When the West’s Not Best: Eastern Germany Welcomes Wave of Reverse Migration
Since reunification, people have been abandoning eastern Germany in search of jobs and a better life in the west. But many are now returning home. Homesickness is one reason, but improvements in the job market and quality of life are also attractive.
At first glance, it seems like a step down. Sebastian Müller, who was working as an engineer for the German carmaker Audi in 2010, had an apartment in Munich and an annual salary of €56,000 ($75,000), has moved back east, to the Oberlausitz region, where he now works for an automotive supplier. He earns less, he’s far away from any professional football matches, and instead of going to plays at the Bavarian State Theater in Munich, he must now make do with puppet shows.
But Müller, 30, went east of his own accord. He packed his bags and moved back to the place he had fled as a student.
Müller found his current job, at Miunske GmbH in the town of Grosspostwitz, through an online ad for returnees posted on the website of the state of Saxony’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce. “I’m more satisfied than I ever was in western Germany,” he says.
‘The Wrong Place for Me’
For a long time, migration in Germany primarily moved in one direction: from the former communist east to the more prosperous west. Former East Germany, referred to as the “new German states” since reunification, have lost almost 2 million people to the old states since 1990. But the trend, at least in some regions, is beginning to reverse itself. Eastern Germans are going back home. Last year, for the first time since 1997, more people moved to Saxony than away from the state. Berlin and Brandenburg are also reporting positive net-migration rates. And although Thuringia is still losing more residents than it gains, it reports that more people moved to the state in 2011 than at any time in the past 15 years.
It’s no longer just students fleeing high tuitions who are moving east, or western German retirees investing their savings in eastern German real estate. Returnees form by far the largest group of migrants. According to calculations by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin), they make up about half of the migrants moving from west to east. “We have noticed a strong tendency to return,” says Alexander Kubis of the Nuremberg-based Institute for Employment Research (IAB).
The motives vary. In Sebastian Müller’s case, it was homesickness. Throughout his entire education, his goal was to have a career in the west, and he was already applying for internships in Bavaria while studying at the Zwickau University of Applied Sciences. After graduating in the fall of 2007, he quickly found his dream job at Audi in Ingolstadt, near Munich.
But he soon realized that the west wasn’t what he had imagined. His girlfriend had moved with him and had also found a job in Munich, but the rent for the apartment in the Bavarian capital ate up almost his entire salary. He had trouble making friends in the new city, and he also felt lost in the crowd at work. When Müller went home for family events, he was surprised to see how much had changed. There was new construction, and there were new jobs. “I suddenly had the feeling that Munich was the wrong place for me,” he says.