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Monday, October 02, 2006

Germany Reunified, October 3, 1990

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Today in 1990, East and West Germany became one nation again after 45 years of separation. This reunification was the biggest sign thus far that the Iron Curtain was finally being pulled back. It also stirred old fears dating back to the Second World War, nearly two generations before. In a relatively short time, the map of Europe was once again changed forever.

At the end of the Second World War, Germany was a broken nation. Her cities lay in ruin and even basic goods and services were in short supply. After the surrender in May, 1945, the country was divided into four occupation zones. The original division plan called for only three zones, since Josef Stalin did not believe that France should share in what he saw as the spoils of war. However, the British and American areas were "re-zoned" to allow the French to have a zone near the German border with France. Berlin, the capital of the country, was itself divided into four sections even though the city was completely inside the Soviet occupation zone. The borders of the nation were re-established as what they had been in 1937.

It was intended that the four Allied powers would oversee Germany as a single nation until such time as a stable democratic government could be formed. By 1947, however, it was clear that tensions between the Soviet Union and the rest of the Allied powers were going to keep the nation divided. The Cold War had begun and it would determine the course of Europe for the next five decades.

In 1949, the American, British and French zones along with West Berlin became the Federal Republic of Germany. The Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic. These two new nations were distinctly different from one another. The Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany, was a capitalist nation with a parliamentary government. The German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, copied the Soviet Union's centralized command economy. While East Germany became the most prosperous of the Soviet satellite states during the Cold War, it's economy was never more than a small fraction of West Germany's, which experienced 30 years of almost uninterrupted growth.

The two Germanys became one of the focal points of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall, which was part of a larger border system, was put up in 1961 by East Germany to stem the tide of citizens escaping to the West to seek a better life. The Wall became a powerful symbol of Communist tyranny and helped to enforce a shaky relationship between East and West. It was not until the 1970's that Ostpolitik, or Eastern Politics, came into vogue and the two nations held meaningful talks for the first time.

The seeds of German reunification were first planted in Hungary in 1989. That was the year the reformers in that nation's government removed the border restrictions between Hungary and Austria. This was the first piece of the Iron Curtain, so named by Winston Churchill in the late 1940's, to come tumbling down. As a result, tens of thousands of East Germans escaped to the West via this route. So many people were leaving the nation that the Communists finally provided trains to carry people to West Germany, all the while claiming they were expelling unwanted citizens.

On October 18, 1989, East German leader Erich Honecker was pushed out of office by the country's politburo. His entire cabinet soon followed suit. Honecker had been opposed to internal reforms, but the other branches of government knew that change was upon them. On November 9th of that year, most of the travel restrictions imposed on East Germans were removed. Border guards opened the gates between the two Germanys and allowed open access for the first time in nearly 30 years.

On March 18, 1990, East Germany held its first and only free elections and put in place a government intended to bring the nation to an end. The reunification of Germany had to be negotiated with the four Allied powers, which was not an easy task. The Soviets did not want the re-combined nation to become a member of NATO; a compromise was finally reached in which Germany would become a member of NATO but would not station troops in the area that had been East Germany. France and the UK were concerned that a unified Germany could once again become a threat. Chancellor Helmut Kohl was able to assure the two nations that no such threat would ever exist.

The two nations officially became one nation on October 3, 1990 when the six states of the former East Germany joined the Federal Republic of Germany.

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