The incredibly long and vanishingly short eleven months from the Fall of the Berlin Wall until German Reunification.
When telling the amazing story of how Germany came back together in October 1990, the period from the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 to Germany’s official reunification is generally completely skipped over. Some might even wonder, "Why didn't Germany Reunify immediately after the Fall of the Wall? However, those momentous eleven months would change Germany forever and no change comes without opposition.
The Berlin Wall first opened at the Bornholmer Strasse checkpoint, late in the evening of Thursday the 9th of November 1989. What had started months earlier with protests chanting the simple phrase “We are the people” was now an immense swelling of the citizenry that had opened the Wall and started a massive celebration. By the time the weekend-long party was drawing to a close, and many Berliners in both the East and West were nursing their hangovers, the ruling Socialist Unity Party of East Germany had a problem that no hangover cure could fix. The Wall had opened, they could not just close it again.
The only option left was to let the people decide. This would mean the SED would give up their monopoly on power for the first time in over forty years and allow other political parties to operate in East Germany. At a round table discussion of these parties in December 1989, it was agreed that the first free and open elections for this part of Germany since the Nazi regime would be held of the 6th May 1990.
West German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl saw that the opportunity for reunification might only be available for a short period and only ten days after the fall of the Wall, he outlined a 10 point plan for German reunification to the West German parliament. Although the speech was very popular in West Germany, other world leaders had an icier reaction, with British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher coming close to unintentionally quoting an English football chant when she stated, “We defeated the Germans twice! And now they’re back!”
The response from other European leaders was similarly worried about the possibility of a strong, unified Germany, but President George Bush Sr in the USA saw no reason to oppose it. After a few concessions regarding NATO and 55 billion Deutsche Mark, even the Soviet Union would support German Unification. With Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s quote “The Germans must decide for themselves which path they choose to follow” probably going a long way to winning him the 1990 Nobel peace prize.
By the time East Germany’s May 1990 election rolled around, the ruling Socialist Unity Party had changed its name to the more democracy-friendly Party of Democratic Socialism, but it had little effect on the voters, with the PDS coming in a distant third place. Winning the only free election in the history of the ironically named German Democratic Republic, was the Christian Democratic Union of Lothar de Maizére (the East German brother of Helmut’s Kohl’s West German CDU, and heralding the political arrival of a young scientist named Angela Merkel). After this election result, negotiations on a speedy reunification gathered momentum and over the following months many treaties and agreements would be made, with the most memorable being on the 20th September 1990 when the West German Bundestag passed the Unification treaty 442-47 and the East German Volkskammer passed the same treaty 299-80, thus effectively voting for their own abolition as a nation.
At midnight on the 3rd October 1990, this treaty would come into effect. East Germany would cease to exist, the five East German states would join with the “Bundesland” of a West Germany that no longer needed the “west” in their name. Germany was one. Berlin would also officially reunify as the German flag flew above the Brandenburg Gate and fireworks exploded in the sky as the clock stuck midnight.
After thirty years, there is now a plethora of opinions available as to the mistakes made in this period. Some believe it moved too fast, that the apparatus of the West moved like a hippopotamus over the institutions of the East. There might be validity in this belief, as still East German average wage lags behind the west, while East German unemployment remains consistently higher. However, in large surveys conducted in the populations of the East and West, both overwhelmingly consider German unification a good thing, and a higher percentage are happier with their life now than in similar surveys conducted in the early Nineties. Nothing happens overnight and there is clearly still more work to be done, but the German people continue to cry out, “We are one people!”