Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the reunification of Germany. As the year ended, there was little celebration of that momentous event. All eyes across Europe, of course, were on the influx of refugees, and then on the ISIS attack on Paris, but I was in the old East Germany shortly before the ISIS attack. At the time, though Germans were not celebrating, they were talking about the pros and cons of reunification.

In the days of a divided Germany, I was often far from the Vineyard, frequently visiting the East and writing about it at a time when relatively few Western travelers were going there. And I made friends among dissidents. One was a church guide in the city of Dresden. With her, I marched in a candlelight freedom parade. Another lived in a small town in Thuringia, just on the border with the West and was an employe of the East German railroad. Others lived in East Berlin.

I have remained in touch with all of them. All are largely glad that there is a unified Germany. But they are also dismayed by aspects of the change. Although the gross domestic product per capita in the east has more than doubled in the last quarter century, according to a recent government report, it is still a third below that in western Germany. Unemployment in the east is also high. Even refuges are unenthusiastic about settling in eastern Germany.

In the small town of Vacha Rhon where my friend who worked for the railroad lives, there is no industry, few jobs and few young people. Her son, who now works for the railroad, travels three hours to Frankfurt in western Germany each weekday morning and three hours back to the east each evening.

My Berlin friends include Julia, who was born in East Berlin in 1980, but came to the United States with her parents and lived outside of Boston for some years. She is now back in Berlin, a city she loves.

“Most young people do,” she said. “Berlin is such an exciting place.”

Her mother, Angelika, 61, from the small town of Elxleben in the old East Germany, was a successful East Berlin stage and film actress, but managed to be active too in the protests that helped lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Both they and their friends and family frequently talk of the pros and cons of reunification.

“We were unhappy with our situation in the GDR and wanted things to change,”Angelika said sadly. “We dreamed of a new, unified Germany with the best of both worlds. But, instead, unification has turned out to be an annexation of East German territory by West Germany,” she added.

“Does that mean there was something good and worth keeping in East Germany?” a 29-year-old born in West Germany asked. The reply came from Angelika’s 64-year-old sister, Rita, an accountant in the city of Erfurrt in the old East:

“Because all of us were watched all the time, we had relative safety in those days. And everyone had a job and we were socially integrated through those jobs. Today, not everyone has work and I have the feeling many young people are lonely. Of course, what was uncomfortable then was the spoon-feeding by the government, the scarcity of goods and the constant surveillance- even if it brought safety.”

Rita’s husband, Volker, interjected: “When I look at the file that the Stasi, our secret police, kept on me, I see that they copied every letter I wrote or received — even the postcards from friends describing the weather at their holiday destination! And what could that destination be then? Travel was very limited.” He continued:

“It’s true there were no people looking for jobs, but there was no free job market. After you received your school diploma, you were told where you should work. If you wanted to work somewhere else, you had to have special connections. And once you got a job, of you joined the Communist party, you got better pay”

Karla, who was born in the former East in 1945, agreed with Rita that there was more “togetherness” in East Germany than there is in a united Germany.

“But your life was different if you were politically involved, of course.” Karla’s husband, who had written poems critical of the government, was jailed. Their son, deemed a “punk” by the authorities, was threatened with not being allowed a higher education unless he mended his ways.

“What about women’s rights then and now?” Julia asked. “I just read that men in Germany today earn an average of 22 per cent more than women in the same job.”

“Yes, in the same job, in the DDR, men and women did earn the same,” Volker said. ” Certainly, there were mistakes made during reunification — especially in financial matters. I know something about it because I was involved in finance in both the East and the West. But on the whole, reunification has been a very positive thing!”

Clearly, the conversation that I had recently with my eastern German friends was a far freer one than I could have imagined having — even with dissidents — in the old days.