03 October 2005

German Unity Day

On October 3, 1990, the reunification of Germany became official. For over 45 years, West and East Germany existed side-by-side but in two different worlds. In a matter of months, the umimaginable became reality.


It was the stuff movies are made of and it was a Hollywood actor who would start a steamroller that didn't stop until German reunification. Former movie star and American President Ronald Reagan was determined to weaken the Soviet Union to the point that the world's second superpower would cease to exist -- and he was unloved by many Germans for some of his policies to achieve that goal, particularly the stationing of Pershing missiles in Europe.

From a roundup at Deutsche Welle which also includes an interview with one of my favorite politicians of the era, Hans-Dietrich Genscher.

For decades, we Germans had to live apart against our will in two very different political systems. That's no longer the case. The future is a common future. To hold our own in the face of this challenge is also a shared challenge and a shared purpose.

From the German Embassy's website:

Genscher will always be remembered as the "Foreign Minister of Unification," a fitting tribute for a man who left his hometown of Reideburg near Halle in the German Democratic Republic in 1952 for the freedoms and opportunities of the West, but who never abandoned the hope that his homeland could be unified peacefully.


In his memoirs, Genscher describes the day in 1989 when he announced to East German refugees camped out in the Federal Republic of Germany's Embassy in Prague that they would be allowed to travel to West Germany as the most moving time of his life. The words Genscher spoke from the balcony of the Embassy on September 30 to the more than 4,000 refugees crowded on the grounds were heard round the world:

"Dear Fellow Citizens, I have come to you today to inform you that your journey into the Federal Republic of Germany is now imminent!"

For Genscher the announcement was the culmination of tense days of negotiations to allow the refugees, including others at the Embassy in Warsaw, to travel directly to West Germany.


Negotiating Table: Foreign Minister Genscher, left, Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev, center, and Chancellor Kohl during negotiations in the Caucasus in July 1990.

On September 12, 1990, the "Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany" was signed by the two German states and the four allied powers, the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union.

I crossed the border between West and East Germany for the first time in March of 1981. I remember the barbed wire, the dogs, the vehicle searches and, at the risk of sounding dramatic, the fear.

I remember the grey deadness of East Berlin with its empty streets and empty stores.

It's hard to believe now that it all was real, but 1,065 people died trying to cross that border.

Because people want to be free.


Lots more pictures of the wall here.

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