FRG since 1990






The Collapse of Communism and German Reunification



For earlier history, see History of the FRG, History of Berlin, History of the GDR

Late in the 1980es, the GDR was technically broke. It's political leadership was aging, there was talk of a gerontocracy of CONCRETE HEADS. Meanwhile, the wind of change was blowing from the east, where the Soviet government under MICHAIL GORBACHEV advocated reforms; the East German government, however, was sceptical, preferring the Brezhnev style policy.
In East Berlin and East Germany there were some signs of strong discontent with the political situation. When a rock group, the EURYTHMICS, staged an open-air concert in West Berlin, not too far from the wall, musiv fans from East Berlin approached to wall. Pushed away by secret police, they chanted "Die Mauer muss weg" (the wall has to be removed). Ronald Reagan, on a visit to Berlin, publicly called on Mr. Gorbachev to "tear down this wall".
All over East Germany, civic groups advocating peace promotion (going so far as to refuse military service) and the protection of the environment were founded, tolerated, but closely observed by the East German secret service, as were activities of groups under the umbrella of the Lutheran church.
In 1989, the year the GDR celebrated it's 40th anniversary, events unfolded with a breathtaking speed. Early in the year Hungary symbolically removed parts of the iron curtain. That summer, ca. 25.000 East German tourists staying in Hungary declared their will not to return to East Germany, but to West Germany instead; for them, a refugee camp was organized by the Red Cross. In Prague, Czechoslovakia, hundreds of East Germans climbed over the fence of the West German embassy, demanding to be permitted to move into West Germany. Both the governments of Czechoslovakia and Hungary were embarassed, because they were obliged by treaty with East Germany not to let their citizens go west.
It has to be pointed out that Every citizen of Germany within it's borders of 1937, by that time, was, by the authorities of the Federal Republic, regarded a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany, that included the entire population of East Germany. Thus the embassy campers in Prague were welcomed by the West German embassy, and West German media were euphoric in their coverage of these events.
Back in East Germany everybody was aware of what was going on, as the vast majority regularly watched West German news broadcasts. There was a sense of last-minute panic. In the industrial city of LEIPZIG, concerned citizens met in the NICOLAI CHURCH every Monday afternoon, to peacefully demonstrate after service. These demonstrations quickly grew in size. They carried banners articulating a variety of political topics, many of them focussing on the demand of the removal of travel restrictions. Meanwhile the GDR officially celebrated it's 40th anniversary. State guest Michail Gorbachev received more applause than host Erich Honecker; Gorbachev warned the GDR leadership : Who comes too late is punished by life.
On the evening of November 9th 1989, 70.000 demonstrators marched from the Nikolaikirche through the streets of Leipzig. Honecker had ordered the CHINESE SOLUTION (i.e. violent clampdown), but the armed forces refused. Honecker stepped down, succeeded by EGON KRENZ. The SED central committee held an emergency meeting, after which speaker GUENTER SCHABOWSKI announced on East German TV : from tomorrow, everybody will be permitted to freely travel out of the country and back in, providing a minimum of identification.
The message was heard, the phrase "from tomorrow" overheard. The very same night, tenthousands of East Berlinners approached the wall at BRANDENBURG GATE, the most symbolic point along the inner-German border. Customs officials were at a loss, as they had no instructions. After a couple of hours, the border was opened and thousands of East Berlinners poured into West Berlin, most of them strolling down Kurfuerstendamm Avenue for the first time in their life.
Meanwhile West Berlinners had gathered on the western side of the wall, and Berlin celebrated a wild spontaneous party, broadcast by TV, a number of adventurous young men had scaled the wall, some of them had brought hammer and chisel and began immediately with dismantling it.

The opening of the wall, although somehow accidental, marked a point of no return. The new administration had to cooperate with representatives of civic organizations and take on drastic reforms. All interestic political groups were invited to join the ROUND TABLE TALKS. HANNS MODROW was appointed head of the government. He immediately visited Bonn, asking for vital credits.
Helmut Kohl refused such credits, arguing that the East German government was not democratically elected and thus not legitimate. The East German round table planned elections for may, which were then rescheduled for March 18th.

Meanwhile, Helmut Kohl, invited to speak in East Germany, publicly talked of the possibility of reunification and offered West Germany's entire trade surplus to fix East Germany's economic integration. Among the new political groups at the round table, many had dreamt of a reformed East Germany; the organizations now lacked manpower and finances to properly compete in an election with established parties, be it party organizations which for decades had been tools of the SED political system. The elections were easily won by the Eastern CDU, the sister party of Helmut Kohl's CDU.

Unification now seemed to be on track in Germany, but there were diplomatic obstacles to be overcome. US president Bush was cautiously positive about the project, as it would free US troops still stationed in Germany. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and French president Francois Mitterand actually were against it, but could not say so in public, had their governments been allies of the Federal Republic for decades.
The deciding hurdle was the Soviet Union. Gorbachev was not principally against unification, but objected to East Germany thus becoming a part of the NATO organization. Finally a solution was found : unified Germany would remain a part of NATO, but NATO troops would not be stationed on East German soil. Unified Germany would reduce it's troops to a total strength of 370.000 men, indicating that Germany had peaceful intentions. And Germany provided the ailing USSR with credits. Further, West Germany signed a treaty with Poland, accepting the present borders (thus giving up the claim on provinces lost in 1945).

On July 1st 1990, the West German DM was introduced in East Germany. In East Germany, 5 Bundeslaender (states) were reintroduced, which in turn applied to be accepted as member states of the Federal Republic. On October 3rd 1990, the parliaments of both East and West Germany celbrated unification. In December, unified Germany held a parliamentary election so that the country had a government elected by the entire nation. Within roughly one year, unification had been achieved.
During the campaign (which Helmut Kohl's CDU won handily), opposition candidate Oskar Lafontaine (SPD) argued that unification should be approached much more cautiously, as it would result in much higher costs, which at that time could not even be calculated. The voters did not want to listen to a Cassandra.

The political act of unification was one thing, the merger of two segments of a nation which had been separated into two states based on different ideologies another. In East Germany, many office holders (judges, administrative staff, professors, teachers) had to be replaced or retrained. The entire infrastructure - streets, highways, telephone lines (hopelessly inadequate) had to be modernized. East Berlin, for the next decade, turned into the continent's biggest construction site. The decision was taken to move Germany's state administration to Berlin (a move that took almost 10 years to accomplish, as Bonn resisted it). East Germany's economy had to be adapted to the market economy, which meant that many enterprises were shut down, the remainder privatized. The ecological damages had to be addressed.

It turned out that many East Germans had cultivated too rosy a picture of the Golden West. Unemployment reached double the figures in the east as compared to the west, although workers in the east received only 80 % of the wages of their western colleagues - the eastern industry was much less productive. So, after some time, a sense of nostalgia - OSTALGIE (Eastalgia) appeared. The old SED, renamed PdS, cashed in on protest votes which missed the social security provided by the East German state and increased it's share among East German voters, becoming a stable factor in German politics.





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This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 12th 2004

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