Germany lies in central Europe. It borders France, Switzerland, Austria,
Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, and it has a
short coastline on the North and Baltic Seas. The northern part of the country is mostly
flat. The terrain is hilly in Central and Southern Germany. The Alps run along the border
with Austria. More than one quarter of the land is still under forest cover. Major rivers
include Rhine in the west, Danube in the south, Elbe and Weser in the north, and Oder in
the east. The climate is moderate; mild summers and cool winters. Major exports are
machinery, motor vehicles, electrical equipment and chemicals. The estimated population
in 1996 was 77,030,00. Germany s capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany is a federal
republic, the government s main bodies include a parliament, a federal chancellor and a
cabinet. In order to better understand the present state in Germany, I am presenting a
brief political summary.
Germany was a unified country from 1871 to 1945. When Hitler committed
suicide in Berlin that year, Germany was left in ruins. Bombings had destroyed cities,
industries and transportation . Victorious allies agreed to divide Germany into four
zones, but they could not agree on how to reunite the four zones. As a result,
in 1949, Germany was divided into two states; the Federal Republic of Germany(West
Germany) which emerged from the three western zones, U.S.A., Great Britain and France,
and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) created from the Soviet Unions
Any chance that Germany may have reunified in the 1950 s was erased by
Conrad Adenauer, West German Chancellor. Adenauer did not trust Soviet intentions and
opted for relations with the U.S.A. and Western Europe. His government brought an
amazing economic recovery to West Germany, which helped the republic to gain the
support of its citizens. The relationship between East and West Germany continued to
deteriorate with the pressures of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall was constructed on
August 13, 1961. Although he was committed to democracy, Adenauer s pushy style led
to his retirement in 1963. His party, the Christian Democrats remained in power until
1969, when the Social Democrats, led by Willy Brandt came into power. Brandt s chief
contribution was "Ostopolitik" which led to the establishment of diplomatic relations with
east bloc countries. Relaxed tensions let West Germans visit friends and relatives in
the East. In the long term, that relaxation made reunification a possibility. Brandt resigned
in 1974 after it was discovered that one of his aides was an East German spy. Helmut
Schmidt, also a Social Democrat, succeeded him. Schmidt continued to practice moderate
domestic policies and Ostopolitik, as did the Christian Democrats when they returned to
power under Helmut Kohl in 1982.(1) Kohl remained chancellor following the 1983 and
The German Democratic Republic experienced a more difficult history. After
World War II the Soviet Union appointed German communists to office and set up a
system similar to that of the Soviet Union. People suspected of opposing communism
were thrown into prison camps. Many East Germans attempting to flee into West
Germany were killed. The Socialist Union Party was formed , led by Walter Ulbricht.
East German economy recovered after 1945, but the standard of living was much lower
than that of West Germany. Although living and working conditions slowly improved
under the unpopular dictator, almost three million dissatisfied citizens escaped to West
Germany resulting in the construction of the Berlin Wall. Ulbricht resigned in 1971, he
was succeeded by Erich Honecker. Honecker helped to improve relations with many
non-communist nations but no real changes were felt until 1989, when protests for
freedom by East Germans became rampant. The pressure forced Honecker to resign. His
successor was Egon Krenz. The government finally decided to open its borders and allow
citizens to travel freely. The end of these restrictions led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.(2)
The opening of the borders in 1989 permitted thousands of East Germans to move to
West Germany where they were immediately granted citizenship. This allowed the
population to consider the possibility of reunification.
In order for reunification to become a reality, a number of factors needed to be
considered. The integration of East Germany into the much larger economic system of
West Germany and the establishment of a stable currency was a necessity.
The ability of the new Germany to sustain the huge national debt was a concern since East
Germany was falling apart economically. Also, some thought reunification would be
difficult because the two states belonged to opposing military alliances, creating the fear
that a united Germany would strive once again to become a threat to world peace.
Lastly, the four power rights of the allies had to be dealt with.
With astounding speed that surprised the world, the two states resolved their
economic and social differences and a treaty for unification , which included a promise
from Germany to renounce nuclear chemical and biological weapons was signed in
August, 1990. Germany had its first national elections in December, 1990.(3)
Events Leading up to German Reunification
11 September Hungary allows thousands of East Germans to pass through its
territory to take refuge in the Federal Republic via Austria. 4%
of the GDR population emigrates in a matter of months.
18 October Erich Honecker is ousted, and replaced by Egon Krenz.
3 November Krenz purges five members of his cabinet of eighteen, and appeals
to East Germans not to flee the country. Czechoslovakia opens its
border, allowing East Germans to emigrate to the West.
4 November Nearly one million people join a demonstration in East Berlin
demanding free elections and free travel.
7 November The GDR government resigns.
9 November The Berlin Wall is opened.
17 November The reformist Hans Modrow takes over as head of government.
1 December GDR parliament ends the Communists monopoly of power.
7 December The GDR government begins round-table discussions with
1 February Modrow proposes a united, non-aligned Germany for the first time.
10 February Gorbachev says the Germans can determine their own future. Kohl
greets it as a green light for unification.
20 February Talks begin on economic and monetary union.
18 March First free general election in the GDR.
18 May A treaty is signed in Bonn to establish economic, monetary and
social union between the Federal Republic and the GDR on 1 July.
27 June West and East Germany decide to lift all border controls between
them from 1 July.
3 October Unification of Germany(4)
For Europe, the reunification signaled the end of the Cold War. Voters in both
Germanys elected a single national parliament. Chancellor, Helmut Kohl and his comrades
won with a strong majority. East Germans were anxious to gain economic and political aid
from West Germany. Kohl sought to strengthen ties to the European community. Of
course, the greatest opposition came from the Soviet Union, but Gorbachev finally
approved NATO membership of a unified Germany. The economic union resulted in an
exchange of East German marks at a 1 to 1 rate for West German Deutshe marks. Wages
and pensions were also converted. Although there was some argument, Helmut Kohl
claimed that these measures were necessary in order to slow the emigration of East
Germans to West Germany. Unemployment soared as inefficient businesses shut down.
Industry was in far worse shape than had been perceived.(5)
The relief that came with unification gave way to reality as the chore of raising the
standard of living of 17 million East Germans became evident. The German government
said it would spend the equivalent of 50 billion dollars U.S. on welfare, unemployment and
reconstruction. These costs had a negative effect on the economy as inflation and interest
rates began to rise. As a result, Chancellor Helmut Kohls popularity sank.
Another problem confronting the newly united Germany was the educational
system. Under the term of their treaty, East Germany agreed to adapt its system to
conform to that of West Germany, but most teachers and professors from the former were
not adequately qualified. Most were put on probation or retired, creating a shortage of
The high cost of reunification and the pressure on Germany to redefine its role on
the world scene were key issues. Government budget productions had doubled , causing
inflation to reach a peak, unemployment increased, and interest rates rose.
Violence flared up against refugees. Approximately 400 000 came to Germany
from the former republics of Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
Thousands took part in the demonstrations condemning the violence.
Erich Honecker faced charges of manslaughter. He was accused of ordering
anyone trying to flee from East Berlin to West Berlin during the sixties to be shot. (7)
The year was costly as the 17 million residents on welfare forced Germany to
keep interest rates high, slowing economic growth. GDP declined by 2%.
Germany s central bank tried to lower rates but faced opposition from other
Western European countries. Unemployment reached 50% in some areas since
most easterners had not developed the entrepreneurial drive that the West
expected. West Germans were increasingly resentful toward what they saw as an
The political picture was unsettled as Germany s two main parties changed their
leaders and other prominent figures, including Helmut Kohl, made changes within
the Christian Democrat Party that came under fire.(8)
Chancellor Helmut Kohl began a fourth term. The German economy began to
recover. Estimates said that the growth in East Germany would exceed that of West
Germany by a rate of nearly 10%. Violence continued, but less frequent than in 1993
Political restrictions against immigrants were approved. A court ruled that German
troops could take part in military action outside Germany, provided the action was
approved by NATO. Erich Honecker died of liver cancer in Chile where he had been
The growing strength of the German mark resulted in loss of work for Germans
since huge corporations opted to take production to the United States. Many unions
agreed to less working hours and lower wages in return for job security. A constitutional
court decision not to prosecute former East German Intelligence officials angered both
West and East Germans. 1500 German troops were sent to Bosnia Herzegovina to aid
U.N. peacekeepers . A compromise was reached concerning strict West German abortion
laws and East Germany s permissive laws.(10)
A brief recession sent unemployment to an all time high. Helmut Kohl became the
country s longest serving leader of the twentieth century. He urged cutbacks in
government spending and welfare payments citing that Germany had been living beyond
its means. Incentives for investment were implemented . Also Germany began forcing
an estimated 350 000 refugees to leave the country, if they refused to go voluntarily.(11)
In the seven years since the wall crumbled, the two sections of Germany, rather
than growing together have pulled apart. Despite nearly $660 billion in West to
East transfers, subsidies, bank guarantees, and investments in public works, the
blooming landscapes predicted by Helmut Kohl in 1990 have yet to blossom and
East Germans who yearned for reunification are learning about the curse of a
wish come true. Reunification promised to quickly alleviate 40 years of East
German socialism by means of tax money. Government leaders all agreed that East
Germany could be raised to the West German standard of living within four years,
yet much of the GDR remains in the same condition that Hitler left it in. The
people of FRG worked hard for years to rebuild their economy, and are increasingly
resentful since most of the people of the former GDR still cling to the dream that poverty
can be overcome by the state. The German government has sent billions of Deutschmarks
to the former GDR leaving many Westerners to look back on the days of their pleasant
existance west of the iron curtain.
The high rate of unemployment that accompanied transformation; as high as 40%
in some regions has not dropped. The construction industry which was the
backbone of growth for the first five years is sagging. Hundreds of East German
firms are surviving only because of subsidies . The Eastern economy has lost its
drive and estimates say it will take 20 years to catch up, and at least a generation to get
over the ill feelings between the two Germanys.(12)