“Deutsche Einheit” read two ordinary looking stamps issued by Germany on October 3, 1990.
Two words, two stamps; the hopes and fears of millions of people.
Conrad Schumann, John F. Kennedy, Günter Litfin, Ronald Reagan, Peter Fechter, Erich Honecker, and Chris Gueffroy.
“Ich bin ein Berliner.” “Mr. Gorbachov, tear down this wall.”
“You are leaving the American Sector.” “Checkpoint Charlie.”
On the 9th of November, 1989, at the end of a routine evening press conference, East German spokesman Günter Schabowski is asked about a new law allowing East Germans to cross into West Berlin. ‘How soon will the new law go into effect?’ asks a reporter.
Schabowski, who has been handed information about the new law just minutes before the press conference, mistakenly answers “…sofort, unverzüglich”… “immediately, without delay.” Schabowski’s comments are the lead items on both East and West German evening news at 8PM. By 11PM some 11,000 incredulous East Berliners have gathered at the Bornholmer Strasse gate, shouting ‘Open the gate’. Faced with an unstoppable crowd, the dreaded Vopos do just that. All over Berlin that night, the gates are opened. The Wall has fallen.
On October 3, 1990, an event occurs which was unimaginable just a few years before. Four days short of it’s 41st anniversary, the German Democratic Republic is dissolved and Germany, with the agreement of the World War II victors, is once again a united country.
Deutsche Einheit…German unity, didn’t come without problems. Despite reunification being approved by the governments of the World War II Allies who defeated Germany, many citizens of those countries feared a more powerful, reunited Germany. The economy of the former East Germany was a wreck: in order to develop it, Germany has transferred between €100 billion and €140 billion each year to the 5 new states added to the Bundesrepublik in the former East Zone. And the 5.5% income tax surcharge, devoted to rebuilding the new states and slated to last until at least 2019, is quite unpopular.
An equally serious problem is what Germans call the ‘Mauer im Kopf’…the ‘Wall in the Head’. Many West Germans (‘Wessis’) see the Easterners (‘Ossis’) as being lazy and poor, while the ‘Ossis’ see the ‘Wessis’ as selfish snobs. So despite all the money being sent to the East to revitalize the economy, and the migration of some 18% of the East’s population to the West since reunification, social integration has been slow.
But the reunited Germany has become the economic powerhouse of the Euro Zone and a key player in dictating the terms of the recovery packages offered to weaker Euro Zone partners whose economies are in deep trouble. And East German raised and educated Angela Merkel, who became Germany’s first female Chancellor in 2005, has proven herself one of the most powerful leaders in the world.