Today Germany is celebrating the 20th anniversary of unification of the until 1990 split East (German Democratic Republic) and West (Federal Republic of Germany). But while the areas have merged, in many people’s minds the division remains – recently prominently demonstrated in an interview by German chancellor Angela Merkel.
The dominance of the West is not least reflected by the population distribution between the two countries, with only Berlin being the most significantly populated area of the generally quite sparsely populated East of the country. Few other urban areas strike out when looking at the population distribution, which is displayed on the following gridded population cartogram. As the map in an equal-population depiction, each area of the map corresponds to the same number of people, so that the underlying geographical grid is distorted accordingly (reducing the size of less populated areas while increasing the size of the most populated areas). The colour code shows the population density in each of the grid cells (click the map to see further details in higher resolution):
Quite understandably, the East comes out much smaller in this map and is dominated by the large population of Berlin. Although the East has always been the smaller part of the new German nation, the number of people living there has decreased significantly compared to the West (which, in fact, was even growing in population until the mid-2000s while the East has been loosing population ever since unification).
Eventually, the demographic developments of the East have become a joint trend in Germany, which recent population figures indicating an overall decline in West and East. Here are the numbers for the last 20 years since unification (respectively 1990-2009 due to a lack of the 2010 figures):
Although the wall may still persist in some minds, thinking in categories of East and West: The demographic trends have become a common trend and mark a challenge for Germany as a united nation. A very recent paper by Kroll & Hase (2010) gives an interesting insight to prevailing demographic patterns are related to land use patterns (Does demographic change affect land use patterns?: A case study from Germany):
“The results clearly show that in most growing regions in the West of Germany a correlation was found between land use, natural population growth and net-migration, whereas for land use change in the shrinking regions in the East of Germany economic variables are of noticeable importance.”
A different, less complex view on spatial population patterns emerges when looking at the population distribution in relation to the elevation at which people are living. A similar map has already been published on this website a year ago (see here), and to mark the 20th anniversary of German unification (literally called “re-unification” in Germany) we have worked out a more detailed version of the terrain-population cartogram which tells a lot about the landscapes and geography of Germany.
Large parts of the German population are living in the regions with mineral-rich soils in the river plains and North of the low mountain ranges as well as North of the Alps. The Ruhr-Area (ranging in East-West direction from Dortmund to Duisburg) is an old-industrialized regions with the largest contiguous densely-populated region in Germany, facing similar problems of an ageing population as they otherwise currently mainly dominate in East Germany.
In contrast large parts of the middle-mountain ranges vanish in the population cartogram. Less populated areas beyond parts of East Germany are mainly found in these low mountain regions, with the Eastern region of Bavaria being among the least populated regions of West Germany.
This is how Germany looks from the perspective of the population (update: there is an updated high-resolution version of the gridded population cartogram of Germany here):
More about population developments in Germany and most recent statistics can be found on the website of the Federal Statistical Office. Their website offers a range of reports in English and offers some interactive features, such as an animated age pyramid (also showing the future trends): http://www.destatis.de/jetspeed/portal/cms/