East German Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere bid farewell to the East German state in a televised speech hours before the country ceased to exist.

East Germany was absorbed by its powerful neighbor West Germany at the stroke of midnight Wednesday."I know it is unusual that a state voluntarily bids its farewell from history," de Maiziere said, "but just as unusual was the division of our country."

In his final act as head of government, de Maiziere delivered a speech at an official ceremony Tuesday night at East Berlin's 19th century Schauspielhaus concert house.

The East German state faded into history to strains of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony performed by Leipzig's Gewandthaus Orchestra.

"We are leaving behind a state that called itself democratic without being democratic," de Maiziere said, referring to his country's name, the German Democratic Republic.

But he warned German unity would not be fully accomplished just because East Germany disappears from the map. "It also has to be desired in the heart," he said.

The prime minister acknowledged the fears many of his countrymen have about the future. Suddenly forced to compete with the capitalist West, East Germany's inefficient state industries are in crisis, and unemployment has risen sharply.

"But we have the advantage in knowing we have a strong partner (West Germany) on our side," de Maiziere said. "Our problems are minor when compared with the living standards of our neighbors in Eastern Europe."

De Maiziere paid tribute to the citizens groups who led the push for democratic change in East Germany in recent years.

"They were able to enforce freedom because they had freed themselves from fear," he said.