From the Fall of the Wall to German Unity - A Timeline

Helmut Kohl © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image Helmut Kohl addresses a crowd in East Germany in 1990. (© picture-alliance/dpa) Twenty-five years later, the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 still resonates most deeply as the moment of German Unity.  The images of happy people from East and West embracing and celebrating on and around the Berlin Wall that night seem to tell the whole story about the triumph over division and oppression and the German people's yearning to be united.

In fact, the fall of the wall raised more questions about German unity than answers.  No one knew whether West Germany's allies and protectors would allow a reunited and fully sovereign Germany or whether the Soviet Union would tolerate a united Germany in NATO.  For that matter, there was not a clear understanding of public opinion on the matter in East and West Germany, and everyone recognized that integrating East Germany's command economy with West Germany's social market system was fraught with challenges.

The fact that the five states of East Germany acceded to West Germany on October 3, 1990, less than a year after the fall of the wall, is a testament to the strong leadership of the United States and its allies, the remarkable vision of the Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the strong will of the German people to be reunited.

The Wall Finally Falls – The night the world changed

Hans Modrow © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image November 13, 1989: Dresden party head Hans Modrow is tasked by the East German parliament with forming a new government. (© picture-alliance/dpa) Thursday, November 9, 1989, 8 pm –"GDR opens border" is the lead story of the West German TV news program "Tagesschau". At a live press conference, SED spokesman Günter Schabowski, announces new regulations permitting GDR citizens to travel to the West "without prior conditions." Still not quite believing what they had just heard, people from all over East Berlin travel to their nearest border crossing. By 11 pm a crowd of almost 20,000 people stands at the checkpoint on Bornholmer Strasse shouting "Open the gate, open the gate!" The border guards can no longer hold them back – the barrier is lifted. Soon afterwards the barriers are breached at Berlin's other border crossings and along the West German frontier. The Berlin Wall, that symbol of division, has fallen.

Transition – Civil rights activists become the driving force behind the GDR's democratization

© picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image December 7, 1989: A round table - a forum of representatives from old and new parties and organizations - convenes under the auspices of church representatives to put forward proposals to resolve the national crisis and meets regularly until new elections in March. (© picture-alliance/dpa) The opening of the Wall accelerates the SED's fall from power. Step by step the civil rights activists attempt to assume control. They succeed in establishing a "Round Table" in East Berlin that brings together representatives from the old and new political powers. Their main concerns are to instate free elections, draft a democratic constitution and to disband the intelligence service. By the end of the year the Round Tables are monitoring the daily operations of the state establishment and administration in a number of cities.

Prospects – Posing the German Question

Helmut Kohl © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image December 19, 1989: West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl arrives on his first official visit to the East Germany. In Dresden he is enthusiastically received with calls of "Helmut, Helmut" and chants of "Germany united fatherland." (© picture-alliance/dpa) The fall of the Wall suddenly placed the German Question on the global political agenda. While Washington signals encouragement, Poland is concerned about the validity of its western border, the United Kingdom and France see Germany as a new big power on the horizon, and the Soviet Union fears losing the fruits of its arduous war against Nazi Germany. In both East and West Germany the looming prospect of reunification is rejected above all by intellectuals. But the demonstrators who first shouted "We are the people!" now chant "We are one people!"

Powerless – The Stasi is dissolved and the secret archives are opened:

Stasi Headquarters © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image January 15, 1990: Some 2,000 demonstrators storm the headquarters of the Stasi secret police in East Berlin while 100,000 demonstrate in front of the building. (© picture-alliance/dpa) In October 1989 the secret intelligence service, called the Stasi, had 90,000 full time employees and roughly 174,000 "undercover collaborators" (spies). In January 1990, the Modrow government gives in to pressure and renounces plans to continue the Stasi's work altogether. At the same time that citizens have overcome the power of the Stasi and gained access to their files, these files are also crucial for investigating the SED dictatorship.

Triumph – The Peaceful Revolution in the GDR culminates in the parliamentary elections on March 18

Lothar de Maiziere © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image April 12, 1990: The first freely elected East German parliament elects Lothar de Maiziere (CDU, right) as prime minister. (© picture-alliance/dpa) In the first and only free parliamentary elections in the history of the GDR, 48 percent of voters vote for the "Allianz für Deutschland" (Alliance for Germany). The parties and alliances of the citizens' movement are only able to pull together around 27 percent of the vote. Every sixth voter votes for the PDS (the former SED). In April 1990 a grand coalition government consisting of the Alliance partners, SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei / Social Democratic Party) and Liberale (Liberals) is being formed under Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere.

Solidarity – 1990 is a year of exploring and providing support for all Germans

Opening the Berlin Wall © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image April 27, 1990: The chief of the East German border estimates that it will take up to five years to remove all the border installations, but the Berlin Wall will have all but disappeared by October. (© © picture-alliance/dpa)

In spring 1990, 85 percent of East Germans are in favor of reunification, while in West Germany the number is around 70 percent in January. Solidarity is more than just the "welcome money" of 100 DM which assists East Germans in discovering the West after the fall of the Wall. Länder (Federal States) and communities, parties, associations and organizations, along with many individuals establish partnerships. Churches preach German solidarity. They all support the democratic transformation and new economic beginning with money, personnel and expertise.

Alignment – The Deutschmark makes its debut in the East via the monetary, economic and social union

Currency Union © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image A young East German man shows off Deutschmarks he picked up on July 1, 1990, the day the currency union took effect. (© © picture-alliance/dpa)

East Berlin and Bonn are under extreme pressure. Every day 2,000 East Germans head for the West. The latter’s capacity to absorb the resettlers from the GDR has long been exhausted. As people on the street chant: "If the D-Mark comes to us we'll stay, if it doesn't we'll go away!", the monetary, economic and social union comes into force in July. Overnight, the introduction of the Deutschmark results in a market economy officially stretching from the Elbe to the Oder. The GDR's state owned industry is to be privatized by the Treuhandanstalt (German privatization agency), which was formed under the Modrow government.

2 + 4 = 1 The victors of World War II agree to the reunification of Germany

The Wall © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image July 21, 1990: Roger Waters performs the Pink Floyd rock-opera in a massive open-air spectacle where the wall once cut through Potsdamer Platz. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

German unification requires the approval of the victors of World War II who never completely gave up their rights and responsibilities regarding Germany as a whole. The 2 + 4 Negotiations between the Foreign Ministers of the two Germanys, the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and France have been searching for an agreement since May. In June the two German parliaments confirm the inviolability of Poland's western border. In July Helmut Kohl and Mikhail Gorbachev announce the Soviets' approval of Germany's NATO membership at a press conference. With the signing of the 2 + 4 Treaty on 12 September Germany regains its full sovereignty. The path to reunification is clear.

United – On October 3, 1990 the unification of Germany becomes reality

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Four days before its 41st anniversary, the GDR ceases to exist as a state. One million people celebrate in the streets and squares around the Reichstag. The upheaval in the GDR was one of several peaceful revolutions in central Eastern Europe to overcome not only the communist dictatorships, but also the division of Europe. Accordingly, 1989 has gone down in history as the year of European freedom.

© Stiftung Aufarbeitung

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