25 Years of German Unity: A Look Back

Twenty-five years ago marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new one: on October 3, 1990, East and West Germany were reunited into one country after four decades of division. Today, this historic date is known as German Unity Day – a national holiday that is celebrated across Germany much like Americans celebrate Independence Day.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

The path to German unity began with the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. On that historic evening, the divisive border between the East and the West was opened, and two million East Germans flooded across the border in just 48 hours to see the other side. The fall of the wall was the day of Germany’s liberation from the deadly border that kept friends and family members separated for decades. Many would consider this the most important political event of the second half of the 20th century. The collapse of the wall was the turning point that was followed by months of negotiations leading to East and West Germany’s political and economic unification.

“It changed my life,” Phillip Ackermann, Deputy Chief of Mission at the German Embassy, says about the fall of the wall. “I now believe that there are possibilities to improve societies. I believe in the possibility of change.”

Negotiations

Although the border between East and West had been opened, it took almost a year for German unification to occur, since the two regions were politically and economically diverse.  Two weeks after the fall of the wall, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl called for a 10-point program that would lead to the reunification of the East and the West. One major step forward was the fusion of the two economies in mid-1990. The East German currency was practically worthless after the fall of the wall, and a treaty that came into force on July 1 permanently replaced the East German Mark with the Deutsche Mark.

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is greeted on the campaign trail by a cheering crowd in the eastern German city of Erfurt on February 20, 1990, the year German reunification was achieved. © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is greeted on the campaign trail by a cheering crowd in the eastern German city of Erfurt on February 20, 1990, the year German reunification was achieved. (© picture-alliance/dpa) A few months later, on August 23, 1990, the East and West German parliaments ratified a resolution that would lead to a united Germany. This so-called “Unification Treaty” was signed on August 31. Meanwhile, both German parliaments also remained engaged in discussions with the Four Powers  that occupied Germany after World War II – namely, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. As a result of the Two Plus Four Treaty, which was signed on September 12, the Four Powers renounced the rights they still held in Germany, paving the path for a unified and sovereign county. The results of the Two Plus Four Treaty were announced on October 2, and one day later – on October 3, 1990 – Germany was officially reunified.

For Germans whose lives were held back by the East-German border, German Unity Day is particularly important, since it marks the day that solidified their freedom. On October 3 of this year, people from across the globe will gather in celebration of a day that represents freedom, change and possibilities not only for Germans, but for mankind as a whole.

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

Overview

25 Years German Unity

Images of East Germany: Then and Now

From No Man's Land to Nature Preserve – The Inner German Border

Border Post © picture-alliance/dpa

The iron curtain may be a blemish in history, but the former border between East and West Germany is a jewel of nature today.  Conservationists are working to preserve the unique eco-systems that flourished in the former no man's land.