Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1990-1003-400
BUNDESARCHIV, BILD: 183-1990-1003-400



Germany's reunification, also known as "Die Wende," was a historic event that took place on October 3, 1990, when East Germany and West Germany reunited as a single nation. The reunification ended over four decades of division caused by the Cold War. The division of Germany began in 1945 after World War II, with the establishment of two separate countries: the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was a crucial moment in the reunification process. This event marked the end of the Cold War and paved the way for the reunification of Germany. The process of reunification was a challenging one, with significant economic and social adjustments needed to integrate the two countries fully. 




The possibility of a German reunification had already been anchored in West Germany's Basic Law of 1949. The statesmen often referred to the right of self-determination as defined in the UN charter of 1945.Until 1974, the Hallstein Doctrine

had defined West Germany's foreign position regarding the German Democratic Republic. West Germany would not have approached any diplomatic relations with countries that had accepted the GDR as a sovereign nation. The downfall of the GDR started over a dispute about the integrity of the 1989 election results. For the first time in the GDR's history, its citizens were dubious about the election results of May 7, 1989, officially confirmed by the leadership of the socialist dictatorship. The ordinary people of the GDR scented fraud. The dissatisfaction with their political system grew steadily, and by June, East Germans went on the streets for a peaceful protest while others were trying to leave the country. The number of requests to leave the country continued to grow, and those who were denied sought other ways to make their way to the West. East Germans flooded German embassies of the Federal German Republic in Budapest, Prague, Warsaw, and East Berlin. The former foreign minister of West Germany, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, achieved in negotiation with the GDR that more than 6000 East German refugees were allowed to leave the GDR by a chartered train from West Germany. Hungary had started to dismantle its border with Austria in May 1989, and the so-called Iron Curtain slowly started to melt. In September 1989, the border to Austria was opened, and thousands of East Germans used the new path to freedom. The GDR, however, spoke of high treason, but they were alone with their opinion among the member states of the Warsaw Pact.
Monday demonstrations arose across East German cities. The protestors demanded a political change. Despite the growing unrest and dissatisfaction with the system and the ongoing accusation of election fraud, the GDR held its 40th-anniversary celebration and ignored the internal problems. Even Michail Gorbatschow could not convince Erich Honecker, former chairman of the Socialist Party (SED) and chief of state, to take his fellow-citizens seriously. The celebration ended with the most significant demonstrations the GDR had witnessed since its existence. On October 18, Honecker resigned from all administrative bodies and was replaced with Egon Kranz. The new administration lasted until November 7, 1989, when all leading heads of the SED resigned. Two days later, the Berlin Wall fell, and shortly after, the German Democratic Republic.


The Two Plus Four Agreement put the new German state into a legal frame. According to the Bonn-Paris conventions of 1954, all former allies were needed to clear a way for a unified Germany. The Two Plus Four Agreement's core points were:

  • Germany's borders
  • The waiver of any territorial claims
  • Military restrictions concerning weapons and force levels of no more than 370.000 soldiers


Besides these new requirements, Germany reclaimed its full sovereignty. Concerning Germany's military, its full potential could only unfold within NATO as an organization that shares the same values.

The reunification of Germany had a massive impact on the former Soviet Union and its standing on the Eastern bloc. Not a few German Socialists argued that their ideology and way of life had been sold out by those seeking to change a political system. The downfall of the Iron Curtain seemed to be the victory of a system over another.

Sources / Quellenangabe:

Naumann, Günter. Deutsche Geschichte. Wiesbaden: marixverlag, 2018.