The German thriller - from the fall of the Berlin Wall to reunification | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 22.09.2015
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The German thriller - from the fall of the Berlin Wall to reunification

A poorly formulated statement on a new East German law regulating travel brings down the Berlin Wall. Less than a year later German reunification is complete.

November 9. Just hours after Günter Schabowski's now famous words ("As far as I know… effective immediately, without delay"), thousands of East Berlin residents begin steaming into the Western half of the city. In the first few days of this new freedom of movement, millions of people are on the streets. In fact, GDR politburo member Schabowski just mentions the new law as an aside - and in incomplete fragments. Shortly thereafter it becomes a field test for East German residents, who force the opening of several crossing points. East German border guards keep their cool. Not a shot is fired.

November 10. The next day, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze explains that the "events in the GDR" are the problems of the East German government and their new leader Egon Krenz. He wishes them "complete success." But that is far from being the case: Just three days later in the East German People's Parliament, the Volkskammer, members of the bloc parties withdraw their support for the - until that point - all powerful Socialist Unity Party (SED). The party sends in Hans Modrow: The SED district boss from Dresden is charged with saving what is left to be saved.

East German Communist Party chief and head of state Egon Krenz (R) toasts with new East German Premier Hans Modrow (L), on November 18, 1989 in East Berlin

East German Communist Party chief and head of state Egon Krenz (R) toasts with new East German Premier Hans Modrow (L), on November 18, 1989 in East Berlin

Four days after the fall of the Wall, the People's Parliament elects Modrow as premier. He is fighting a losing battle. While West Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, openly discusses a possible reunification, more than a quarter of a million people take to the streets of Dresden on November 20. Their motto: "Germany, united fatherland." At the same time, the voices of East German intellectuals such as Christa Wolf and Stefan Heym go unheard: They are calling for the continued sovereignty of the country.

Helmut Kohl takes the initiative

November 28. In the first three weeks after the fall of the Wall many scenarios are imaginable, some are possible. The idea of unification is still a hot potato; the idea of a confederacy is making the rounds; reforms to the socialist path of the GDR are also discussed. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is looking for a way to direct opinion. On November 28, he presents a "Ten Point Plan" in the Bundestag. It goes over like a lead balloon. French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas complains that the Germans are exhibiting a "growing arrogance." Indeed, no one is consulted before the plan is presented. The plan is a roadmap to national unity - which is, however, not to happen for five to ten years. At this early stage, the goal is a confederation.

December 3. The East Germans take to the streets again. Under increasing pressure, exerted by those voting with their feet, the Politburo, as well as the Central Committee of the GDR, capitulate: All of them, including Egon Krenz, resign. Until the very end, he unsuccessfully attempts to save the East German state by making compromises and concessions to civil rights organizations. By this time, demonstrators can no longer be mollified by simply removing the SED's leadership claims from the constitution.

Dresden: finding the right tone

December 19. Against this backdrop, Helmut Kohl's appearance in front of the ruins of the Dresden's famous Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) is an emotional climax. Especially for those who do not want to hear about reforms anymore, but instead want reunification. In his tone and his choice of words, Kohl connects emotionally with tens of thousands of East Germans. He speaks of his goal of a nation unified in peace and freedom. The international community is impressed, and the crowd is enthusiastic. Kohl says that looking back, he views his experience in Dresden just before Christmas as one of the most moving moments in his entire political career.

December 19, 1989: Helmut Kohl in Dresden

December 19, 1989: Helmut Kohl in Dresden

January 15. The new year starts turbulently. At "round table" discussions, representatives of the old system inform leaders of the East German civil rights movement of something utterly monstrous: The GDR's Ministry of State Security, the "Stasi," the shadowy symbol of the police spying state, reportedly controlled the operation of 85,000 full-time agents, and almost 110,000 "unofficial informants." At this point, most Stasi district offices are in the hands of the civil rights movement. The Stasi headquarters on Normannenstrasse in Berlin, however, is not. There, evidence of networks of state spies is feverishly destroyed. That day, thousands of demonstrators storm the building. Apparently there are also a number of former spies operating there as well, these conspire to send demonstrators off on wild goose chases in order to gain time. What went on that day has never been clarified. Nonetheless, the event is considered to be the unofficial birth of the later "Stasi Records Commission." To this day, the Commission collects and analyzes the remnants of Stasi activities and makes them accessible to researchers and private citizens alike.

Surprise filled free elections

March 18. The people of the GDR are awaiting a historic vote, their first free and secret ballot ever. More than any, West German parties show a large presence in the weeks leading up to the election. Social Democratic Party (SPD) ex-Chancellor Willy Brandt travels throughout the country, naturally Helmut Kohl does as well.

March 1990: Willy Brandt gives a speech in front of 150,000 people

March 1990: Willy Brandt gives a speech in front of 150,000 people

More than a million East Germans come out the market squares and pedestrian areas to see the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Chairman and sitting West German Chancellor Kohl. Yet, opinion polls suggest that the SPD will be the big winner of the upcoming election. But something sensational happens when the votes are tallied on the night of March 18: Kohl's conservative alliance is the clear victor, with the SPD winning only half as many votes; and the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), successor to the SED, taking a respectable 16 percent of the vote. The initiators of the peaceful revolution, the East German civil rights movement, receive less than three percent of the vote.

May 18. It is now a foregone conclusion that reunification will happen, and that social market economics will be introduced in East Germany. In Bonn, a treaty for an economic, monetary and social union is signed, it will go into effect on July 1. GDR citizens receive West German currency, so-called "West Geld." With this begins the restructuring of the East German economy. Controversy surrounds the trust agency tasked with the privatization of collectives and nationally-owned East German businesses.

The NATO Alliance, a sticking point

July 15/16. In terms of foreign policy, the NATO membership of a unified Germany has long been an issue of concern for Moscow's leadership, and the highest hurdle to be cleared on the path to reunification. But the Soviet head of state and General Secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev, wavers. Kohl has, among other things, gotten US President George H.W. Bush's backing for the NATO membership of a reunified Germany. In this sense, the NATO summit held in London in early July is also of great significance: It emphasizes a decisively defensive posture for the Alliance - a bit of bait for the Soviets. This allows Kohl to get the Russians' blessing for German NATO membership at his very private, but equally historic meeting with Gorbachev in his home region in the Caucasus Mountains.

August 23/24. The reunification process picks up speed. On August 23, representatives of the GDR People's Parliament resolve to join the Federal Republic of Germany. In coordination with the West German government in Bonn, this will take place on October 3. PDS chairman Gregor Gysi garners laughter for his statement that the body has just done "no less than pass the fall of the German Democratic Republic." The following day, the People's Parliament passes a law prohibiting the destruction of millions of intelligence documents amassed by the former Ministry of State Security.

Ten months and 24 days after the Wall fell, on October 3, 1990, Germany celebrates the Unity day

Ten months and 24 days after the Wall fell, on October 3, 1990, Germany celebrates the Unity day

Last haggling before treaty signing

September 12. In the end, it comes down to money. The administration in Bonn offers the Soviet Union 12 billion Deutsch Marks as compensation for pulling the Red Army out of East Germany. Gorbachev says it's not enough. At first, Kohl stands firm, and then he suddenly throws in another three billion, albeit as an interest-free loan. With that, the pathway is now free for the signing of the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany, or Two Plus Four Treaty. On September 12, the foreign ministers of East and West Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union seal this historic chapter at a signing ceremony in Moscow.

Day one in a new Germany

October 2/3. The big day provides some overtures. In New York, the foreign ministers of the victorious powers of the Second World War renounce all of the special rights conceded to them after the capitulation of German Armed Forces in 1945. After that, the three municipal commanders stationed in West Berlin relinquish their previously held privileges. The People's Parliament meets for the last time. Shortly before that, the GDR officially leaves the Warsaw Pact. At midnight, the German flag is raised above the Reichstag in Berlin. Some two million people are there to witness the event.