On the stroke of midnight, 3rd of October, 1990, 41 years of Germany’s division in East and West ended in fireworks and tumultuous exclamations of joy amongst the tens of thousands of Berliners gathered in front of the country’s iconic old Parliament building, the Reichstag, while church bells rang out all over the city. Reunification, invoked for decades in so many political speeches, had come at last.
In hindsight, German Unity appears as the inevitable consequence of the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989, this watershed moment in Europe’s postwar history which had caught everybody completely off guard. At the time, however, there were anxious moments of uncertainty when the country’s fate seemed to hang in the balance. Not all of our neighbors welcomed the prospect of a reunified Germany as the most populous country and strongest economy in the heart of Europe.
In the end, it all went very fast. After the communist regime threw in the towel, East Germany saw its first free elections in February 1990, and formed an economic and currency union with West Germany three months later. Having obtained the blessings of the former Allied powers in the so-called “2plus4” talks, the nation was free to reunite on 3rd October.
30 years on, the sharp political divisions which appear to have become a common Feature on both sides of the Atlantic, manifest themselves also in Germany. Discontent and public protest ignite around issues which either were not yet present or not on the front-burner a generation earlier– migration, growing social stratification, climate change, and how to deal with a global pandemic. Whereas the events of 1989/90 were driven by the yearning to overcome the artificial divide between East and West and to unite in freedom as one people, the public consensus on the fundamentals of parliamentary democracy now seems in danger of erosion. There is intolerance and obscurantism, mistrust in the elected leaders, and a widespread notion of “us” versus “them”. 30 years after reunification, Germany shows signs of a premature political midlife crisis.
How quickly we forget. Against the backdrop of the current challenges facing Germany, Europe and our globe, we need to take a closer look at what has been achieved over the past 30 years, to appreciate how far we have come, and to cherish the freedom and the opportunities which German and European unity brought for so many. And we need to remind ourselves of the solemn promise German President Richard von Weizsäcker made for the reunited nation in his speech to the jubilant masses 30 years ago:
“We want to serve world peace in a united Europe!”.
Dr. Bernd von Münchow-Pohl,