Political Union

A Changed Germany, 25 Years Later

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It has been nearly a quarter century since the signing of the reunification treaty on October 3, 1990, which formally sealed the legal fusion of East and West Germany.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The legal marriage of Germany 25 years ago on October 3, 1990, created Europe’s largest economy, which has assumed an increasingly significant economic and political role on the Continent and globally.

  • Facts


    • Targeted for removal by the elites of his own political party only a short time earlier, Mr. Kohl proved to be the right man at the right time, guiding Germany through a chaotic, challenging period with his trademark optimism and single-mindedness.
    • While eastern Germany continues to lag the west in overall economic terms, the joining together in 1990 has benefitted the country at large and achieved the success Mr. Kohl always envisioned.
    • Scenes of grateful arrivals at railroad stations throughout Germany in the 1990s are being repeated as thousands of refugees stream into the country from the war torn Middle East, but this time there is more a feeling of fear than optimism in the air.
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It was one of the most heavily guarded lines of demarcation between East and West, between the Communist and non-Communist world: the border between Hungary and the neutral country of Austria. But on May 2, 1989, something unheard-of and totally unexpected occurred. The Hungarians dismantled the barriers along the border.

The message was understood by all as word spread around the world. The Iron Curtain had come to an end, replaced by a conventional national border.

By opening its border, Hungary — which today clamors loudly for borders, walls and barbed wire — made it possible for anyone fleeing the German Democratic Republic to make their way to the West, following a route that went from Budapest through Austria to Munich. The walls fell under the steady onslaught of those dissatisfied with the material catastrophe of the socialist countries.


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That began the chain of events leading to German unity and the great era of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the Christian Democratic Union leader who only a short time before had been targeted for overthrow by the upper echelon of his party. For him, reunification was an act of political will, a fulfillment of a vision he scarcely believed in any longer. The economy was forced to adapt to the grand political scheme, whatever the cost.

A quarter of a century later, younger economists are amazed that a unity dictated by politics achieved even economic success, albeit much later than Mr. Kohl had imagined.

Almost a generation after the official start of German Reunification on October 3, 1990, a nation that is both economically and politically strong has emerged and is slowly but surely assuming a leadership role in the European Union. The East did not turn into a “Southern Italy without the Mafia,” as former Social Democratic Party of Germany Chancellor Helmut Schmidt once feared.

The equation East equals poor and West equals rich is no longer unambiguously true. Flourishing regions around Erfurt and Leipzig in the East contrast with sites of decline such as Gelsenkirchen in the West, even if economically “blooming landscapes” did not arise everywhere, as Mr. Kohl promised in 1990.

The economic power of the East continues to be a third below that of the West. Unified Germany reached its economic nadir after five years. At the time, the media spoke of the “demolition of the East” and not its reconstruction. After the euphoria following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the introduction of the German mark in summer 1990 at an exchange rate of one-to-one was a shock. Overnight, GDR industry lost its markets in Eastern Europe, while wages rose dramatically because the differences with those in the West were to disappear as quickly as possible.

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