In 1990, the German Democratic Republic joined the Federal Republic of Germany, thereby creating a unified German state, and East and West Berlin were also reunited into a single city. The process of transforming the GDR into a democratic state and unifying the two Germanys began with the Wende (change in direction) in November 1989 and culminated in a Unification Treaty, which was signed by officials of both German states on August 31, 1990. This treaty, the result of intense negotiations between the GDR and the FRG, provided for the accession of the GDR to the FRG. The end of the unification process is officially called Deutsche Einheit (German Unity) and is celebrated annually on October 3, a national holiday in Germany.
In accordance with Article 23 of the Basic Law of the FRG, which took effect on October 3, 1990, five of the GDR’s newly created federal states (Bundesländer)—Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia—became states of the FRG. The 23 boroughs of Berlin formed Land Berlin, which became one of Germany’s 16 constituent states. Berlin was again designated as the capital of united Germany and, after the establishment of German unity, it also became the seat of the parliament and government. The socialist German Democratic Republic, founded after World War II on October 7, 1949, was no longer a satellite state of the Soviet Union and no longer a nation by itself.
Helmut Kohl, who died at age 87 on June 16, 2017, served as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1982 to 1993, then as Chancellor of unified Germany from 1993 to 1998. He witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and, following that momentous event, was a major force behind German reunification as the Cold War came to what many people thought was its end. He has been called, and he deserves to be called, the “architect of German unity.” When he perceived the possibility of forging the two Germanys into one, he moved decisively and through skillful diplomatic negotiations helped press forward in that direction. Another leader, one with less courage and experience, might have hesitated and lost the opportunity to reunite Germany. But Kohl—like Otto von Bismarck who, after uniting all the states of Germany, became the first Chancellor of the German Empire in 1871—was determined to build a stable and prosperous German republic with a unified national identity. He succeeded and, in so doing, secured his place alongside Bismarck in German history. Today, Germany is the most economically powerful and politically influential country in the European Union.
The reunification of Germany took me very much by surprise. I, like almost everyone else, did not see it coming. And as with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, I never thought an event of such momentous historical-political significance would ever happen or be permitted to happen in my lifetime. Many persons in the GDR, as well as in the governments and populations of Western and Eastern European countries, were opposed to German reunification. But happen it did, to my utter amazement, and I am pleased that the German nation was reassembled and that it is once again intact!
I would like to make three additional observations on the subject of German reunification. First, one must acknowledge the important role that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev played in reuniting the two Germanys after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Without his cooperation and goodwill, East and West Germany could not have come together. Second, it is important to understand the pivotal role US President George H. W. Bush played in the unification process, as he exercised his superior skills as diplomat and statesman. It was Bush, successor to President Ronald Reagan, who worked with Chancellor Helmut Kohl to harness the upheavals in the crumbling Soviet empire in order to deliver on the promise of German unification.
Third, the Unification Treaty was just the beginning of a long and difficult process of the two Germanys coming to a territorial and political union. There were many obstacles to overcome and no one, including Helmut Kohl, could possibly have foreseen what this process would entail. In order to achieve his goal Kohl hurried the East Germans into unification by promising them “blühende Landschaften” (blossoming landscapes), an unrealistic vision of the economic prosperity the West could provide. But today, almost thirty years later, wages and pensions in the eastern states of Germany still are not equal to those in the states of former West Germany; also, the rate of unemployment is much higher. Many of the former East Germans feel forgotten and, understandably, are resentful. For these reasons mainly, there is still a wide divide between the states and populations of former East and West Germany.