Reunification on the German State and People

Reunification on the German State and People Today

The physical Berlin Wall may be gone, but some observers suggest that it remains in the minds of many older Germans that lived with a divided Germany for most of their adult lives. Indeed, many people were surprised at just how quickly the Berlin Wall fell when it finally did, but the fallout from this event has not gone away and in many ways has become even more pronounced in recent years. To help understand the current situation in Germany today, this paper provides an overview of the reunification of East and West Germany, the process that led to it, and the political opposing forces that emerged in response. The focus of the paper will be the opposition to the reunification, comprised mainly of Great Britain, France, and Poland. The paper begins with the situation in East Germany in the late 80s, covering the Montagsdemonstrationen organized by Christian Fuehrer, heading on to the “Einigungsvertrag” and the integration of the GDR into Western Germany, followed by an analysis of the political concerns evinced by France, Poland, and Great Britain. A summary of the research and salient findings are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion: Diplomatic Difficulties during the German Reunification Process

I. The Political Situation in Germany and the U.S.S.R. during the Late 1980s.

A. Social Insecurities after Perestroika and Glasnost Fail to Save USSR. It happened so quickly that many observers were taken by surprise. The events that ultimately led to the collapse of the former Soviet Union were characterized by half-measures and false starts that created the conditions needed to fuel further social unrest and political discord. According to Niven and Thomaneck, the fact that former GDR leader Erich Honecker’s attempt at political crisis management and linguistic “democracy” propaganda had failed became clear in the autumn of 1989, when the working people of Germany reminded him: “We are the people.” These authors report that, “Whereas the Polish free trade union Solidarity movement did not in any noticeable way capture the mood of the working people in the GDR, the policy shifts announced by Mikhail Gorbachev after his appointment as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985 triggered a new political discourse in East Germany” (57). At the time, Gorbachev recognized that the system of “actually existing socialism” simply could not endure in its existing form, either in the Soviet Union or in the Eastern bloc as a whole (Niven & Thomaneck 57).

In response, Gorbachev launched his program of openness (glasnost), reform (perestroika), together with a political philosophy that embraced non-interference in other aligned countries as outlined in his ‘Political Report of the CPSU Central Committee to the 27th Party Congress’ on 25 February 1986 (Niven & Thomaneck 57). A growing credibility gap also affected the ability of the former Soviet leadership to keep their critics at bay. According to these authors, “The intellectuals, managers, and ordinary people of East Germany saw Gorbachev and his policies as a panacea for the ills of the GDR regime. The new socialist theory exposed the contradictions in the GDR body politic and increased the awareness of an intolerable gap between the officially propagated image and actual existing reality” (Niven & Thomaneck 57).

The GDR regime was not only aware of its economic plight, it was also fully aware of the impact of Gorbachev’s new policies on the citizens of its state. It appeared unable to make up its mind how to react to this impact. In an interview with the West German illustrated weekly Der Stern, the GDR chief ideologue Kurt Hager stated on 9 April 1987 in respect of Gorbachev’s reforms: ‘Would you, when your neighbour puts new wallpaper up in his flat, feel obliged to put up new wallpaper in yours?’ Hager’s statement, with the politburo’s backing, was printed in Neues Deutschland the following day, and triggered a wave of protest letters within the GDR, not least from the SED [the GDR’s Socialist Unity Party] basis itself” (Wolle 1998, 292 cited in Niven & Thomaneck at 57).

B. USSR is Weakened. After the successful revolutions in Poland and Czechoslovakia, people in other Soviet states were also encouraged on their paths to independence. The impact of the events on the pace of events throughout the rest of Eastern Europe was profound. According to Kahn (2000), the relationship between the former East German regime and the Soviet leadership was strained but close, and the GDR had placed all of its political eggs in the Soviet basket. “The GDR was a satellite state,” Kahn notes, “linked to the Soviet Union. Up to the very end, the GDR openly declared that its existence depended on the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union established the GDK, Soviet troops assured the continued existence of the GDR, and Soviet wishes and the Soviet example determined everything” (85). In reality, Ronald Reagan simply outspent the Soviets to win the Cold War, and the economic toll this exacted on the former Soviet empire, combined with the gathering clouds of social unrest, spelled the end of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, and the Brandenburg Gate once again stood in the middle of a unified German state.

II. Early Stage.

A. Situation in the GDR.

1. Montagsdemonstrationen in East Germany Occurs, First in Leipzig, Then Entire State. In an unexpected attempt to accommodate the new vision of glasnost, the SED allowed and even officially accompanied a massive peace demonstration in September 1987, when the official East German ‘Peace Council’ and the Free German Youth Movement joined peace-committed and reform-minded groups of Christians on the Olof-Palme peace walk from Ravensbruck to Sachsenhausen memorial sites for World War II concentration camps (Niven & Thomaneck 2001). The reformers carried placards demanded “Free contacts to East and West,” “Peace education instead of defence studies” and “Swords to ploughshares”; the public demonstration was the first such event to be officially allowed in the GDR and its implications were not lost on the media: “New possibilities have opened up,” wrote the editors of the samisdat newspaper Umweltbl tter in October 1987, “possibilities which must be built on by the peace movement” (Niven & Thomaneck 2001, 57).

After reconsideration, though, the GDR’s Socialist Unity Party shifted position and became determined to resist all of these demands for reform, not to enter into dialogue with reformers, and to silence the critical elements; however, in retrospect, it quickly becomes clear that this decision was the wrong one because discontent in the East had already reached critical mass levels (Niven & Thomaneck 2001). According to Niven and Thomaneck, in November 1987, the Stasi invaded the Zionskirche rooms of the Environment Library and arrested several of the people responsible for publishing the critical periodical, “Grenzfall”; following the protest by about 200 people against these arrests, these demonstrators were also arrested (Niven & Thomaneck 2001, 58). Yet another group of new protesters emerged to assume their place, though, and the authors report that when the Western media took interest in the conflict, the East German authorities were forced to back down and release those imprisoned (Niven & Thomaneck 2001).

The Environment Library ‘affair’ caused a number of disgruntled GDR citizens (including exit visa applicants), to congregate in the Zionskirche, and for 17 January 1988 (the date of the official commemoration of the murder of the distinguished communist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht), members of the GDR opposition and exit visa applicants planned to conduct a common protest by taking part in the demonstration with their own banners and placards calling for glasnost, peace, and increased tolerance; as a result, 120 demonstrators were arrested (Niven & Thomaneck 2001). Furthermore, in late January, 1988, more than 1,500 people in the Gethsemanekirche in East Berlin took part in a prayer service for those arrested and just a week later, the number of religiously minded supporters had reached 2,000 (Niven & Thomaneck 2001).

Still another example of the ‘redoubling’ effect of any attempt to stifle social discontent in the former GDR came later in the year when 37 schoolchildren at the Carl-von-Ossietzky School in Berlin affixed their signatures to a petition calling for an end to military parades on the GDR’s National Holiday; these children were subjected to enormous pressure from GDR authorities to withdraw their names from petition but five continued to refuse and on 14 October 1988, these children were expelled (Niven & Thomaneck 2001). According to Niven and Thomaneck, “On 19 November 1988, the SED banned the Soviet publication Sputnik, which had helped to convey some of the ideas of Gorbachev. There then followed on 20 November a GDR-wide action, initiated in the Berlin Church Erlserkirche, in protest at the expulsion, and calling for more pluralism and democracy” (2001, 58). These and other like events clearly reflected not only the growing social discontent that was bubbling to the surface in the GDR, but also suggests that the citizenry was becoming more forthright, committed and outspoken in achieving their goals of improving social conditions, gaining fundamental civil liberties and accomplishing the eventual reunification of the country. In this regard, Bartee (2000) points out that the Leipzig protest of January 15, 1989, was a good example of how social protest in the East was becoming more sophisticated and organized, with thousands of activists distributing leaflets calling for attendance at the rally all over Leipzig around midnight of January 11-12, 1989: “The leaflets boldly called for an open demonstration the next Sunday afternoon in front of Leipzig’s old Rathaus (City Hall). The occasion, the 70th anniversary of the murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, offered the opportunity to publicize Luxemburg’s famous statement that ‘freedom means always freedom for those who think differently'” (Bartee 2000, 121). This author adds that the efforts by the activists during January 1988 to join the official parade with banners of their own clearly inspired the Leipzig protestors: “The Leipzig event would be different, however; it would be independent of any official ceremonies. The wide distribution of thousands of fliers by several alternative groups should rally so many people that the authorities would be unable to abort the event as they had very nearly done in Berlin with preemptive arrests” (Bartee 2000, 121).

2. Christian Fuehrer. According to Slusser (1996), “During his Leipzig years, Bach wrote many cantatas for the Thomas Church as well as the St. Nikolai Church, famous today for Monday-evening peace meetings that Pastor Christian Fuehrer has held there every Monday since 1982. These peace meetings, for most of the decade attended by only a handful of people, suddenly evolved into the mass demonstrations of December 1989 that spread to other GDR cities and helped bring about the collapse of the regime” (1).

3. 4 September 1989. In his book, The Role of the Masses in the Collapse of the GDR, Grix (2000) reports that, “The antagonism between proponents of exit and voice reached its height in Leipzig where the two groups marched separately on 4 September 1989. Whilst one group chanted ‘We want out!’ The other retorted ‘We’re staying here!'” (41). This animosity continued until late 1989 (Grix 2000).

4. Massive Exodus of GDR Inhabitants over Hungarian Border in Summer 1989. The motives of those who left or wanted to leave during the massive exodus to Hungary in the summer of 1989 included “dissatisfaction with the supply of consumer goods” and “limited opportunities for travel within and outside the GDR”; however, they also included constraints on rights of free speech and increasing dissatisfaction with the possibilities for personal development (Grix 2000). According to Grix, “In a representative survey of about 4700 emigres/refugees conducted between 10 October 1989 and 14 March 1990 the dominant motives for people wanting to leave the GDR were found to be both material and political. ‘Lack of individual freedom’ and ‘unfavourable political conditions’ were cited as the most dominant motives, closely followed by ‘East German living standards’ (Grix 2000, 41).

B. Fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. The highly publicized scenes of giddy East and West German merrymakers tearing down the Berlin Wall by hand, assisted by East German border guards in some cases, were quickly followed by the grim realities that confronted the newly unified nation. Although East Germans have free access to the West, following the system change and the introduction of economic reforms after the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, all the former socialist economies in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union (without exception) experienced a significant drop in output and GDP (Edwards, Polonsky, Pucko, Warner & Zhu 2004). According to these authors, “Some economies were better able to deal with this decline in output and GDP than others, as we have seen. The more successful economies were with the passage of time able to address the decline, bounce back and then surpass the output and GDP levels they had at the beginning of the transformation” (163).

III. On the Road to Unity.

A. Helmut Kohl’s Ten-Points Plan to Integrate GDR into West Germany. In the years immediately preceding its reunification, there was a general consensus that the constitutional authority for German unification could be derived from either Article 23 or Article 146 of the Basic Law (Pile 2001). At the time of its adoption, Pile reports that Article 23 provided for the possibility of a future German unification; however, Article 146 indicated that a new constitution could be drafted if unification was ever considered (Pile 2005). As a result, unification proceeded under Article 23 because the Article did not require a lengthy constitutional convention to achieve unification (as Article 146 appeared to require). According to Pile, Article 23 and Article 146 were not the only methods advanced for implementing the unification process. “Confederation,” he notes, “was another possible route to unification under the 1990 Basic Law. This unification method allowed both German States to ‘preserve their individual structures and governments while gradually merging some specified functions.’ Chancellor Helmut Kohl supported this method in his Ten-Point Plan of November 28, 1989. A lack of political support defeated this option and Chancellor Kohl soon withdrew his proposal” (633)

The East German prime minister, Hans Modrow, recommended yet another version involving a “contractual community” between West and East Germany that, like Chancellor Kohl’s confederation proposal, was eventually abandoned as a result of political support (Pile 2005).

B. Reunification of October 3, 1990. According to Pile (2001), “On October 3, 1990, West and East Germany officially united. Although several unification methods were possible, the unification occurred by East Germany acceding to the West German Constitution — the Basic Law — through a series of treaties. This ‘treaty route’ to unification necessarily required amendments to the Basic Law” (633). The primary instrument used for the reunification of the German states was the Treaty on the Establishment of German Unity, which set forth the Basic Law amendments that were immediately required to accomplish the legal requirements of the unification; however, the treaty also contemplated additional Basic Law amendments that would likely emerge as a direct result of the unification and even 10 years after the German unification was effected, the German legislature was compelled to pass six additional Basic Law amendments that directly addressed unification issues (Pile 2001).

IV. The British View of German Reunification.

A. Margaret Thatcher’s Concerns. The mistakes made during World War I and II may be buried in cemeteries throughout Europe, but the legacy of these German misadventures lived on in the minds of many British observers that questioned whether a reunified Germany represented yet another threat to the island’s security. In their book, Margaret Thatcher: Prime Minister Indomitable, Thompson and Thompson (1994) report that the United Kingdom’s foreign policy and business leaders had long accepted that the UK’s relations with Europe were at least as important as its relationship with the United States; however, Margaret Thatcher consistently assigned absolute priority to the alliance with the U.S.: “No one of my generation can forget that America has been the principal architect of a peace in Europe which has lasted forty years,” she pointed out (cited in Thompson & Thompson at 24).

While U.S. policymakers were appreciative of Thatcher’s unwavering support, the “special relationship” between the U.S. And Britain had suffered in recent years. According to these authors, the United States was increasingly reliant upon Thatcher to block the threat of a closed so-called “fortress Europe” that it feared would be the result of the European Community’s efforts to move toward a single market in 1992; however, her reluctance to shift position served to move the U.K. toward the periphery rather than the heart of Europe, a position where the U.K. would have more influence on the outcome. In addition, the end of the Cold War and collapse of the former Soviet Union reduced the United States’ need for a stalwart British ally in Europe: “Increasingly important for the U.S. were relations with the EC itself and with such new powers as Germany, whose unification in 1990 Thatcher had opposed” (Thompson & Thompson 24).

B. Dominance of Germany Economy in Europe. In his essay, “German Unification and the Union of Europe,” Berger (2001) reports that, “Perhaps no area witnessed a greater transformation, and has been haunted more by the memories of the past, than German foreign policy. The once notorious German drive for territorial expansion was replaced by a remarkable prudence in the definition of its national goals. Germany’s former readiness to resort to the force of arms gave way to what has been termed a “culture of restraint” in the use of military power” (80). Indeed, the first part of the 20th century was characterized by a German state bent on military and political dominance of the European continent, but after 1945, it became one of the driving forces in support of European integration (Berger 2001). According to Fassbender, “Germans, regardless of their political sympathies, think that their contribution to European integration after World War II is something for which they should be praised, not criticized. After all, in accordance with the advice of their neighbours, they abandoned nationalism and embraced the idea of European unity” (237). The Germans have, in fact, lived up to this commitment and, together with the French, have consistently sought to fuel the process of integration, albeit without allowing the French leadership to achieve a “Europe without America” (Fassbender 1994, 237). This author adds that, “Germans, including government officials, do not feel that Brussels generally would favour German interests. To them, the EC administration, modelled after the French governmental bureaucracy and marked by this influence, is truly foreign territory, particularly as all the work is done in French and English” (Fassbender 1994, 237).

In addition, many Germans maintain that they have been more ready to compromise when disagreements arise between members of the European Union, and more generous in terms of their financial contributions to the Community itself than most of the other nations. “Germany’s economic success which has made the country as important in the EC as it is today is indeed based upon the complete abandonment of traditional power politics — to an extent that many foreign observers have criticized Germany’s unwillingness ‘to do its share’ in the Gulf War, Somalia and former Yugoslavia” (Fassbender 1997, 238). As the result of these efforts, by the late 1980s, many observers agreed that the German state had successfully overcome its past and there were few informed analysts of German politics that maintained any longer that the Germans were particularly prone to authoritarianism, aggression, or a general lust for power; the primary concern during the 1980s was not that Germany would become obsessed with power, but rather that under the influence of the peace movement, the reformed German state would ignore political military realities (Berger 2001).

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, though, have caused some to express concerns about the potential revival of German nationalism and the German quest for power. These concerns are based on the reality of events that have taken place in the unified Germany rather than the political line espoused by its leadership; in fact, since 1989, there have been some profound shifts in both the domestic and international framework in which the foreign policy of Germany is conducted. “Externally the cessation of the east-west conflict allowed Germany to reunify while removing its principal security threat, the massed power of the Red Army,” Berger advises. “Internally, the fall of the Berlin Wall greatly expanded the territory and population of the Federal Republic, placing its social, economic, and political institutions under the greatest strain that they have had to endure since the 1950s” (Berger 2001, 80). Given these pronounced changes in Germany’s domestic and international environment, Berger suggests that it is also reasonable to expect that Germany possesses the ability – if not the outright will – to move towards greater independence in its foreign policy stance and exercise its military options with renewed confidence (Berger 2001).

In sum, the problem of German power and its consequences is once again the subject of much attention in European affairs, a state of affairs that has attracted an increasing amount of scholarly analyses; based on the growing body of research concerning these issues, three fundamental questions have emerged:

There is the question of whether and to what degree Germany will forego its historic reliance on the use of force and become once again a major military power. “Few analysts anticipate that the Federal Republic will revert to the expansionism of the pre-1945 period. Rather, the question now is whether Germany will become a ‘normal nation,’ one more like Britain or France who feels few inhibitions about using its armed forces in the pursuit of national interests” (Berger 2001, 80).

No matter which role the Federal Republic chooses to use for its military, there remains the question of whether it will become more assertive within the context of the European Union. “Whereas in the past the Federal Republic was content to follow the lead set by other members of the European Union, now that it is the largest and strongest nation, might it not insist as primus inter-parus on playing a greater role in setting the EU agenda? Whether the European Union could bear the strain of a more assertive Germany is a further, open question” (Berger 2001, 80).

There is the question of whether the Federal Republic’s use of power is the result of a deliberate strategy, or whether it is the unintended byproduct of distinctive German ideas and institutions and the ways in which they mesh with those of its neighbors. “This point is a subtle one, but nonetheless important. If German power is the result of a deliberate strategy, then this suggests that German leaders enjoy some measure of control over the ways in which the Federal Republic interacts with its neighbors and can be expected to avoid the pitfalls of the past” (Berger 2001, 80). Should the real-world situation play out so that German interactions with its neighbors are determined by structural factors (both domestic and international), then no matter what the intentions of German elites, the answer to the previous questions may be already in the works: “Should the exigencies of the international system incline it in that direction, the Federal Republic will inevitably move to assume great military power status, regardless of current German protestations that it has rejected power politics. Likewise, despite the Federal Republic’s ardent espousal of supranationalism, the European Union is predestined either to become subservient to German national interests or to disintegrate under the burden of increased German power” (Berger 2001, 80).

C. Balance of Power Disturbed. The events that have taken place since German reunification has been a steady erosion of the perception of the status quo balance of power in Europe as the last remaining vestiges of German disunity disappeared.

D. Militarily Too Powerful Germany Could Threaten Regional Stability. While the unified German states continued to hammer out the economic and social framework needed to accomplish the process successfully, many observers in Europe and elsewhere became concerned that such a reunited Germany represented a potential threat to the stability of the region, given Germany’s historic use of military force to accomplish political objectives. These concerns ranged from those expressed by France, whose experiences at the hands of the Nazis were still fresh in many minds, to those of other countries such as Poland that viewed any consolidation of power in Germany as a potential threat to their continued freedom (Fassbender 1994).

V. The French View of German Reunification.

According to Lauk (1994), “Germany’s geostrategic position made trade with Central and Eastern Europe a very reasonable option, and the high technical quality of German goods guaranteed a continuous market there, which depended heavily on well-synchronized political support” (57). Likewise, Judt (1994) advises that Had it not been for German unification, itself the most immediate and important consequence of the events of 1989, neither Germany nor France would be facing their present dilemmas. The French would not be suffering the short-term effects of high German interest rates and the long-term realization that their Europe, in which France was the primary beneficiary of German economic strength, no longer exists; the Germans would not be facing, for the first time since 1950, the prospect of a seriously troubled economy and, with it, the need to rethink the degree of importance they should attach to being ‘Europeans’ rather than Germans, given that the two may no longer be compatible. (2)

The French government was therefore wary of a reconstituted German state from both its potential military ambitions in the future as well as its potential economic clout if it was able to get its economic house in order without bankrupting itself in the reunification process.

VI. The Polish View of German Reunification.

Given its experiences at the beginning of World War II, not surprisingly, Poland was also worried about its borders with a reunified and expanded German state, and the country’s leadership also had other political fish to fry before they would sign off on the German unification process.

A. Poland Demanded that Germany Accept the Oder-Neisse Line as the Official Border.

According to Hofhansel (2005), “The legal argument that the West German government made even after the Warsaw Treaty of 1970 was that with this treaty the Federal Republic of Germany had recognized the Oder-Neisse line but that this did not affect earlier bilateral and multilateral agreements, and this meant that the commitment arguably was not binding for a reunited Germany” (39). One of these earlier agreements was the so-called Deutschlandvertrag (Germany Treaty) of 1954 that ended the occupation status of West Germany; article 7 of this treaty stipulated that the Western allies and the FRG would work toward a peace settlement for Germany as a whole and that the final determination of Germany’s borders would not take place until this initiative had been accomplished. “For a long time,” Hofhansel adds, “this legal interpretation of the Warsaw Treaty did not appear to have any practical consequences, but in 1989 and 1990 such arguments again assumed political significance” (39).

B. When Helmut Kohl Failed to Include this Line in his Ten Points, It Caused Major Worries on both Polish and German Sides. When the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, Kohl was in fact in Poland; however, he interrupted his trip to return to Germany for consultations (Hofhansel 2005). The newly elected Polish non-Communist government led by Prime Minister Mazowiecki considered German recognition of the finality of Poland’s western border as a fundamental component of its reunification process; in fact, this had been a longstanding Polish issue as well as compensation for Polish forced laborers during World War II (Hofhansel 2005). According to this author, “In contrast to the Polish Communists and nationalists on the right, the new government did not oppose German reunification as such, but in the Polish government’s view German unity was not just a bilateral affair of the two Germanys but required agreement among the four allied powers and the approval of all European states, and Germany’s neighbors in particular” (Hofhansel 2005, 39).

VII. German Development Following Reunification.

A. Breakdown of GDR Economy.

1. Obsolete East German Companies were Unable to Compete in a Free Market. Although the East German republic represented a shining economic star in the Soviet constellation of East European countries, it was a dull star in comparison to many of the rising economic powerhouses in Western Europe in general and in its West German counterpart in particular. The guaranteed jobs and social supports that were a concomitant of the East German system created a situation wherein East German workers largely pretended to work in exchange for job security and social benefits, and where the East German government pretended to care if their quotas were met. In fact, while citizens in East Germany recognized the advantages of a free market economy and the additional civil liberties enjoyed by their Western counterparts, they were also confronted with the harsh reality of being forced to give up some cushy social benefits in the process. These differences between the systems were point of divergence between the two states early on: “Even in 1951, when the West German Institute of Public Opinion asked people what they thought was the most important question facing Germany, only 18% replied reunification, compared with 45% who replied that it was the economic conditions” (Niven & Thomaneck 2001, 33).

a. Production Costs Too High Due to Too Many Employees. One of the glaring inefficient characteristics of the former East German economy was the inordinate number of workers used to produce a given product or service. These market inefficiencies were subsidized by the government but the impact on productivity and worker morale could not be so easily addressed (Kopstein 1997). According to this author, “All economies have inefficiencies, and the inefficiencies of the Soviet type might not have been so fatal were it not for the economic and political crises of the late 1970s. In particular, the delayed twin oil shocks of 1973 and 1979 and rising prices for other imported commodities, a world recession starting in 1974, and increased armaments spending after 1975 all contributed to a decrease in the GDR’s export earnings relative to its import requirements” (84). The 1980s were likewise difficult for inefficient East German industries; these industries desperately required imports from the West, and the East German leadership continued to import large quantities of Western goods to satisfy consumer demand as part of the social contract. “Under these conflicting pressures, net indebtedness to the West during the second half of the 1970s increased by more than 20% annually” (Kopstein 1997, 84).

b. Major Consumer of East German Products, USSR, had Collapsed. As Tables 1 and 2 below clearly show, the years leading up the German unification shows that the former GDR’s trade imbalance with its most important Western trading partner, West Germany, began to increase while its trade with its most important trading partner, the former Soviet Union, began to decline.

Table 1.




Source: Kopstein 1997, 84.

Table 2.

GDR Trade with West Germany, 1961-1976 (in millions of Deutsche marks).




Source: Kopstein 1997, 85.

These trends were not lost on the East German and Soviet leadership, either, and Kopstein points out that after 1976, the GDR stopped publishing separate import and export totals altogether and only issued aggregate trade figures.

2. Major Change 1:1 for Ostmark to Deutschmark. At the time of unification, the gross national product (GNP) of the GDR amounted to approximately 10% of that of the Federal Republic of Germany (Kirkpatrick 1990). The currency reforms of July 1990 was designed to bring the Ostmark in line with the Deutschmark, a process that followed earlier failed attempts to moderate these differences by the GDR (Staab 1998).

B. Exodus. During the period from October 1990 to October 1991, more than two million East Germans emigrated to the West (Fassbender 1994). The reasons cited for leaving varied, but virtually all such expatriates cited the superior living standards in the West and the additional civil liberties afforded their citizens as primary reasons (Fassbender 1994).

C. Money Spent on Reunification. Today, the German economy is the largest in Europe and the fifth largest in the world, and the reunified German state has more people than any other nation in Europe (Germany, 2006, 1). Further, the nation continues to be a key member of the European continent’s economic, political, and defense organizations and has assumed a new leadership role in the international community today. The reunified German state, though, has experienced some drastic shifts in demographic composition as well as some significant economic problems since reunification in 1990, due in large part to the enormous sums Germany has invested in an attempt to bring the former Eastern Germany’s productivity and wages up to Western standards (Germany, 2006).

1. Depending on Source, Costs Estimated at 250 Million to 1.5 Billion DM. The aforementioned currency reform of July 1990 that integrated Eastern Germany within the economic structure of the Federal Republic was following by the unified government being compelled to spent a great deal of them for unification purposes. According to Staab (1998), “The legal framework, the Deutschmark, and the free market were abruptly introduced to the Eastern L. nder. The decision by Bonn to pursue shock therapy did not fail to produce an immediate impact. When revisiting the former GDR after the first years of transition, one is struck by the vast changes in the economic sphere. Between 1991 and 1995 the net transfer of public funds from West to East rose from an annual 110 to over 150 billion Deutschmark” (33). These investments in the east have been to modernize or construct the roads, rail tracks, airports, highways, and telephone system needed to bring this infrastructure up-to-date to become competitive in the international marketplace (Staab 1998).

To accommodate the increasing number of Western consumer outlets opening in the region, entire economic sectors, including banking, insurance, and retail facilities had to be established from the ground up. As of the end of 1993, the total investment of private industries totaled 340 billion Deutschmark (Staab 1998). This author adds that, “New businesses opened and former state-owned firms were reorganized under new ownership. Small enterprises sprang up, creating a Mittelstand, a formerly missing class of small and medium-sized independent businesses. Between 1991 and 1994, some 870,000 new businesses were registered” (Staab 1998, 33). At the time of unification, the Treuhand administered around 14,000 companies. Only small businesses, such as bars, restaurants, and pharmacies were excluded. With the agency, Bonn had established overnight the world’s biggest industrial conglomerate. At the end of 1994, the Treuhand had fulfilled its core task of privatization and all but 60 firms had been sold (Staab 1998).

Throughout the East, wages increased continuously; in fact, during the period 1991 to 1994, basic wages in the East increased by 53% (Staab 1998). While Western levels have not yet been equaled, trade unions in the East enjoyed the expertise of Western staff and negotiated highly advantageous contracts that caused the financial situation for East German employees to improve significantly at the expense of their Western counterparts (Staab 1998). According to this author, “The choice of goods quickly approached Western standards, and people had the money surplus to purchase them. In mid-1994 the purchasing power had already reached between 70 and 80% of the West, which more than outweighed the 35% rise in living costs” (Staab 1998, 33). Before unification, the Ostmark had a market exchange rate of approximately 4.50 to 1 to the Deutschmark; Chancellor Kohl’s initiative to introduce an average 1.8 conversion rate, though, transformed the already significant East German savings into a respectable financial surplus. In 1993, the sum of private financial capital doubled in comparison to 1992 and reached DM 35 billion; in this regard, the market economy provided for new opportunities for competing in the international marketplace (Staab 1998).

These foregoing indicators of a successful and rapid economic transformation, though, were offset to a large extent by the condition of the economy in the East. According to Staab, “During the initial unification euphoria, unrealistic parallels were drawn to the successful postwar transformation of the West German economy after World War II which led to a fundamental misjudgment of the extent of the structural deficiencies” (34). In 1991, the first head of the Treuhand, Detlev Rohwedder (later assassinated by Red Army Faction terrorists), estimated that the sell-off of the GDR’s state-owned enterprises would result in the generation of DM 600 billion in revenues; however, the Treuhand actually experienced losses of DM 265 billion (Staab 1998). Likewise, productivity in the East declined by more than 50%, down to 35% of the Western standard; furthermore, production costs were 20% higher than the already high levels of the old L. nder (Staab 1998). In this environment, industrial production declined precipitously and by 1991, had fallen to a mere 33% of that during 1989; between 1991 and 1994, the number of companies in the East that were forced to close down as a result totaled some 450,000 (Staab 1998).

2. Temporary State Deficit in Germany was 1.4 Billion DM. Not surprisingly, this flurry of economic activity created a major demand on the unified German economy. In their essay, “German Unification as a Cultural Dilemma: A Retrospective,” Grote and Kienbaum (1997) report that, “Times are hard for many people in the eastern area of Germany. In the first year after unification, industrial production in the eastern area fell to about one-third of what it was in 1989” (223). The problems in the eastern part of the unified German state have affected all of Germany as well. For example, in 1989, West Germany was ranked at the top in per capita income in Europe; the reunified German state dropped behind France to fourth position by 1997 (Grote & Kienbaum 1997). Likewise, in 1989, West Germany was as a role model for fiscal responsibility; however, by 1997, its public indebtedness in relative terms exceeded that of the United States (Grote & Kienbaum 1997). According to these authors:

In 1989 the Federal Republic was regionally balanced; today the regional imbalance is the most extreme in Western countries, with the possible exception of Italy. That meant, of course, phenomenal job losses. By mid-1993, there were 1.1 million East Germans unemployed, about 14.7% of the workforce. Many more worked merely part-time, went into early retirement, or were being re-trained. By some estimates, nearly four million jobs out of about 10 million had vanished since 1989. This is a picture more dismal than the worst of the German depression era of the late twenties and early thirties (Grote & Kienbaum 1997, 224).

Those who are fortunate enough to have jobs in eastern Germany only earn an average of 65% of what their counterparts in the West earn for comparable work; while there may be obvious and inescapable reasons for the differentials in wage scales, but many people in the east view them as proof that they are considered second-class citizens. As of 1997, western Germany had invested approximately $100 billion per year into the eastern area and the federal government has imposed a 7.5% income tax surcharge, regarded as an enormous burden that is increasingly resented in the West. In fact, these authors emphasize that, “In order to bring the new Lander up to the level of the old in the West, in strictly economic terms only, it has been estimated that an investment of DM 2000 billion may be required” (Grote & Kienbaum 1997, 224).

VIII. Germany Today.

A. The Wall in the Head. For many Germans who grew up before or during reunification, East Germany is still not a complete part of the German Republic. According to Grote and Kienbaum, “East Germans, of course, had been largely isolated from the political and cultural trends that have remade the West, even if most of them were able to watch Western television. The cult of obedience — so highly developed by the Nazis — was fully sustained by the socialist dictatorship. Forty years under the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist version of socialism have left their mark” (224). In this regard, Mcadams (2002) adds that, “The future political culture of eastern Germany and, with it, the relationship between unified Germany’s once divided populations will depend heavily upon how all Germans respond to a distinctive fact about the east. The region experienced not one but, counting the German Democratic Republic (GDR), two separate eras of dictatorship. This fact can be, and has been, understood in two different ways, with significantly different implications in each case” (Mcadams 26); these respective views are discussed further below:

The perspective of the victim. According to this view, the citizens of the GDR uniquely had to shoulder the burden of having been born, in effect, “in the wrong place.” Not only did they endure greater hardships than their western counterparts, such as the rebuilding of Germany after World War II, but they suffered by themselves through the debilitating consequences of Soviet occupation and their inability, until 1990, to act upon the right to “free self-determination” (to quote the original preamble of the Basic Law). As a result, according to this argument, easterners were owed special treatment after unification because of their distinctive misfortunes.

The perspective of accountability. By contrast, the other way of viewing the GDR’s citizenry has been to treat it as at least partly responsible for its rate. Of course, no one can control the place of their birth, hut according to this line of reasoning, it was possible for eastern Germans to decide how fervently they supported the Socialist Unity Party (SED) regime. Unfortunately, despite the horrors of the Nazi dictatorship, it seemed that many had been willing to sell their honor and integrity in order to get ahead under communist rule. Thus, even though easterners were deprived of the conspicuous advantages enjoyed by Germans in the west — the Marshall Plan, the Basic Law, and the Wirtschaftswunder — it was still incumbent upon them after unification to atone for their past mistakes and to provide proof of their democratic credentials” (26).

A casual analysis alone would seem to suggest that these differing viewpoints could be attributed exclusively to eastern and western Germans, respectively, based on what each side had to gain from the interpretation of the different versions the GDR’s history. In this regard, Mcadams emphasizes that during the early months following the destruction of the Berlin Wall and during the ensuing efforts to consolidate national unity, a number of easterners considered the gains they were to make from unification as the fulfillment of rights long owed to them during decades of enforced deprivation by the Soviet-backed East German regime. “For their part, in contrast,” Mcadams adds, “western Germans often lamented the substantial cost of providing economic and political assistance to a people they barely knew. For many, their distant cousins still needed to demonstrate that they were worthy of being included fully in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG)” (2002, 27). To this end, Kahn (2004) suggests that, “Much can be accomplished when human beings begin to see in themselves the qualities they had previously hidden from themselves by imputing them to others. Such splitting of the good–within — and the bad–outside — is what the Berlin Wall was all about and what the ‘wall in the head’ is all about. It’s time to dismantle it” (67).

In his essay, “Political Culture in Unified Germany: The First Ten Years,” Conradt (2002) reports that, “After ten years of research on Germany’s postunification political culture, there is no scholarly consensus on the critical questions of east-west differences, the impact of unification on western German culture, and developmental trends in the two regions. These questions have become more acute in the light of decreased eastern economic growth, high unemployment, and growing evidence of a radical right-wing subculture in the new states” (43). The paucity of consensus among the scholarly community does not surprise Conradt, with the author noting that 12 years after the establishment of the Federal Republic in 1949, there was also no consensus as to the stability and viability of the new democracy during this turbulent period in Europe’s history. In this regard, Conradt notes that, “Even in the 1960s West Germany still represented for some a ‘republic in suspense,’ while others were already writing about a ‘remade’ political culture” (44). In fact, there are a number of political developments in the former GDR that are influencing how Germans perceive the impact of reunification on their own lives, including:

Substantial support (20-25%) for the former, ruling communist party, the PDS, in the new eastern states with practically no support in the west. The PDS thus has a strong interest in maintaining or expanding the current level of east-west differences.

The clearly disproportionate amount of xenophobic right-wing violence in the east. According to the Verfassungsschutz data for 2000, right-wing violence in the new states occurs at a rate of 2.21 per 100,000 population as compared to 0.95 for the old states. While the west is not immune from such attacks on foreign residents, the frequency of such incidents is much greater in the east. Moreover, there is little evidence of any broad popular support for such behavior in the west; however, a number of anecdotal reports from the east indicate that many ordinary easterners tacitly support this behavior.

Persistent warnings from mainstream national political figures that the continued relative economic decline in the east, including population transfers, signals the emergence of a German Mezzogiorno, a region and economy “abgekoppelt” and permanently doomed to second-class status (Conradt 2002, 44).

B. Emmid Institut in 2004: every second West Germany thinks that too much money is pumped to the East, in Bavaria even 60%.

C. During the elections of 2005, some Satiric “Fun” Parties Made the Reconstruction of the Berlin Wall a Plank in Their Platform. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, some observers were heard lamenting the loss of known enemies that during the “good old days of Communism”; likewise, given the enormous influx of immigrants and the problems associated with unification, some observers have adopted the reconstruction of the Berlin Wall as a satirical solution to Germany’s problems today.


No one thought it would be easy, which is a good thing because the events of the last two decades have made it clear that the reunification of East and West Germany is going to take some time. Astute analysts at the time suggested that the aftereffects of reunifications could well take between 10 and 20 years, and it appears the top end of this analysis is more appropriate than the former. In reality, though, much has been accomplished in the past 18 years or so, but much more remains to be done before the objectives promulgated by the German leadership can be said to have been achieved, and the concerns expressed by Germany’s neighbors sufficiently allayed that the unified state will be accepted into the European Union with open arms by people that no longer harbor visions of Germany once again arming itself and marching lemming-like off to war.


Bartee, Wayne C. 2000. A time to speak out: The Leipzig citizen protests and the fall of East Germany. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Berger, T. 2001. German unification and the Union of Europe. German Politics and Society 19(1):80.

Conradt, D.P. 2002. Political culture in unified Germany: The first ten years. German Politics and Society 20(2):43.

Edwards, Vincent, Gennadij Polonsky, Danijel Pucko, Malcolm Warner and Ying Zhu. 2004. Management in transitional economies: From the Berlin Wall to the Great Wall of China. New York: Routledge.

Germany. 2006. U.S. Government: CIA World Factbook. Retrieved November 11, 2006 from

Grix, Jonathan. 2000. The role of the masses in the collapse of the GDR. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.

Grote, M. And B. Kienbaum. 1997. German unification as a cultural dilemma: A retrospective. East European Quarterly 31(2):223.

Hofhansel, Claus. 2005. Multilateralism, German foreign policy and Central Europe. London: Routledge.

Judt, T. 1994. Nineteen eighty-nine: The end of which European era. Daedalus 123(3):1.

Kahn, Charlotte. 2000. Ten years of German unification: One state, two peoples. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Kirkpatrick, E.M. 1990. One country, one currency: Monetary and economic union. World Affairs 152(4):231.

Kopstein, Jeffrey. 1997. The politics of economic decline in East Germany, 1945-1989. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Lauk, K.J. 1994. Germany at the crossroads: On the efficiency of the German economy. Daedalus 123(1):57.

Mcadams, A.J. 2002. What remains? The political culture of an unlucky birth. German Politics and Society 20(2):26.

Niven, Bill and J.K.A. Thomaneck. 2001. Dividing and uniting Germany. London: Routledge.

Pile, M.W. 2001. Ten years of Basic Law Amendments: Developing a constitutional model of German unification. Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 34(3):633.

Slusser, R. 1996, December 22. ‘Leipzig is coming!’: In constructing future, city is proud of past. The Washington Times 1.

Staab, Andreas. 1998. National identity in Eastern Germany: Inner unification or continued separation? Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Thompson, Juliet S. And Wayne C. Thompson. 1994. Margaret Thatcher: Prime Minister Indomitable. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Wolle, S. 1998. Die heile Welt der Diktatur: Alltag und Herrschaft in der DDR 1971-1989, Berlin: Links.

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