German Reunification: New Possibilities, New Perspectives, and Our Future Now In Our Hands

Antje Nötzold

Chemnitz University of Technology

Dr. Antje Nötzold is a Research Associate and Lecturer in the Department of International Relations at Chemnitz University of Technology. Additionally, she receives a scholarship for her habilitations thesis from the Konrad-Adenauer- Foundation. She is a member of the Working Group of Young Foreign Policy Experts of the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation and has participated in the Expert Advisory Group “European and South Mediterranean Actors – Partners in Conflict
Prevention and Resolution,” the Manfred Wörner Seminar, organized by the Federal Ministry of Defense and the German Marshall Fund, as well as the International Visitor Leadership Program of the U.S. State Department.

Dr. Nötzold holds a PhD in Political Science from the Chemnitz University of Technology and a Magister degree with a double major in political science and business administration. In her dissertation, “The energy policy of the EU and the People’s Republic of China. Implications for European Supply Security,” published in 2011, she analyzed the characteristics of common EU and Chinese energy policies and their respective priorities. The dissertation also identified the interdependencies of both consumers through policies and markets with regard to securing supplies.

As Germany prepares to celebrate the 30th anniversary of reunification on October 3, 2020, AICGS is pleased to offer insights into what the past three decades have meant for the country and what to look for going forward.

The “Wende” and finally the termination of the GDR turned the world upside down for the people in eastern Germany. On the one hand, it changed their daily lives in a positive way with the new opportunities of free travel and an unknown richness of consumer goods. No more queueing for bananas, like a running gag about East Germans goes. Nevertheless, on the other hand it meant uncertainty for families with regard to the rapid all-encompassing unemployment and restructuring of many aspects of work. Our parents often struggled with the changes in their everyday working lives, some even being the “losers” in the rearrangement of the system when their company closed or the professions they trained for vanished. For my generation, in their early years in school when the country united, the discomfiture was perceptible and we questioned how our future would be in this new country. The look into the future was not always pleasant, especially in the 1990s, with high unemployment in the east misleading many to think our prospects would not be particularly rosy. And while it was foreseeable with the aging “Babyboomer” generation and the decline in the birth rate after 1990, no one talked about the coming shortage of skilled labor. However, we did not notice the biggest changes for our personal futures at first: it was not restrictions that determined our development, but rather independence and self-determination.

It was not restrictions that determined our development, but rather independence and self-determination.

Not only the school system and teaching content changed; it was an especially big change in the criteria about the path each of us could pursue. In GDR times government authorities decided who would gain admission to “Oberschule” (secondary school), the possibility to do one’s A levels, about a place at a university, and the field of study based on you and your family’s mindset and attitude toward the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). In contrast, now our educational choices and our qualifications were in our own hands (or heads). Our performance and minds became the decisive factors for our future. The world was at our feet.  However, we first needed to acquaint ourselves with the abundant possibilities to work and study abroad and to actually explore the world.

I profited incredibly from these possibilities. As a student, I studied in Australia and did an internship in Brussels. Later, I took advantage of opportunities for research trips to China and the United States, for transatlantic exchange programs, international conferences, and academic exchanges in more than a dozen further countries. And yet, I am just one example out of countless young people, starting with my generation of “Wendekinder,” who could benefit from an open door to the world and now have international contacts on a regular or even daily basis and are naturally part of an international community.

Thus, from my perspective the biggest benefit, I would even say gift, of 1990 is not only that the Iron Curtain fell due to the courage of our parents’ generation. Together with huge political effort in both parts of Germany we achieved reunification, opening up the world for my generation and giving us the possibility of a new future. Many used the new freedom and opportunities, which today are regretfully often taken for granted, to expand their horizons. Occasions like thirty years of reunification should remind us not to forget these achievements and opportunities—and to be grateful.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.