Esther M. Nagel
English III Research Paper
April 8, 2008
The GDR and the German Reunion
Those who say the Second World War ended in 1949 are not totally right. It remained as long as the Cold War and this war found its surpringly peaceful final end in the night of November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down. (Masson, 05)
This paper will give a rough picture of the “GDR” (German Democratic Republic) in general, and the peaceful reunion of Germany. The German Reunion set an example of how a country’s population can make a change.
After the Second World War in 1945, Germany was divided into four sectors: The American, the British, the French, and the Soviet Union. Three of the allies (America, Great Britain, and France) decided to put their sectors together to build up a new Germany. The Soviets, however, refused to join the other allies and chose to keep their sector separate and to form a totally new country: The “Deutsche Demokratische Republik” (German Democratic Republic). With this step they tore apart a country; families got separated and a different culture, the Russian lifestyle, would soon dominate over the original one (Müller, 93).
Life in the Eastern Part was primitive (Philips, 323).The import of Western goods was forbidden. There was a shortage on many things: beginning with tropical fruits, cigarettes, and coffee, and expanding to colors and materials for houses.
Old values disappeared and were replaced by new ones. Individualism was discouraged, while uniformity had priority. This aspect was reflected in many ways: Every citizen earned the same amount of money, lived in the same kind of apartment and drove the same car (an East-German Trabant) (Philips, 125). The communism was realized (Great Events..., 1350).
In addition, the government had many ways to control the population: The “Stasi” (Staatssicherheit / State Security) investigated all those who were suspected to have anti-communist attitudes. One way to constantly control the population was the media.
The legal madia was made or checked by the Sowjet Union. It was used to manipulate the population. The people were often able to receive West German TV-programs, but this was illegal (Great Events..., 1348).
Seeing Western, especially American, products on West-TV, East Germans became more and more unhappy with their own way of life (Great Events..., 1348).
Not only did the shortages on products motivate citizens to cross the border, some had a hard life practicing their occupation, because they refused to join the SED, the ruling party. Others were separated from their families that were living in the western part, or were unsatisfied with the general living conditions and hoped for a better life in the West.
“As the Berlin Wall rises, an East German soldier takes the chance to escape to freedom”. (Philips, 222).
This is the title of a famous photo of an armed soldier jumping over a fence to the western part of Germany. The photo was taken on August 20, 1961. Reacting to the many emigrations, the GDR-government decided to build a wall around the Sowjet sector in 1961. Until then, about threethousand East Germans had fled to freedom in West Germany each week (Daniel, 869).
The GDR-government explained the decision with the plan to “protect Sowjet East Berlin (Russian) from perverse influence of the West” (Masson, 93).
To live a life in freedom, the fleeing persons took a high risk: if they were caught, they would get shot by the soldiers on the army-towers in front of the wall. Others tried to flee to the West hiding in cars. Those cars had to go through a check-point where soldiers searched the cars. People escaped with the help of tunnels, balloons, and one man even swam through a part of the Baltic Sea (Good Bye Lenin).
Still, there were legal ways to emigrate to the West, too: One could apply for a departure-permission, but it could take years to get a positive confirmation, or the state could see the application as an evidence for an anti-communist attitude and arrest you, your friends, or your family members, take away your children, or interview you in a very cruel way (Das Laben der Anderen).
The world is closing in
Did you ever think that we yould be so close, like brothers
The future’s in the air, can feel it everywhere
I’m blowing with the wind of change
(The Scorpions, Wind Of Change)
In 1989 a change was obvious, for emotional, as well as for political reasons. On April 12, 1989, the communist Hungarian government was replaced by a group of reformers. Those reformers decided on May 2, 1989, to take down fences and to reduce the controls on the check points. On September 11, 1989, Hungary even opened the border into Austria for a limited number of East Germans (Daniel, 1338). This decision was angryly critizized by the Honecker government. They interpreted the choice as a fraud on the Warshaw Pact (“mutual assistance treaty”) (Philips, 200).
The opening of the Austrian-Hungarian-border caused a great number of GDR-citizens to “go on vacation” to Hungary. A few days later the West-German embassies in Eastern-Europe, as well as in the one in East Berlin were overcrowded. In fact, the embassy in East Berlin was closed, because one hundred and thirty GDR-citizens were staying in the building to oblige a departure-permission (Good Bye Lenin).
A protest in Leipzig (East Germany) in June 7, 1989, was the answer to the state-elections on May 7, 1989, that were certainly forged. The SED had received 98.85% of the votes (Daniel, 1338). This result was not realistic considering the general atmosphere of the population. Members of the oppositional parties could in many cases prove the forgery (Good Bye Lenin). Onehundred and twenty protesters were arrested in Leipzig. One day later, May 8, the GDR-government supported the “Chinese Solution”: On June 4, 1989, the Chinese Military had caused a bloodbath among college-students who were protesting for democracy and human rights since the mid of April. Tanks drove into the masses; refugees were purposely shot. Three thousand to five thousand died in the massacre (Good Bye Lenin). The statement of the GDR-gevorenment scared the citizens, who saw it as a warning.
However, the protests did not stop: The first “Montagsdemonstration” (Monday-Demonstration) took place on September 4, 1989, in Leipzig. The oppositionalists demanded more traveling-liberties and the abolishment of the MfS (Ministerieum für Staatssicherheit / Ministry for State-Security) (Kort, 29). The number of protesters grew. On October 2, 1989, 20,000 persons came together in Leipzig. In the meantime about 42,000 citizens had taken the opportunity to leave the country by going to West-German embassies, or crossing the Austrian-Hungarian border (Good Bye Len).
Nevertheless, the 40th aniversary of the GDR was celebrated in East-Berlin on October 7, 1989. The atmosphere between Honecker and Gorbatschow was visibly cold: Gorbatchev had expressed his willingness to reform the GDR, while Honecker refused to admit the necessity of reforms (Great Events..., 1350). Several protests took place that night. Those protests were brutally oppressed and more than one thousand persons were arrested (Great Events..., 1350).
The number of participants at the “Montagsdemonstrationen” grew to a new high point of 300,000 persons on October 23, after the replacement of Honecker (officially he retired for reasons concerning his physical condition) through Egon Krenz (Good Bye Lenin). The protest should show the reluctance against a “new concentration of power”.
From November 4, 1989, on, GDR-citizens could depart without any kind of a visa over the Tscheque-Slovaquian border. About one million people protested in East-Berlin for liberty and democracy in the GDR, the next day. In addition, some hundred thousand citizens met in Leipzig to express their concerns (Good Bye Lenin).
The ruling government had so little support by then that serious consequences eventually had to follow (Kort, 29).
The entire GDR-government retired on November 11, 1989. Only the “Politbüro” remained (Good Bye Lenin). This department could not offer any resistance against the constant protests. On November 11, private departures abroad were legalized without any exception. On the same night thousands of people streamed to the Berlin Wall and celebrated together. After twentyeight years the Berlin Wall had come down.
On the following days millions of GDR-citizens visited West-German towns that were located near to the border. During a conference in Berlin, the former West-German chancellor Willy Brandt stated, “Jetzt wächst zusammen, was zusammengehört“(Now is growing together what belongs together.) (Müller, 22).
Although the new President of the GDR, Hans Modrow, explained on November 17, that a reunion of the two Germanys would not be in consideration, the West-German chancellor Helmut Kohl suggested a Ten-Point-Plan to reunite the country.
In the following months all remaining GDR-officers resigned: Some because they were taken to court, others gave up because of the public pressure (Great Events..., 1350).
On Christmas Eve 1989, West-Germans could visit Est-Germany for the first time without a visa. Hundred thousands celebrated New Year’s Eve next to the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin with great fireworks (Daniel, page 1343).
The first months of the 1990’s were full of reforms, on both the West- and East-German side to make a reunion possible. On February 10, Machail Gorbachev assured that there would be no barrier anymore for a reunion and details concerning the future-currency and other aspects were discussed in conferences (Philips, 319). One more barrier for a reunion was eliminated when the ministers of the Warshaw Pact agreed in March that the union of the GDR and the BRD (Bundersrepublik Deutschland) was a right of the German nation (Good Bye Lenin).
In the summer of 1989 all the GDR-coat of arms were removed from public buildings, and as one more evidence for the obvious reunion the final pull down of the fourtyseven kilometer / twentynine miles long Berlin Wall started (Great Events..., 1350). Parts of the Wall only remain on four spots as monuments. The borders of the GDR did not have a meaning anymore, when the Wall was pulled down.
In July Germany was reunited in two ways: the “Deutsche Mark” became the currency in both areas, and East- and West-Germans were full of teamspirit when they cheered together for the German soccer-team during the worldcup in 1990. For many Germans the highlight of the summer was when the German team won the final game (Good Bye Lenin).
In addition, chancellor Kohl met with Gorbatchev for official discussions. Gorbatchev expressed his support for a totally independent, united Germany.
Through the “Two-Plus-Four”-Treaty, Germany received the total independency and in fact a peace treaty: The still existing section-rights of the allied countries of the Second World War would not longer be significant from October 3, 1990, on (Daniel, 1343).
“At the stroke of midnight, the East German government opened its borders, and the wall was transformed into a benign relic of a Cold War that has passed into history” (Daniel, 1343). The existence of the GDR ended after fourtyone years.
Since 1990 Germany is a reunited country. The reunion was a big step into more peaceful world and pleased millions of people all over the world. It symbolized a new beginning; the domination of democracy and liberty, as well as it showed that a country is made up by a nation – not by a political party.
However, the reunion led to many problems that are waiting to be solved till today.
Some East-Germans lost all they believed in within less than a year. Their life lost the usual organization and the only form of society they knew; the socialism was replaced by the capitalism. Their mentality could often not be combined with the new way of life, the different values, goals and other cultural influences (Great Events..., 1350).
While this difficulty could be resolved just by giving it time, other problems still exist.
There are still differences between the former East- and West-German parts. Young people move away to the old states, leaving old people behind in empty cities and villages.
Some political groups have even considered resettling the remaining residents of those cities and villages to the West or bigger cities. They justify their ambitions with the high infrastructural costs (Müller, 23). Of course this idea will not be realized; however, it shows the existing dramatic really well. As a reason for the movement, one can suppose the higher payments and pensions in the western states and at the same time the high numbers of unemployment in the East (Müller, 22).
Another trouble is that many former East-Germans do not feel entirely integrated and accepted till today. They feel discriminated against. One example is the term “Ossi” for a former East-German.
Although the German government has invested extremely high amounts of money into the new five states, the standard of living could in many cases not yet be adapted to the standard in the old states. “Plattenbauten”, high, monotonous buildings are constant reminder of the Sowjet influence (Philips, 63). At least many college-students can profit today from the low-priced apartments they offer.
Berlin has become a great town with many different districts, cultural influences and historical references.
“But even though the city, (Berlin) after having been cut in two, has found its unity, nothing and nobody ever could or will eradicate its scars”
There are and there probably always will be differences between former East- and West-Berlin, but Germany is learning to profit from that diversity (Masson, 06). It is not easy to make one out of two; to “let grow together what belongs together.”
In one part, however, Willy Brandt was absolutely right: Germany belongs together.
There might be many difficulties; the attempt to reunite a country after 41 years might even seem impossible, but those who don’t belive in it should have seen Germany in the summer of 2006, during the soccer worldcup, when this very one nation was having a big party with the rest of the world, like brothers.
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Kort, Michael. The Handbook of the New Eastern Europe. Brooksfield, Connecticut: Twenty-First Century Books, 2001.
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Müller, Andrea. NEON – Das (Geschichts-)Buch. Munich, Germany: Verlag NEON, 2007.
Philips, Charles, et al. The 20th Century Year by Year. London: Darling Kindersley, 1998.