Germany, united: In 1989, the people of Berlin celebrated the collapse of the Berlin Wall after over 40 years of division. A breathtaking year later, Germany stood on the international stage as a unified country embarking on a new journey to rediscover and redefine its role in international relations.
It seems so normal now. A unified Germany, as one of many; admittedly, the primus inter pares. The divided history is so distant, so last century. Its reunification is, perhaps, the world’s biggest geopolitical miracle of the past half century. When we speak about the euro, NATO, energy, politics, sports, climate matters, whatever, we speak about Germany. The impression is that this is the way it has always been. One Germany. Firmly embedded in NATO and the EU and the West. Never in doubt.
AICGS is pleased to present this collection of essays reflecting on the 25th anniversary of German unification in October 2015. We are grateful to those who have contributed to this collection, all of whom have been affiliated with and supported the Institute in many different capacities. These essays leave us with thoughts not only about …Read More
When German reunification happened in 1990, this fortunate turn of events corresponded strongly with the way the United States viewed the world. The right side had won, history had taken a good turn, and freedom had prevailed after a long standoff with the forces of oppression.
Twenty-five years ago, in October 1990, Germany achieved its unification. The Berlin Wall had been accidentally opened only the prior November. Events moved so quickly that they seemed pre-ordained. But were they? What lessons might we learn?
When Germany’s leaders gather on October 3 for the 25th anniversary of German unification, they will celebrate the progress they have made in integrating the eastern and western parts of the country and will likely also speak of the work still to be done in the ongoing process of unification. If last year’s festivities surrounding the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall are any indication, they will also praise the courageous East Germans for their Peaceful Revolution of 1989-90 and draw attention to the vast changes people in the east have experienced in transitioning into a very different system in the Federal Republic of Germany.
When the reunification of Germany became a reality in 1990, it was also time for the forecasters to take center stage. How long would it take until the East German economy had shaken off the consequences of 40 years of communism? And how long would it take until living standards in eastern Germany matched those in western Germany? Views on such issues differed greatly. The optimists’ camp was led by the German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, who held out the imminent prospect of “blossoming landscapes” in economic terms for the five new federal states. The “Aufbau Ost” development program was expected to last around half a decade. It was not only politicians, but also some economists who believed that it might be possible to catch up that fast.
Reunification was not only a seminal event for Germany. While inspiring and giving hope to people across Europe and around the world, it closed a chapter of history that began with the rise of national socialism and World War II. Today, nations across Central and Eastern Europe stand tall as proud democracies. The vision of a “Europe, whole, free, and at peace” may not yet have been fully realized; but the “partnership in leadership” with a reunited Germany that President George H.W. Bush foresaw is indeed very real.
Twenty-five years on, it is hard for many to remember that nothing about German unification was preordained. Leaders at the time seized an extraordinary moment and created new realities on the ground. The twenty-fifth anniversary of Germany’s unification gives us the chance to remember and celebrate the remarkable outcome. Those reflections should also inspire us to look for opportunities today to make our world better.
On May 31, 1989, a determined U.S. President George H. W. Bush strode to a podium in Mainz, West Germany to explain his vision of what Europe could be like if the Cold War ever ended. “The passion for freedom cannot be denied forever,” President Bush told West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and others who gathered for his speech. “The world has waited long enough. The time is right. Let Europe be whole and free.”