German unemployment fell in February to the lowest level since the country reunited in 1990 as growth in Europe's biggest economy picks up, official data showed on Thursday.
The number of people registered as unemployed in Germany fell by a seasonally-adjusted 20,000 to 2.812 million in February, the Federal Labour Office said.
Analysts had been expecting a much shallower decline of 8,000 this month.
The unemployment rate -- which measures the jobless total against the working population as a whole -- was steady at 6.5 percent, also the lowest level since west and east Germany reunited in 1990 after the fall of the Berlin Wall the previous year.
In raw or unadjusted terms, the jobless total decreased by 14,600 to 3.017 million and the jobless rate eased to 6.9 percent in February from 7.0 percent in January, the labour office said.
Normally, unemployment rises in the winter as the cold weather forces companies in sectors such as construction to lay off workers.
"The German economy expanded by 1.6 percent in 2014, thanks to robust growth at the start and at the end of the year. In the fourth quarter alone, gross domestic product (GDP) grew by a seasonally-adjusted 0.7 percent, driven mainly by private consumption and construction investment," the labour office said.
"During the course of 2015, the economy will continue to improve. The labour market is relatively unaffected by any economic volatility and continues to develop positively," it added.
Economists welcomed the better-than-expected data.
"The data show very clearly that the positive trend is strengthening in the new year," said BayernLB economist Stefan Kipar.
The national minimum wage introduced in Germany at the start of the year "has so far not had any negative effect on the official data," the expert said.
He suggested that the comparatively mild weather at the turn of the year might have offset any negative effects from the minimum wage.
ING DiBa economist Carsten Brzeski said the German labour market "is continuing its success story, providing further evidence of strengthening domestic demand."
The labour market "remains the backbone of the German economy. Thanks to earlier reforms, ageing and immigration from crisis-battered eurozone countries, (it) has become solid as a rock and less affected by short-term volatility of the economy," Brzeski said.
Combined with low inflation and wage increases of around 3.0 percent, it came as no surprise that German consumers were currently very optimistic, the expert said.
Earlier on Thursday, the GfK market research institute GfK calculated that consumer confidence surged to its highest level in more than 13 years.
"Looking ahead, the labour market should remain a self-priming pump of the German economy and an important growth driver," Brzeski predicted.
IHS Global Insight analyst Timo Klein said that "overall, labour market conditions remain much healthier in Germany than in most other countries in Europe."
Underlying German economic growth "will strengthen now despite eurozone concerns following recent developments surrounding Greece and pertaining to lingering uncertainty stemming from current geopolitical crises in the Ukraine," he said.