In Honor of German Reunification

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

This October 3, 2007 marks 17 years since the former German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany) were reunited. This is a public holiday throughout Germany. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is certainly one of a chain of events that set history on course for the German Reunification. With all the crazy things going on in the world, I think that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Reunification of Germany are two events that we can all marvel in. They both show that anything is possible. In man's short time on Earth and in many people's memory, World War II and the Cold War happened only yesterday, making all of this that much more incredible.

In his June 26, 1963 speech delivered in West Berlin shortly after the construction of the Berlin Wall, John Kennedy said, "Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is 'Ich bin ein Berliner'...All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner!'" While I wasn't alive then, I have heard the "Ich bin ein Berliner!" many times and I know that it is probably one of his most famous quotes along with the "ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country" from his Inaugural speech in January 1961. Ronald Regan also delivered his famous "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" in his famous Brandenburg Gate speech of 1987 words that seemed to foreshadow the fall of the Wall.

The Cold War Era is full of stories of families separated by the division of Germany and of the people that tried, both successfully and unsuccessfully, to escape from East Germany to West Germany, some even died in their attempts. For people living in Germany, many can tell stories family members their efforts to escape to West Germany. While Checkpoint Charley (the name given to crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War by the Western Allies) has been portrayed in many books and movies, this doesn't convey the feeling of knowing that you have loved ones trapped in East Germany and you don't know if you'll ever be able to see them again or not. Conversely, you don't feel the desperation of the people living in East Germany not knowing if and when they will see their loved ones again. For those people living in Germany today, you don't need to go far to hear of extraordinary stories of escape attempts, as many have family and friends that made the attempt(s).

Regardless of if you are a fan of Angela Merkel or not, you have to marvel at the fact that she was raised in former East Germany and is the leader of one of the world's most powerful nations, this is something that many people would have never thought possible even twenty years ago! Some of our world's best fiction writers would be hard pressed to come up with something of that magnitude.

As you might imagine, reuniting East and West Germany has taken a great deal of effort. A lot of taxes have been spent (and continue to be spent) on building up cities and infrastructure in the former East Germany (a point that isn't lost on a lot of people in the former West Germany). In a sense Germany is a giant laboratory for how things might happen in reuniting a separated nation, since this hasn't happened on this scale in recent times. Much of the politics in Germany is a result of incorporating the former East Germany back in.

I've posted a map of the divided Berlin and Germany divided between the Allies after World War II, and a picture of a sign appearing at Checkpoint Charley, all can be found the Wikipedia entries on the Berlin Wall (mentioned earlier in this post as well).

I didn't get to experience life in the two German nations of the Cold War era first hand, but I have lived for over six years in the Germany that exists today. Often times in living our daily lives it is easy to forget that it wasn't that long ago that Germany was divided. I see the German Reunification as something that the free world should celebrate. It gives up hope that we can close some of the sadder chapters in history of mankind.

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