing and bringing about more flexibility in labor laws and salaries. So, in a strange way, the East may help reform the West.

Question from Mette: Have there been any demonstrations AGAINST the unification this week?

Chris Burns: No major demonstrations reported. I might add that a recent poll says there is a small percentage of Eastern Germans who would like to see the old regime again, about 5 percent.

Question from Kaleidoscope: Are the people really unified -- in terms of beliefs, etc.? Or is it just a geographical unification?

Chris Burns: A good question. Both East and West Germans see unification as the inevitable step in history. However, there are older generations in East Germany that are finding it difficult to adapt to the rigors of capitalism. That will continue to be a problem in the next several years, at least.

Question from J: What do you think about the violence against foreigners and especially Jewish people last night in Germany?

Chris Burns: It has been a problem. It was worse in previous years; that is not to minimize it.

Question from Cyborg: Is anti-Semitism more rampant in Germany with the reunification? How does Germany feel about the possibility of a U.S. Jewish vice president?

Chris Burns: The German government has boosted its efforts to fight violence against foreigners and minorities. In part, it has to do with frustration with unemployment among unemployed youth, but the government pledges to be vigilant against racism in other parts of society. It's something to be aware of and for the government to take measures against.

Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us today?

Chris Burns: At this moment, I am standing in the Dresden train station. Before the Berlin Wall came down, this train station was a battleground among pro-democracy demonstrators. In front of me is a huge Coca Cola sign. It is amazing how far this land has come. I saw it back in 1983 when it was grim and gray. It is not hard to understand how the job is not done yet.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today.

Chris Burns: Goodbye to you all and thanks for tapping in!

Chris Burns joined the World News Chat via telephone from Dresden, Germany. CNN provided a typist for him. The above is an edited transcript of the chat, which took place on Tuesday, October 3, 2000.

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