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German reunification ( ) was the process in which the German Democratic Republicmarker (GDR / East Germany) joined the Federal Republic of Germanymarker (FRG / West Germany), and Berlin was united into a single city-state. The start of this process is commonly referred to by former citizens of the GDR as die Wende (The Turning Point.). The end of the unification process is officially referred to as the German unity ( ), celebrated on 3 October (German Unity Day).

The East German regime started to falter in the summer of 1989, when Hungarymarker opened a hole in the Iron Curtain. It caused an exodus of thousands of East Germansmarker going to West Germany via Hungary.The Peaceful Revolution was a series of protests by East Germans. The Peaceful Revolution led to the GDR's first free elections on 18 March 1990, and to the negotiations between the GDR and FRG that culminated in a Unification Treaty, whilst negotiations between the GDR and FRG and the four occupying powers produced the so-called "Two Plus Four Treaty" (Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany) granting full sovereignty to a unified German state, whose two halves had previously still been bound by a number of limitations stemming from its post-WWII-status as an occupied nation. The united Germany remained a member of the European Community (later the European Union) and of NATOmarker.


There is debate as to whether the events of 1990 should be properly referred to as a “reunification” or a “unification.” Proponents of the former use the term in contrast with the initial unificationmarker of Germany in 1871. Popular parlance, which uses "reunification", is deeply affected by the 1989 opening of the Berlin Wallmarker (and the rest of the inner German border) and the physical reunification of the city of Berlin (itself divided only since 1945). Others, however, argue that 1990 represented a “unification” of two German states into a larger entity which, in its resulting form, had never before existed (see History of Germany).

For political and diplomatic reasons, West German politicians carefully avoided the term "reunification" during the run-up to what Germans frequently refer to as die Wende. The official and most common term in German is "Deutsche Einheit" (in English "German unity"). German unity is the term that Hans-Dietrich Genscher used in front of international journalists to correct them when they asked him about "reunification" in 1990.

After 1990, the term "die Wende" became more common. The term generally refers to the events (mostly in Eastern Europe) that led up to the actual reunification; in its usual context, this term loosely translates to "the turning point", without any further meaning. When referring to the events surrounding unification, however, it carries the cultural connotation of the time and the events in the GDR that brought about this "turnaround" in German history. However, civil rights activists from Eastern Germany rejected the term Wende as it was introduced by SED’s Secretary General Egon Krenz.

Process of reunification

On 18 May 1990, the two German states signed a treaty agreeing on monetary, economic and social union. This came into force on 1 July 1990, with the Deutsche Mark replacing the East German mark as the official currency of East Germany. The Deutsche Mark had a very high reputation among the East Germans and was considered stable. While the GDR transferred its financial policy sovereignty to West Germany, the West started granting subsidies for the GDR budget and social security system. At the same time many West German laws came into force in the GDR. This created a suitable framework for a political union by diminishing the huge gap between the two existing political, social and economic systems.

A reunification treaty between West Germany and the GDR was negotiated in mid-1990 and finally approved by large majorities in the legislative chambers of both countries on 20 September 1990. After that last step Germany was officially united at 00:00 CET on 3 October 1990. The five re-established federal states (Bundesländer) of East Germany – Brandenburgmarker, Mecklenburg-Vorpommernmarker, Saxonymarker, Saxony-Anhaltmarker, Thuringiamarker – formally joined the Federal Republic of Germanymarker, along with the city-state Berlin which formally came into being at the same time, created out of the still formally occupied West Berlin and East Berlin, and admitted to the federation. In practice however, West Berlin had already acted as an 11th state for most purposes, so Berlin is generally not included in the list of "New Länder".

The process chosen was one of two options implemented in the West German constitution (Grundgesetz). As these five newly-founded German states formally joined the Federal Republic in accordance with (the then-existing) Article 23, the area in which the constitution served as the constitution was simply extended to include them. The alternative would have been for East Germany to join as a whole along the lines of a formal union between two German states that then would have had to, amongst other things, create a new constitution for the newly established country.

Under the model that was chosen, however, the territory of the former German Democratic Republic was simply incorporated into the Federal Republic of Germany, and accordingly the Federal Republic of Germany, now enlarged to include the Eastern States, continued legally to exist under the same legal personality that was founded in May 1949. Thus, the reunification was not a merger that created a third state out of the two, but an incorporation, by which West Germany absorbed East Germany. Thus, on Unification Day, October 3, 1990, the German Democratic Republic ceased to exist, giving way to five new Federal States, and East and West Berlin were also unified as a single city, forming a sixth new Federal State. The new Federal States immediately became parts of the Federal Republic of Germany, so that it was enlarged to include the whole territory of the former East Germany. The practical result of that model is that the now expanded Federal Republic of Germany continued to be a party to all the treaties it had signed prior to the moment of reunification, and thus continued the same membership of the U.N., NATO, the European Commmunities, etc; also, the same Basic Law and the same laws that were in force in the Federal Republic continued automatically in force, but now applied to the expanded territory.

To facilitate this process and to reassure other countries, some changes were made to the "Basic Law" (constitution). Article 146 was amended so that Article 23 of the current constitution could be used for reunification. After the five "New Länder" of East Germany had joined, the constitution was amended again to indicate that all parts of Germany are now unified. Article 23 was rewritten and it can still be understood as an invitation to e.g. Austria to join (though the main idea of the change was to calm fears in for example Poland, that Germany would later try to rejoin with former parts of Germany that were now Polish or parts of other countries in the East. The changes effectively formalised the Oder-Neisse line as Germany's permanent eastern border). These amendments to the Basic Law were mandated by Article I, section 4 of the Two Plus Four Treaty.

While the basic law was modified rather than replaced by a constitution as such, it still permits the adoption of a formal constitution by the German people at some time in the future.

To commemorate the day that marks the official unification of the former East and West Germany in 1990, 3 October has since then been the official German national holiday, the Day of German Unity (Tag der deutschen Einheit). It replaced the previous national holiday held in West Germany on 17 June commemorating the Uprising of 1953 in East Germany and the national holiday on 7 October in the GDR.

On 14 November 1990, the German government signed a treaty with Poland, finalising Germany's boundaries as permanent along the Oder-Neisse line, and thus, renouncing any claims to Silesia, East Brandenburg, Farther Pomerania, Gdańskmarker (Danzig), and territories of the former province of East Prussia. The treaty also granted certain rights for political minorities on either side of the border. The following month, the first all-German free elections since 1932 were held, resulting in an increased majority for the coalition government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

On 15 March 1991, the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany, that had been signed in September 1990 between the U.S.S.R., the U.S.A, the United Kingdom, France, East Germany and West Germany, and that was ratified by the reunited Germany, entered into force, putting an end to the remaining limitations on German sovereignty that resulted from the post WWII arrangements.


To this day, there remain vast differences between the former East Germany and West Germanymarker (for example, in lifestyle, wealth, political beliefs and other matters) and thus it is still common to speak of eastern and western Germany distinctly. The eastern German economy has struggled since unification, and large subsidies are still transferred from west to east. The former East Germany area has often been compared to the underdeveloped Southern Italy and the Southern United States during Reconstruction after the civil war.

British and French opposition

According to Kremlin records that became public in 2009, the governments of the U.K. and France did not want German "reunification."

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told Soviet President Gorbachev that neither Britainmarker nor Western Europe wanted the reunification of Germany. Thatcher also clarified that she wanted the Sovietmarker leader to do what he could to stop it. Thatcher said to Gorbachev "We do not want a united Germany”. Similarly, a representative of French President François Mitterrand reportedly told an aide to Gorbachev, "France by no means wants German reunification, although it realises that in the end it is inevitable." Ultimately, however, both the U.K. and France ratified the Two Plus Four Treaty, thus finalizing the reunification for purposes of international law.

In October 2009, France released its archives from 1989-90 relating to the process of German reunification. It was revealed that President Mitterand agreed to German unification in exchange for a commitment from Chancellor Kohl to the European Economic and Monetary Union.

In January 1990, Mitterand told Thatcher that a unified Germany could "make more ground than even Hitler had".

In March 1990 the French ambassador in London reported that Margaret Thatcher had told him, "France and Great Britain should pull together today in the face of the German threat."

See also


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