German Reunification- Fall of the Berlin Wall 20 Years Later

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Today is the 19th Anniversary of German Reunification. November 9, 2009 will mark the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Events started in the Summer of 1989 that led to the wall that separated the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany) and GDR (German Democratic Republic) or East Germany (referred to as the DDR or Deutsche Demokratische Republik by Germans) being torn down and "officially" accepted travel between the two former German nations and the Reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990.

President Kennedy says "Ich Bin ein Berliner"

President Reagan Says "Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down this Wall"

ABC coverage with Peter Jennings

The Excitement And Atmosphere Of the Fall of The Berlin Wall

Andreas Ramos says in an article about his experience during the Fall of the Berlin Wall, "We walked through the border. On both sides the guard towers were empty and the barbed wire was shoved aside in great piles. Large signs told us that we needed sets of car documents. The East German guard asked if we had documents. I handed him my Danish cat's vaccination documents, in Danish. He waved us through." The account of Andreas shows the chaos, excitement, and hope that was experienced in the days that the Wall fell. I wasn't in Berlin or Germany when this historic event happened but I remember the sense of excitement that existed in my classes at the time. There was a feeling that if this happened, then anything was truly possible.

Unification Was The Only Way

Hans-Dietrich Genscher (Foreign minister of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1974 to 1992) was asked in an interview that appeared in honor of the 15th Anniversary of German Unification at Deutsche Welle if looking back that reunifying Germany so quickly was a good idea, his response was "There was no other way. It was a window of opportunity in history that opened and we used it to peacefully implement German unification. It was absolutely right."In the same interview he described how he thought at the time that while there were still two division between the German states that production should have been encouraged more the former East Germany, so that there would have been more value added when they were joined, but this plan didn't make it past his coalition partners. This idea reemerges from time to time.

My Experiences In A Reunited Germany

I've lived in the Frankfurt, Germany area for eight years now, coming over before September Eleventh. I was amazed to think that Angela Merkel was elected Chancellor of a united Germany and included that thought in my article on the 17th Anniversary of German Reunification. Who would of thought such a thing were possible even twenty-five years ago! Recently, Germany held elections and Angela Merkel re-elected as German Chancellor. In my time here I've been able to see a little bit of Germany but it wasn't until this past August that I was able to visit East Germany. I was really excited about going on the trip and enjoyed visiting
Erfurt, Dresden, Meissen, and Weimar. Although back in 2002 I took a short trip to Prague, I hadn't really been to East Germany till that trip. In everyday life you don't think about there being two German states that often, but every now and again it hits me that twenty-five years ago taking a trip like this would have been a lot different. As an American, I tend to often believe that anything is possible, but I wonder how different my own beliefs would have been had I been part of a family torn between East and West, if I had grown up in East Germany?

Twenty Years Later Germans, East And West Do Feel The Promise Has Been Achieved

Much of Eastern Europe wasn't really ready for the march to market economies that came next, nor most of the Western World for that matter. When the Wall fell, East Germans were euphoric about the possibilities and the expectation that life would be so much better. Families and friends could now see each other again without having to plan as though they were characters in espionage stories. Die Welt ran a story in early 2009 about a poll that Forsa did with 1,000 Germans about Reunification. "Only 46 percent of Germans in the former communist east said their personal situation had improved. That number was as high as 71 percent in 1989." The survey indicated that "every fourth person in eastern Germany believes that life is worse now in the eastern states than it was under communism until 1989. Only 39 percent believe they have profited from reunification." And "in western Germany where 40 percent said their lives had improved since the end of Communism; in 1989 that number was 52 percent." While the eastern Germans think they got a bad deal and have been exploited, Forsa chief Manfred Guellner said, "western Germans have the feeling that they have simply footed the bill for eastern Germany." In fact at the time of publication Die Welt reported that one trillion dollars had been transferred from the west to the east since reunification. During the Communist years of East Germany, not nearly enough money was spent on infrastructure, which has meant the need for lots on investment in new and repairing old infrastructure. The outlook is further amplified by the movement of jobs to cheaper emerging markets within Eastern Europe and outside of Europe so that the good jobs aren't there or are disappearing.

The Fall of The Berlin Wall Caught The World By Surprise

I believe that the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the decline of Communism caught most of the world off guard and they weren't really prepared for what followed. Although President Reagan told Gorbachev to tear down the Wall, there doesn't really seem to have been any real plan and preparation by world leaders for a Post Cold War World. So much of structure, institutions, and policies of many world governments are a direct or indirect result of the Cold War. Military transformation alone is a monumental task that hasn't truly happened yet. World leaders still haven't really found an effective way to function in the Post Cold War. How should they deal with each other and how should they deal with "rogue" states? Who would have thought during the Cold War that shortly after it ended we would have another prolonged "War on Terrorism" that doesn't really look like it will be ending anytime soon.

Twenty Years Is A Short Time

20 years is a long time in terms of many of the people that are alive today, but in terms of the length of the Cold War or even in terms of German history or the history of mankind, the Fall of the Berlin wall is still relatively recent and one of those historical events that will be talked about for generations (providing of course that mankind lives for generations). I wonder how long it will be until the majority of people in Germany will look at their country and themselves as one country and that a separate Communist East Germany will be only a footnote or a vague recollection of an old family member or acquaintance?

Time For Celebration

In America, Independence Day (the Forth of July) is a big celebration. In Germany there will be celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall and this the 19th Anniversary of German Reunification, but it is not burned into the "national" psyche in nearly the same manner. For a lot of people it is just another day, but for me it is a triumph of mankind and something to be celebrated. While it doesn't hold universally true in all cases, but in American on the Forth of July, you can often feel a sense of pride amongst Americans, even those that might not ordinarily see eye to eye on this day, there is sense of unity (even if ever so slight, its there). Maybe Germans have seen too much in their lifetimes and throughout their history to see this event as I do, but I do hope that they can take some time to think about what today means and realize that they have reason to be proud.

I do hope that peoples of the world won't need to be separated from their family and friends because their nation is divided (as we have with Korea today). Hopefully, one day there will be one Korea too. My hope is that we never go through anything like this again but will we be able to learn from history and that we aren't doomed to repeat this kind of activity yet again! I hope that the world leaders are able to figure out how to lead in a Post Cold War World and I do hope that we can get past the current infatuation with "maximizing" shareholder value and executive bonuses because I don't think that those men and women that have lost their lives during the Cold War (and during the wars previous to that) did it for the "Corporatism" that seems to have usurped "Capitalism". Happy "Tag der Deutschen Einheit" or Day of German Reunification, everyone.

Some links that might be of interest to you....

Berlin Wall Online Lots of great stuff here

Berlin Wall at Wikipedia

German Reunification at Wikipedia

East Germany at Wikipedia

Germany at Wikipedia

Fall of the Berlin Wall 1989- There are lots of links to check out here

A Personal Account of The Fall of the Berlin Wall: The 11th and 12th of November, 1989- Personal account of a Dane that visited Berlin at the time

Fall of the Berlin Wall Video

Items Related to the fall of the Berlin Wall

Autumn of Change from CNN- series of reports about the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe

A City Divided- CNN- Part of the CNN series My City My Life. "Paul Van Dyk takes us on a tour of Berlin and talks about his memories of the Wall divided city."

Images of the Berlin Wall and its history set to Bob Dylan's "Masters of War"

Germans Disappointed by Reunification, New Poll Shows


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