Steps towards unification

Uniting Germany

March 22, 1996

Leaving Rostock on September 18, 1989, having taught English for two years in the German Democratic Republic, this reviewer would have been playing a cruel joke had he invited any East Germans to England for Christmas. Yet on December 18, 1989 a friend from Magdeburg arrived on the Harwich train to Nottingham. The events of November 9, when the Wall had been opened almost by mistake, had made it possible. The change really did come that quickly, suddenly and, to most people, surprisingly.

Since then, a number of people have published essentially personal looks at the events surrounding German unification. Others have looked at specific angles, such as Europe and German unity, Berlin in 1989-1990, etc. This book, by contrast, is a solid collection of articles, speeches, debates and other documents relating to the process of uniting Germany. Starting with a background chapter on the years 1944-1988, the book goes on to concentrate on the period 1989-1993. This is just one of its many strengths.

Another is that it is not limited to German documents. As Konrad Jarausch and Volker Gransow point out in their introduction, German unification ultimately "was made possible by the detente of the superpowers". It is virtually impossible to imagine the GDR being allowed to leave the Warsaw Pact and become part of Nato while those two blocs remained potent and opposing entities.

The authors have documented material from Gorbachev, George Bush and The New York Times, as well as Polish, Soviet, French sources and a resume of other European reactions to German unification. Included almost in full is Charles Powell's summary of the meeting at Chequers when, in deciding "we should be nice to the Germans", Mrs Thatcher and her advisers revealed more about their own prejudices than about Germany.

Detente and the collapse of Stalinism in Europe still required a specific German reaction, in East and West, in order for unity to be achieved. The events of 1989-1990 in the GDR have often been described as amounting to a 'civic revolution'.

The mass exodus of the summer and autumn of 1989, the opening of the Hungarian border with Austria, the invasions of West German embassies in Eastern Europe by East Germans are all documented here. Yet that is only part of the picture, and it is arguably the case that those who left made the least contribution towards reform and eventual unification.

The Leipzig demonstrators who chanted "We are the people", the party officials and respected citizens of that city who conspired to avoid a "GDR Tiananmen Square" on October 9, the demonstrators up and down the country who in October 1989 chanted "We are staying here", and the new political groups such as New Forum, Democratic Awakening and others, are the real heroes of this period.

Yet the path to German unity was by no means a clear one at this stage. Most of those demonstrating called merely for the democratisation of the GDR. German unification remained a distant dream, and for some East Germans an undesirable one.

The opening of the Wall and the almost immediate pro-unity offensive launched by Helmut Kohl and others changed that. By the spring of 1990 this campaign had found an echo among large sections of the populace.

It was in that other famous Saxon city, Dresden, that Leipzig's democratic slogan "We are the people" became a nationalist one: "We are one people". The authors document also how, by early 1990, even the reform communist prime minister, Hans Modrow, was invoking the long-forgotten words of the East German anthem: "Germany, united fatherland".

Any set of documents is, of necessity, selective. The authors have expanded the original 1991 German edition of the book with a new chapter looking at post-unification problems. Their sources are well documented and are a useful bibliography in themselves. The book is an indispensable guide for the English-speaking student of contemporary German history.

Paul O'Doherty is a lecturer in German, University of Ulster.

Uniting Germany: Documents and Debates, 1944-93

Author - Konrad H. Jarausch and Volker Gransow
ISBN - 1 57181 010 2 and 011 0
Publisher - Berghahn Books
Price - £46.00 and £13.95
Pages - 282
Translator - Alison Brown and Belinda Cooper

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