Monday, February 27, 2012

German Reunification of 1990

After 45 years of separation, Germany was reunified in 1990, less than a year after the dramatic fall of the Berlin wall.

In 1945, just after World War II, the defeated Germany was reduced in size and the remainder was divided among the four principal allies: Britain, France, the United States (USA) and the Soviet Union (USSR). It was intended to be a temporary arrangement until the reunification of the country. This temporary arrangement was to remain for 45 years.

Power Politics and Fear of a United Germany

Due to her central position in Europe, Germany was very important in post second world war power politics. Both the West and the Soviets wanted her under their own influence and therefore were reluctant to dispense with the control they had. The West wanted a unified Germany based on free elections while the Soviets wanted a Germany under their control. However, some parties in the West, especially the French, were apprehensive of the reunification of Germany, because of their knowledge that they would be weaker than a unified Germany. Her recent agonies at the hands of the Germans in two wars were still not distant memories.

In 1946, when the Americans wanted to bring the four zones in to a common economic zone, the French chose to disagree based on this apprehension. Naturally, the USSR also disagreed. Thus the Bizonia was born with the economic unification of U.S. and British sectors.

However, in 1948, with the Czechoslovak coup, the French realized the larger threat from the East and chose to agree to the lesser evil, that of a unified Germany. With the three zones joined economically, Trizonia was born.

Germany East and West

Introduction of monetary reform in Trizonia led to the Berlin blockade which ended in 1949 with a Western victory. In May 1949, Trizonia was declared an independent federal republic, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). In the following October, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was declared in the Soviet sector.

For many years FRG enjoyed wide diplomatic recognition whereas the GDR was recognized only by the socialist camp. The GDR economy was based on the Stalinist model which did not help the country. In June 1953, the workers rioted against the “workers’ state”. Soon economic difficulties and political repression was forcing thousands to leave the GDR through the still open city of Berlin.

To stop this emigration, the GDR authorities erected die Berliner Mauer, the Berlin Wall, on August 13, 1961.

Berlin Wall Falls

Although they were virtually prisoners of their regime, the Germans in the GDR were not totally ignorant of the life in the FRG. Radio and even television signals coming from the West could be picked up and many people had relatives in the West. The fact that they enjoyed a better standard of living than other Eastern Europeans did not matter for the GDR citizens because they were aware of a much better life across the wall and the border fences.

The wave of reform sweeping through Eastern Europe had a direct effect on the GDR when Hungary opened her borders. GDR citizens wanted to leave. As the regime was celebrating its fortieth anniversary in Berlin, it was crumbling on the streets across of the country. With Gorbachev’s USSR not willing to intervene to protect the communists, they had no ally. The replacement of the long standing leader Erich Honecker on October 18 came far too late to save the regime. Its fate was sealed on November 9, 1989, as the Berlin wall fell.

Last Days of the GDR

With the Communist Socialist Unity Party (SED) out of power, the GDR prepared for its first and what turned out to be the only democratic election. On March 18, 1990, East German Christian Democrats, with the support of the FRG Chancellor Helmut Kohl, swept the polls whereas the former Communists polled only 16% of the votes. Lothar de Maiziere became the first and only democratically elected prime Minister of the GDR.

Two months later, on May 18, the FRG and GDR signed a treaty by which they agreed upon monetary, economic and social union between the states. On July 1, 1990, the Deutsche Mark was introduced to the GDR replacing the East German Mark. With the economies and societies linked, the political reunification became just a formality. The reunification treaty was signed on August 31, to be ratified by the legislatures of both countries with vast majorities. On October 3, 1990, Germany was reunited officially.


Cyril E. Black, Jonathan E. Helmreich, Paul C. Helmreich, Charles P. Issawi, A. James McAdams. Rebirth: A History of Europe Since World War Two, Westview Press (1992)

Mills, Clifford W., Angela Merkel, Chelsea House, NY (2008)

Taylor, Frederick. The Berlin Wall: A World Divided. Harper Collins (2007)

Opening of the Berlin Wall and Unification

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