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Opening of the Berlin Wall and Unification
November 9, 1989, will be remembered as one of the great moments of
German history. On that day, the dreadful Berlin Wall, which for twenty-eight
years had been the symbol of German division, cutting through the heart
of the old capital city, was unexpectedly opened by GDR border police.
In joyful disbelief, Germans from both sides climbed up on the Wall, which
had been called "the ugliest edifice in the world." They embraced each
other and sang and danced in the streets. Some began chiseling away chips
of the Wall as if to have a personal hand in tearing it down, or at least
to carry away a piece of German history. East Germans immediately began
pouring into West Germany. Within a few days, over 1 million persons per
day had seized the chance to see their western neighbor firsthand.
On November 13, Hans Modrow was elected minister president of the GDR.
After Chancellor Kohl had presented his Ten-Point Plan for the step-by-step
unification of Germany to the Bundestag on November 28, the Volkskammer
struck the leadership role of the SED from the constitution of the GDR
on December 1. The SED Politburo resigned on December 3, and Krenz stepped
down as chairman of the Council of State on December 6. One day later,
the Round Table talks started among the SED, the GDR's other political
parties, and the opposition. On December 22, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
was opened for pedestrian traffic.
During January 1990, negotiations at the Round Table continued. Free
elections to the Volkskammer were scheduled for March 18. The conservative
opposition, under CDU leadership, waged a joint campaign under the banner
of the Alliance for Germany, consisting of the CDU, the German Social
Union (Deutsche Soziale Union--DSU), a sister party of the CSU, and the
Democratic Awakening (Demokratischer Aufbruch--DA). The elections on March
18 produced a clear majority for the Alliance for Germany. On April 12,
a CDU politician, Lothar de Maizière, was elected the new minister president.
The unusually poor showing of the SPD in these final East German elections
may be explained by the party's reluctance to support German unification
and also by the fact that the public was aware of the close contacts that
the SPD leadership had maintained with the SED over the years. The success
of the conservative parties was repeated in the communal elections on
May 6, which were seen as a correction to the manipulated vote of the
As a precondition for German unity, the Two-Plus-Four Talks among the
two German governments and the four victorious powers of World War II
began on May 5. Held in four sessions, the last of which was on September
12, the talks culminated in the signing of the Treaty on the Final Settlement
with Respect to Germany (the Two-Plus-Four Treaty). These talks settled
questions relating to the eastern border of Germany, the strength of Germany's
military forces, and the schedule of Allied troop withdrawal from German
During a visit to Moscow in early February, Chancellor Kohl had received
assurances from Gorbachev that the Soviet Union would respect the wishes
of both Germanys to unite. Kohl realized that in order to seize this historic
opportunity for Germany, swift action and final determination were crucial.
In a cordial meeting between Gorbachev and Chancellor Kohl on July 16,
unified Germany's membership in NATO and its full sovereignty were conceded
by the Soviet president.
The first concrete step toward unification was the monetary, economic,
and social union of West Germany and East Germany on July 1, as had been
agreed in May in a treaty between the two German states. The monetary
union introduced the deutsche mark into East Germany. Although there had
been concern about the GDR's precarious financial situation, the full
extent of the disastrous consequences of forty years of communist rule
only came to light in the summer of 1990. It was soon clear that the first
massive aid package for the East German economy, comprising DM115 billion,
was just the beginning of a long and expensive rebuilding of a country
reduced to shambles by the SED.
Divided by futile discussions about the speed of unification, the new
government coalition in East Berlin had begun to fall apart during July
1990, when its SPD members resigned. Persuaded by the mounting economic
and social problems that unification was necessary, the Volkskammer finally
agreed on October 3, 1990, as the date of German unification.
On the occasion of the first free elections in the GDR, Chancellor Kohl
took the opportunity to publicly express his gratitude to the United States,
which had been Germany's most reliable ally during the process of unification.
Once the first prerequisite for future unification had been established,
namely, the willingness of Gorbachev to consider negotiations on unification
in light of the dramatic events of the fall of 1989, the consent of the
other victorious powers had to be secured.
Statements voicing concerns and even fears of a reemergence of an aggressive
unified Germany suddenly appeared in the international press and media,
as well as in unofficial remarks made by political figures throughout
Europe. Even the FRG's major NATO partners in Europe--Britain and France--had
become rather comfortable with the prevailing situation, that is, being
allied with an economically potent, but politically weak, semisovereign
Although lip service in support of future unification of Germany was
common in the postwar era, no one dreamed of its eventual realization.
When the historic constellation allowing unification appeared, swift and
decisive action on the part of Chancellor Kohl and the unwavering, strong
support given by the United States government for the early completion
of the unification process were key elements in surmounting the last hurdles
during the final phase of the Two-Plus-Four Talks.
The unification treaty, consisting of more than 1,000 pages, was approved
by a large majority in the Bundestag and the Volkskammer on September
20, 1990. After this last procedural step, nothing stood in the way of
formal unification. At midnight on October 3, the German Democratic Republic
joined the Federal Republic of Germany. Unification celebrations were
held all over Germany, especially in Berlin, where leading political figures
from West and East joined the joyful crowds who filled the streets between
the Reichstag building and Alexanderplatz to watch a fireworks display.
Germans celebrated unity without a hint of nationalistic pathos, but with
dignity and in an atmosphere reminiscent of a country fair. Yet the world
realized that an historic epoch had come to a peaceful end.