Will Korea ever reunite?

Hardly comparable: How Korea sees the fall of the wall and reunification

Half a century of German history in one minute: a wall divides Germany, threatening soldiers patrol as shadows in front of the impenetrable wall. The wall cracks, individual stones fall out, the wall falls and people celebrate freedom and peace.

This animation illuminates the gigantic Seoul Square skyscraper, which also houses the German embassy. The German diplomatic mission wants to generate maximum attention in the 10 million metropolis for the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Most South Koreans know the most recent German history, at least roughly, as many things appear comparable at first glance: The division as a result of the war, two economically and politically completely different parts, economic miracle in the western part, shortage economy in the communist north.

In fact, the dividing line between North and South Korea is much greater than it ever was between East and West Germany. For three years the warring brother states waged a bloody war against each other, since the partition there has been almost no private exchange, no contacts, no letters, instead complete isolation and permanent provocations.

Unity as a long-term goal

Nevertheless, reunification could also succeed in Korea - by 2045, prophesied the liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Independence Day in August. With such a long-term forecast, the experiences of the protracted German reunification also play a decisive role.

Because the successes and mistakes of the German-German reunification process are carefully analyzed in both parts of Korea. After all, reunification in South and North Korea is a declared national goal, albeit under different auspices. It is no coincidence that the last three presidents of South Korea gave their keynote speeches on foreign policy when they took office in Germany.

North Korea wants to strengthen its negotiating position with military provocations

After decades of standstill, Moon's policy of rapprochement with North Korea has actually started to move into the Korean conflict. But the initial euphoria has long since vanished, the negotiations are stalling and the North is again trying to strengthen its negotiating position with the USA with military provocations. At the moment there is little to be said for a trusting rapprochement, a peace agreement or a complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Crumbling economy

On the 30th anniversary of the fall of the German wall, the South Koreans have other concerns. The trade disputes between the USA and China as well as its own trade conflict with the former colonial power Japan have severely affected the South Korean export industry, the economy and the labor market are weakening.

More than a trade dispute: anti-Japanese resentment in South Korea

Economic policy and the rapprochement with North Korea have deepened the already wide rifts in South Korean society. This can also be seen in the readers' letters among the DW articles on the fall of the Berlin Wall, which were published by the wide-reaching partner Chosun Ilbo.

The background articles deal with the obvious questions: How did the transition from a socialist planned economy to a market economy succeed? How was the military brought together? What happened to the Stasi files? Who benefited from monetary union? Why do many East Germans leave their homeland?

Divided society

The experiences and answers gathered in Germany could hardly be transferred to Korea, as many conservative readers are sure of. The north should not be trusted and the government's rapprochement is borderline on treason. The more liberal readers, on the other hand, rely on dialogue, even if there is currently little progress or hopeful signals.

Both sides agree, however, that the north remains unpredictable, that reunification would entail enormous financial burdens and that it would take decades to grow together. In this respect, the German experiences are then again comparable.