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Die Wende And Reunification Essay, Research Paper

Die Wende and Reunification

Tracy Barrett

For nearly forty-five years the now-unified country of Germany was divided into two separate

countries, each with its own currency, political system, and social structure. For twentv-eight of those

years a physical barrier, the Berlin Wall, enforced the separation of Berlin and stood as a symbol of the

separation of Germany into East and West. More than just separating Germany, however, the wall also

divided the world into East and West sectors, serving as a symbol for the Cold War itself. The so-called

Autumn Revolution of 1989 culminated in a permanent opening of the wall on 9 November 1989, a date

that became known as die Wendc,, or the turning point- In the following year, the German Democratic

Republic (East Germany) and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) reunited. Everyone

demanding free access from East Berlin to the West, the leaders responsible for this change in policy,

the masses of East Berliners crossing into West Germany, and the millions of people around the world

who watched this all on television, recognized the historical significance of these events.[1] With the fall

of the wall, the reunification, which had been so desired but completely unobtainable for so many years,

materialized not only as a possibility but almost as a certainty.

The euphoria and accompanying anxiety that surrounded the ninth of November quickly turned to

frustration and outright fear for many people in both the former Germanys and around the world. The

new financial issues, unemployment problems, and social concerns of reunification found their roots in

the two widely different political and economic structures that had prevailed in the two countries:

democracy, with a free-market system in the West, and communism, with a state-run economy in the

East. In the years immediately following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent reunification of

Germany, many Germans and non-Germans alike believed both to be positive events in history; when

considering the historv of Germany, however, others viewed the events with uncertainty. As the

reunited Germany enters its sixth year of existence, concerns raised at the beginning of the reunification

process about the new country re-attaining its historical military threat are thought to be unjustified,

while fears about the detrimental effect on the national economy have been verified.

As the two Germanys united, the historv of their separation became signifiant. Following the end of

World War II, the Allies took over the defeated Third Reich. To make this occupation proceed more

smoothly, the Potsdam Agreement of 1945 divided “Greater Germany” into four zones, each occupied

by one of the Allies: Great Britain, the United States, France, and the Soviet Union. Each supporting

country then worked to help rebuild the damaged area and reconstruct the political and economic

systems of its zone using its own such structures as a guide.[2] For the western part of the former

Germany, capitalism and democracy were the inodi operatidi under Great Britain, France, and the

United States. The Soviet Union, which held the territory in the eastern part of the country, established

a Communist government with a socialist economic system. Berlin, the former capital of Germany,

although lying entirely within the Soviet zone, was also partitioned into a miniature version of the zones

of the whole country.

In the years following World War II, the differences between the communist system of the Soviet

Union and the capitalist system of the other three Allies became more pronounced and at times led to

power struggles over the defeated German country. Considering western Berlin to be a “symbol of

resistance to the imposition of Communist rule,”[3] the Soviet Union attempted a blockade of the

western zones of the city in June 1948 in order to bring these sections under its control. The Western

powers, determined not to lose this power struggle with Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, initiated an

airlift of approximately one and a half million tons of supplies to the blockaded Berlin. By May 1949,

Stalin realized that without attacking the planes of the Western forces, thereby likely initiating another

war, the blockade had to fail.[4]

In 1949 as well, the Western Allies (who were now beginning to seem more like enemies themselves,

with the three western democracies pitted against the communist Soviet Union) “sponsored the

establishment of hostile client states called the Federal Republic [ERG] in the West and the German

Democratic Republic [GDR] in the East.”[5] The one Germany was divided into two essentially enemy

countries. The “iron curtain” Churchill had pointed out in 1946[6] had now extended to include East

Germany. West Berlin was “the one remaining hole in the curtain, through which manv refugees from

the East escaped every day.”[7] During a twelve year period, three to four million registered refugees

escaped through this hole, until the GDR in August 1961, under Erich Honecker, constructed a concrete

wall through the heart of West Berlin, cementing the division of the countries and the hole between


Following the wall’s construction, the two countries developed quite differently. In the period between

1961 and 1989, West Germanv continued to prosper under capitalism, surpassing both the United States

and Japan in the value of its exports through the 1980s.[9] Although East Germany’s economy also

grew, when compared with West Germany, both the GDR’s economy and its technological progress

suffered under Communism. The average income per capita was only compared to a $19,000 per capita

income for the same year in West Germany.[11] As Konrad Jarausch noted in The Rush to Germaii

Unity, the communist government of East Germany permitted the deterioration of transportation routes

and communication networks, which led to the decline in economic output.[12]

While the differing political and economic situations in each country factored into die Wende and

reunification, the cultural differences were the most evident. One of the most pronounced differences

between the former East and West Germans can be found in the people’s response to authority. In

After the Wall, John Borneman quoted an East German man on how the typical communist

programmed fear was a factor in the Autumn Revolution: “The reason the Autumn Revolution was free

of violence was not because reason ruled the streets, but because people had Angst [fear].” Borneman

added that “[the East Germans] were trained to be passive, submissive.”[13] Perhaps it was because of

this passivity that the beginning of the end of communist dominance was almost free from violence.

The Autumn Revolution, a series of “bloodless” demonstrations and mass emigration of East Germans,

began in early August 1989 when Hungary, and later Czechoslovakia and IJoland, agreed to open their

western borders to the refugees from the GDR. By 9 November, the East German government, unable

to appease its citizens in anv other way, announced a new travel policy, meant to take effect on 10

November, which would allow “Official permission to go directly to West Germany, either to visit or to

emigrate.”[14] Through a misunderstanding of the announcement, however, the message reached the

half million demonstrators in East Berlin that they now had unrestricted access to the West. The

crowds overwhelmed the border guards, who had not been made aware of the coming policy, and

forced them to open the gates.[15] In the first four days following the initial opening of the border, 4.3

million East Germans traveled to the West. Most of those 4.3 million people returned to East Germany,

but during the whole year, over 300,000 East Germans emigrated to the West as refugees.[16]

In spite of the potential political, economic, and social problems with reunification, the people of East

C;ermanv began the process by placing the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in power with 41

percent of the vote in the 12 April 1990 elections. The plan for unification, which the CDU had

proposed and the people had embraced, called for “rapid and complete unification through absorption of

the GDR into the Federal Republic.”[17] On 1 July, the economic reunification of the two Germanys

went into effect. By the end of the following month, the governments of the FRG and the GDR had

agreed on a plan for political union to take effect on 3 October. The only remaining barrier to

reunification was the acceptance of the plan by the Allies, including the Soviet Union, who still had

“residual rights” in Germany. On 1 October, the Soviet Union, France, Great Britain, and the United

States agreed that their exclusive right to decide matters about Germany, which they held because of

the German defeat in World War II, would end with the reunification. On 3 October 1990, the German

Democratic Republic ceased to exist and the two Germanys were one nation again.

Long before the vote to relinite Germany was secured, however, speculation about reunification had

begun. The Readers Guide to Periodic Literature for 1990 cited 220 entries under “German

Reunification” for United States periodicals. Many of these articles simply reported on the progress of

the negotiations, but far more indicated the fears and frustrations both the Germans and the world held

about the seeming certainly of reunification. The authors of several articles jumped to the

not-inconceivable conclusion that the unification of Germany would bring about the end of NATO.[18]

This prediction seems plausible given that NATO is a product of the Cold War and that the division of

Germany was the most clear symbol of the division of the world into the East-West mentality that

fueled the Cold War. Some writers from the soon-to-be-former Eastern bloc Countries lamented that if

reunification did occur, the 45-year separate identity of East Germany would “disappear through a

reunification that may make it a parenthetical episode in German history.”[19]

Perhaps the greatest fears raised about reunification regarded what kind of role a unified Germany

would hold in Europe and in the world. The fear that a united Germany would present a military threat

centered not so much on the power it could once again hold but more on the atrocities the nation

committed during the second World War. This fear surfaced when Germany was initially split into

zones. Ease of occupation for the Allies was the most widely presented reason for dividing the country,

but The New Yorker attributes this action to another reason: “Germany was split, in part, to punish it for

the Holocaust and to prevent such a tragedy from happening agaiii.”[20] In an interview, German writer

Ciinter Grass expressed this viewpoint:

There can be no demand for a new version of a unified nation that in the course of barely seventy-five years, though under several managements, fulled the history books, ours and theirs, with suffering, rubble, defeat, millions of refugees, millions of dead, and the burden of crimes that can never be undone. [21]

Grass’s fear roots itself in the belief that reestablishing the country responsible for the holocaust would

create the same conditions for a similar, although not necessarily as widespread or overt, display of

hatred. In 1990, Peter Schneider presented a theory that supported this fear. He called it the

“deep-freeze” theory and maintained that the East Germans would emerge from the oppression of the

communist system and “take up exactly where they left off–in this case, forty-five years ago.”[22] If

this theory were correct, then the former East Germans would once again pick up their intense

nationalistic feelings, their support for a fascist leader, and their dangerous anti-Semitism. Earlier in his

book, The German Comedy Schneider recounted that he heard the phrase “Wir sind ein Folk! . . .

(We’re all one Folk!)” in a rally for unification and was reminded of the Nazi regime by the tone of

voices. He quickly pointed out that this rallying should not be interpreted as fascism, but that it is not

difficult to make the connection between the nationalism leading up to World War II and the

nationalistic fervor over reunification.[23] A West German playwright, Heiner Mller, also addressed the

issue of German nationalism: “The worst kind of nationalism-repressed nationalism still exists, especially

in East Germany.”[24]

Although 50 years have passed since the end of Nazi rule, Germans still have difficulty overcoming the

guilt and shame that they themselves feel, or should be expected to feel by the rest of the world: “It’s

not considered nice for a German to be proud of Germany … It always comes back to the 12 years of

Nazi history,” points out a German foreign-language correspondent for an engineering firm.[25] For

many Jews, the prospect of reunification seemed especially difficult to embrace. Irene Dische, a Jewish

intellectual, observed that on 9 November, qhen celebrating the opening of the Berlin Wall, no one

remembered a very different kind of revelry on thw same evening in 1938.[26] Fifty-one years earlier,

on 9-10 November, was Kristallnacht, when “Nazis attacked some two hundred synagogues, smashed

windows of Jewish-owned stores, and threw more than twenty thousand Jews into prisons and

camps,”[27] foreshadowing the Holocaust. Dische further pointed out that the entire idea of

reunification represents the idea of a return to the Germany of World War II.

Because the social and economic structure of East and West Germany differed so greatly at the time of

die Wende, both sets of Germans expressed anxieties about social and economic dislocation. One of

the greatest problems of reunification was the economic disruption of East Germanv caused bv the

Autumn Revolutions. By mid-summer of 1990, Eist Germany had a 20 percent unemployment or

underemployment rate.[28] In order to build East Germany to the technological level of West Germany,

the West Germans will have to pay an estimated Unfortunately, this burden greatlv diminished much of

the initial enthusiasm the Westerners felt for the prospect of reunification.

Now that the effects of reunification can be seen in Germany, the economic inequalities fostered by

years of separation into the East and West areas have resulted in economic problems for the entire

country. In an article from November 1994, a writer in Current History reported that “taking high

unemployment rates into account, Germany soon will approach a situation in which a little more than

one-third of the population must finance the education, subsistence, and health-care benefits of the other

two-thirds.”[30] On the other side of Germany, those Germans from the East often felt economically,

socially, and perhaps even intellectually inferior when faced with the prosperous West. The East

Germans also expressed feelings of fear about living in a capitalistic society, even though Capitalism

would help them gain the wealth which they envied of the West. Almost the entire population of the

GDR had known only state-controlled governments, first with fascism, then communism. Without the

strict control on their lives to which they had grown accustomed, people suspected that the East

Germans might not be able to function in a society where they control their own lives.[31]

All of the apprehensions and anxieties involving a united Germany were not powerful enough to stop the

swift process of reunification. But because so many legitimate fears were raised about why the two

countries should not reunite, Germans and non-Cermans alike have continued to monitor closely the

actions of Germany. Fears that the country would encourage demonstrations of hatred and more

specifically a return to fascism, however, still remain unsubstantiated. Reports of neo-nazi skinhead

actions have been circulated, but the United States has experienced as many if not more problems than

Germany. In fact, Germany has been very reluctant to involve its military in two recent wars. These

two conflicts, the Persian Gulf War and the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, in which many of the

world’s key military powers engaged, have been excellent tests of how the united Germany will conduct

itself militarily. Because Germany responded peacefully to these two tests, then chances are good that

the world will not have to fear an aggressive German military.

The first major test for the new position of Germany in the world came with the conflict in the Persian

Gulf. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait began in August of 1990, around the time of the reunification, with

the actual outbreak of war occurring a mere four months after the October date. Though it pledged $10

billion to the war effort, Germanv committed no troops.[32] Preoccupation with reunification, especially

in light of the financial burden it had placed on the country, could be one reason that Germany did not

become involved.[33] The March 1991 article “Germany & Japan: Missing in Action” discussed the

possible reasons Germany and Japan had not become militarily involved in the Persian Gulf War. One

striking and perhaps obvious conclusion can be drawn simply from the title of the article: “Lingering

memories, however faded of the horror of World War II make many Germans recoil at the idea of

actually going to war again.”[34] The author also stated that perhaps German politicians feared that the

“democratized” army would not perform as well as the other war-time armies of historic Germany,

thereby shaming the country.[35] The threat of the USSR producing a military dictatorship in light of its

unstable government was another reason offered. With 350,000 Russian soldiers at that time still

stationed in Germany, reported Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, National Review’s continental

correspondent, the fear of “a World War III beginning in Central Europe continues to be a very real


Perhaps the greatest reason Germany did not involve its armed forces in the Persian Gulf War is its

constitution. According to Article 57a of The Basic Law, “The Federation shall build up Armed Forces

for defence purposes…. Apart from defence, the Armed Forces may only be used to the extent

explicitly permitted by this Basic Law,”[37] which include only internal emergencies and natural

disaster. Germany could not commit troops because the war did not fall under any of these categories.

From its response to the Gulf War, it would seem that the fear of Germany as a military superpower is,

for the present, unfounded. However, a United Nations report raised allegations that German firms had

supplied Iraq with equipment used to make biological and chemical weapons and had also supplied

expertise on expanding the range of the Scud missiles. The chemical industry denied the charges, but

even the implication that Germans once again could be involved in gassing Jews, by providing Iraq with

ingredients for Zyklon-B, the same gas used in the Holocaust, creates serious misgivings for many

people about the new Germany.38 In January 1992, Iraqi officials confirmed that “they had bought large

quantities of materials from German companies to build centrifuges to enrich uranium for use in nuclear

weapons,”[39] Although German businesses were associated with this alleged atrocity, the German

government worked in close association with the United Nations to uncover the illegal connection

between the businesses and Iraq.

With the participants of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia ready to attempt peace, Germany once

again had an opportunity to demonstrate its new position in world affairs. In 1994, the German high

court passed a measure to allow German soldiers to participate in international peace-keeping missions

with the United Nations without violating the country’s constitution. With this striking change in policy,

Germany appears more ready to participate militarily on the international scene, perhaps by expanding

their domestic armed forces. In fact, a 1995 survey revealed that “85 percent of Germans believe the

country needs its own army, and 69 percent want to see that army serve in U.N. peace- keeping

operations.”[40] Sixty-one percent of Germans, however, still do not sup- port engaging their

countrymen in “peace-making” operations, during which the soldiers’ lives would most likely at risk.

These survevs show that the fears of a unified Germany starting another major warfare very


A reunited Germany has only been in existence for only six years, a fraction of the time since a united

Germany first was established in 1871. For this reason, analysts and observers of Germanv have relied

on predictions, not necessarily on proof, to show that the fears about the country’s military position in

the world are unfounded. The financial and economic fears, on the other hand, have proven to be verv

real. Time still is needed to determine whether the initial financial burdens of reLLrlifiCation will be

devastating or well worth the price to reunite a nation. In After the Wall, John Borneman asserts that

Berlin is “the twentieth century’s paradigmatic space–very major social upheaval of significance in this

century has either graced or scarred its surface.” Berlin has also emerged as the most svmbotic place

for both German separation and reunification. The city and the nation will still have to demonstrate

whether the reunification of Germany is a “grace” or a “scar” upon its surface.

End Notes

1. Konrad H. Jarausch, The Rush to German Unity (New York: Oxford University PRess, Inc., 1994),


2. Jarausch, 7.

3. Walter Laqueur, Europe in our Time: a History, 1945-1992 (New York: Penguin Gooks, 1992),


4. Ibid., 83.

5. Jarausch, 8.

6. Winston Churchill, “The ‘Iron Curtain’ Speech,” in The Western Tradition, ed. Eugene Weber

(Lexington, D.C. Heath and Company, 1995), 661-663.

7. Laqueur, 83.

8. Jarausch, 8.

9. Fergus M. Bordewich, “Can We Trust the Germans?,” Readers Digest (Dec. 1990):153.

10. Laqueur, 540.

11. The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1992, ed. Mark S. Hoffman (New York: Pharos Books,

1991), 761.

12. Laqueur, 541.

13. John Borneman, After the Wall: East Meets West in the New Berlin (New York: Basic Books,

Inc., 1991), 234.

14. Ashby Turner, Jr., Germany from Partition to Reunification (New Haven: Yale University,

1992), 234.

15. Ibid., 234. 16. Laqueur, 24.

17. Turner, 245.

18. Karen Breslau,”One People, One Country: A Scenario,” Newsweek (11 Dec. 1989), 34.

19. Robert Verdussen, “Doubts Among Eastern Europe’s Intellectuals: Will They Lose Their Identity?”

World Press Review (June 1990): 34.

20. “Notes and Comment” The New Yorker (5 March 1990): 31.

21. Abigale McCarthy, “‘Einig Vaterland!’: Old Fears & New Ones–I,” Commonweal (9 Feb. 1990): 73

22. Peter Schneider, The German Comedy (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Inc., 1990), 143.

23. Ibid., 49.

24. Sandra Petrignani, “Agonizing Over Reunification,” World Press Review (June 1990): 35.

25. Bordewich, 154.

26. Verdussen, 36.

27. Lynn Hunt, The Challenge of the West (Lexington: D.C. Heath and Company, 1995), 948.

28. Turner, 251.

29. Nelan, 56.

30. Gary L. Geipel, “German: Urgent Pressures, Quiet Change,” Current History (No. 1994): 359.

31. Ibid., 57.

32. Christopher Knowlton and Carla Rapoport, “Germany & Japan: Missing in Action,” Fortune (11

march 1991): 58.

33. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “Why Germany Hangs Back,” National Review (25 Feb. 1991): 23.

34. Knowlton, 57.

35. Kuehnelt-Leddihn, 23.

36. Ibid., 23.

37. Press and Information Office of the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany, The Basic

Law of the Federal Republic of Germany (Germany: Wiesbadener Graphische Betriebe, 1973), 46.

38. Andrew Bilski, “Eerie Echoes of the Past: Israel Protests Germany’s Role,” Maclean’s (18

February 1991): 31.

39. “Germany A-Arms Link Admitted,” Facts on File World News Digest (16 January 1992): 30.

40. John Marks, “Germany Conquers the Cringe Factor,” U.S. News and World Report (20 March

1995): 51.

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