23 Years after the German reunification Posted by Sandra Rösner on Oct 3, 2013 in Culture, Current Events, History, People, Travel
October 3rd is an important date in German history. It is a national holiday in honor of the accession of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) to the Federal Republic of Germany.
The German reunification was given a push by a peaceful revolution in 1989 and 1990. Citizens of the former GDR got together in order to protest against the prevailing social order and took a stand for a self-determined life, especially for moving about freely around the world.
Why had Germany been divided?
After World War II die Siegermächte (the victorious powers) – the USA, Great Britain, France, and the former Soviet Union – espoused different political ideologies with reference to social order and the economic system, as part of the so-called act of de-Nazification. The Western powers (US, GB, and F) pursued the idea of democracy and capitalism, whereas the Soviet Union favored the idea of socialism. In order to avoid another hot war, the victorious powers came to the agreement that every Besatzungsmacht (occupation force) can rule, according to their worldview, in their corresponding Besatzungszone (occupied area). That is, the Soviet Union occupied the areas Sachsen (Saxony), Thüringen (Thuringia), Sachsen-Anhalt (Saxony-Anhalt), Brandenburg, Mecklenburg, and Vorpommern (Western Pomerania). The rest of the German territory was occupied by the other three victorious powers, which set themselves to the establishment of democratic structures in Germany. This again involved the participation in global economy and the evolvement of capitalistic structures in the newly founded Federal Republic of Germany.
The conflict between the victorious powers has become known as the Cold War. By the way, the term “cold war” generally describes a form of warfare in which no weapons are used, such as bombs, guns, and the like.
Why had citizens of the GDR been so dissatisfied with the style of government?
As mentioned above, the Soviet Union pursued the idea of socialism, which was obviously not compatible with a democratic style of government. Socialism is a major political idea, which established in the 19th century. The Grundwerte (core values) of socialism are Gleichheit (equality), Gerechtigkeit (justice), and Solidarität (solidarity). The aim of socialism is a fair economic and social order.
In order to achieve the aim of socialism the Soviet Military Administration instrumentalized the SED (die Sozialistische Eineitspartei Deutschland – the Socialist Unity Party of Germany). The SED was the one and only political party in the GDR and it had to implement all the requirements of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, the citizens of the GDR generally didn’t agree to the Soviet requirements and soon became dissatisfied with their situation. Here are some examples:
First, people were not allowed to leave the GDR. Travels to foreign countries were impossible, except for some destinations such as Hungary, Poland, and Russia, for which you always had to file a motion.
Education and profession
Second, social equality and justice was always imposed. The GDR was a so-called Arbeiter-und-Bauern-Staat (workers’ and farmers’ state) and it was intended to compensate the numbers of intellectuals (i.e. academics) and workers in general and within one family. Usually, children of academics were not allowed to got to university but had to take up more practical professions, for instance, hairdresser, baker, cook, and craftsman. On the contrary, children of non-academics were advised to go to university.
Music and culture
In the GDR it was strictly forbidden to listen to Western music, such as rock music, because it might have given someone any ideas. Officials generally destroyed records with treacherous music when they got wind of it. Further, it was not allowed to wear clothes that pictured capitalistic symbols or symbols of the socialist enemy. I once heard a story that a student had been expelled from lessons at school because he wore a T-Shirt with Stars and Stripes.
What has the Berlin Wall to do with divided Germany?
The Building of the Berlin Wall was the summit of a divided Germany. Before the war, Berlin had been the political centre of the German Reich. At the end of WW II the city was occupied by both the Western powers and the Soviet Union. Even before the construction of the Wall citizens of the GDR were already dissatisfied with the socialist doctrine and fled the country in flocks. In order to prevent that citizens of the GDR can flee the country at the innerdeutschen Grenze (inner German boarder), the SED determined to build a wall around the West Berlin. The Wall, which is also know as Eiserner Vorhang (Iron Curtain), existed from August 13th 1962 until November 9th 1989.
The fall of the Berlin Wall (November 9th 1989) was the deciding reason why Germany was officially reunited one year later October 3rd 1990. In the evening of November 9th the demand of the citizens of the GDR, to get more freedom to travel, became louder and louder.
Günter Schabowski, head of the SED in East Berlin declared in a press conference that all citizens of the GDR would get immediately the absolute right to travel. This was actually a mistake. It is true that the government of the GDR had passed a new travel law but it was considered to come into effect only at 4 a.m. the next morning, when all boarder guards are informed about this revision. Schabowski neither knew anything about this blocking period (4 a.m.) nor did he attend the preceding consultations. Consequently, the boarder troops were surprised and unprepared. They only heard the news on the radio and faced a crowed of people who pressed for an immediate opening of the boarder crossings. The troops were completely overwhelmed and eventually wilt under this pressure. In the end, thousands of people flocked to West Berlin and celebrated their newly found freedom on the Wall.