October 3 2000

Reunification day in Germany

Tagesschau Deutsche Einheit: Ten years ago today, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) were reunified. I remember sitting in front of the TV with my sister on October 3, 1990, and watching the reunification celebrations in Berlin. We thought it almost incredible that this was really happening.

It was stated in the German constitution that a reunification should take place if the political situation made it possible, but for decades it looked like this was not going to happen. I think that even a few months before the wall came down, nobody would have dared to predict that a revolution like this was going to happen or even remotely possible, and it was even less probable that it was going to be a peaceful revolution without any bloodshed.

On October 18, 1989, the GDR leader Erich Honecker had to step down because of growing protests in cities all over the GDR. Hungary was the first eastern state to open its borders, and many East Germans fled to the west via Hungary.

On November 9, 1989, the GDR leadership held a press conference on which Günter Schabowski, then the leader of the communist party (SED), announced that the GDR would open its borders as well. A journalist asked when this was going to happen, and Schabowski, a little confused, couldn’t find the date on his papers and said he thought the borders were open from this moment on.

The conference was on TV in the GDR, and people went to the border – or, in Berlin, to the wall – right away to see if it was really true.

On that evening, western TV was full of pictures of people walking or driving to the German-German border. I will never forget these images of people in their Trabbis (typical East German car) driving into Western Germany, unbelieving that this was really happening. They were greeted by West Germans, who were as surprised as the East Germans. People stood everywhere and waved their hands, shouted greetings, laughed and cried.

Roughly half a year after the opening of the Eastern Germany borders, on July 1, 1990, the economic unity was reality, the German Mark (DM) was the valid currency in both parts of Germany, and on October 3, 1990, there was one German state.

Who would have thought that to be possible on October 3, 1989?

I’m interested in hearing what memories you have of the wall coming down and the reunification, especially if you are not from Western Germany, like me. Please share them with us!

And if you want to read about the reunification, I suggest the following websites:

State and nation: Germany since reunification, by Mark Blacksell. He is Professor and Head of the Department of Geographical Sciences at the University of Plymouth, England, and briefly explains the historic background of Germany and its course since World War II, and discusses the issues and problems of the reunification that were faced in 1989 and 1990.

Breaking Down the Wall to Democracy is a project of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion that covers the events occurring before, during, and after the Berlin Wall and discusses political, social, economic, and international aspects of the wall. It is devided into three parts:

The Wall, by Burkhard Kirste, 1997. This is a fairly condensed article about the Berlin wall from its construction to its fall. It has links to other interesting sites about the subject as well.

Stefan Dreßler was born in 1978 and grew up in the GDR. He wrote down his opinion about the GDR, the FRG and the fall of the wall when he was 16: The Berlin Wall falls.

Guido Westerwelle/Germany: Reunification through Economics, a Business Week article from November 8, 1999, by David Fairlamb. Westerwelle is general secretary of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and a leading opposition member of Parliament in Germany.

If you’d like to see photos of the Berlin Wall (before 1989), go see the photo gallery by Chris De Witt.

And last but not least, Craig had this link yesterday:

Online Exhibition: A Concrete Curtain: The Life and Death of the Berlin Wall. “History of the wall through photographs and text. Very interesting and well presented.”

Update: Craig had another great link today: The Berlin Wall: A pictorial history, a Time Photo Essay.

Thanks to Al Hawkins, Sam DeVore, Garret Vreeland, Sean Floyd, Jonas Beckman, John Marden, Jan-Willem Swane, Sheila Simmons and Jeff Cheney for sharing their memories!

Marek J reminds us that before the wall came down, people were shot when trying to cross the border. We should not forget the people who died while trying to flee from the GDR.

Auf deutsch: Seite 1 und die Tagesschau zum Tag der deutschen Einheit. Die Deutsche Welle bietet passend zum Thema Grenzreisen.

7 thoughts on “October 3 2000

  1. Sam DeVore

    It’s a strange twist of time, but last night I was reading “The Butter Battle Book” to my 2 year old daughter last night. It really is a great story when read in the context of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War.

    I can still remember the day the wall came down. I was sitting in my living room, studying for a midterm in non-linear control and just sat there mesmerized at the images on CNN. Needless to say I stopped studying, aced the midterm. It seemed so trivial after seeing huge chunks of history coming down in an instant.

    Sam D

  2. garret p vreeland

    on the evening the day the wall came down, my friend bill (of german descent) and i had gone to the local ice cream shop.  we walked through the tree-lined princeton university campus in the darkening of evening, sampling our blend-ins, and discussing the history, and the final wall destruction.

    it truly felt like we had passed into a parallel universe, where old controversies would slip away and a brighter, more positive future would settle in. 

    pieces of the wall were sold over here for years afterwards; i have one in a bag in the back of my closet, with a little edge of red graffiti paint on it.

    happy reunification day!

  3. Sean Floyd

    pieces of the wall were sold over here for years afterwards; i have one in a bag in the back of my closet, with a little edge of red graffiti paint on it.

    I was a Graffiti artist in berlin back then and I was reeeaaally pissed off at all the people who came and deliberately hacked up our graffiti pictures in order to sell them everywhere around the world.
    I was not at all a reunification fan back then, and I am not sure I am even now.

  4. marek j

    11 years ago The Wall went down in Berlin. East Germans could finally cross the border without being shot like some monsters in Doom. The Wall was the real live blood version shoot’em up game brought to you by Honecker & Co. The well know communist outfit. The players of the game were German guards using their ‘brothers’ for Kalashnikov target practice.

    I got across The Wall. My German peer, Chris Geoffroy, the last to be shot and killed at The Wall wasn’t so lucky. He was 20 years old, so was I. He tried to get to freedom on foot. I enjoyed the free drinks on PanAm flight from Warsaw to New York. He is dead. I live. Ingo Heinrich who shot him was simply following orders from Honecker & Co. Ingo nor other guards did not shoot at me few months later. The bullets wouldn’t reach the plane. I landed safely in “the land of the free” at JFK on July 22, 1989.

    Please remember all the people who lost their life trying to be free.

    Marek J


  5. Jonas Beckman

    The summer before The Wall came down I spent a few weeks in Berlin. Me and my German friends still couldn’t cross the border to East Berlin at the same checkpoints. There was lots of talk about people who had recently been killed trying to escape.

    One day, I was standing on the Western side with a German friend, looking out over the killing zone between the walls. He told me a story about an uncle living in the East, who had lost everything and was so ashamed he hadn’t spoken to any relatives in the West for close to twenty years. We looked at the barbed wires and barren ground and knew: this place was designed to kill people and still did.

    One year later I was back. That summer, on an impulse, me and a girl got on a bus to Berlin, to see a concert based on Pink Floyd’s The Wall. The concept was stunning, the actual concert very flat and pretentious – but a few hours into the concert I found myself surrounded by thousands of people, my girl sleeping on the ground and me protecting her from being stomped, closely watched by sentimental American heads who were so stoned they probably thought they were in Japan.

    And I suddenly realized this was exactly the same place we had been looking at the previous summer. And I looked at the stupid stoners with something close to love: not knowing exactly where you were would never get you killed in this place again.

  6. Jan-Willem Swane

    Hello Andrea,

    I posted this text on my weblog in response to your question:

    Where were you when the wall came down?
    Andrea asked for memories of the fall of the Berlin wall. It’s indeed one of the few historic events that sticks into my mind in a way that Kennedy’s dead and the end of WW II do for previous generations.
    I was in a Paris hotel room, watching television. I had the feeling I was in the wrong city. I was moved by the happiness of the East German people crossing the border, but it was hard to believe it was really happening.
    Living in a continent that was divided in two seemed like a an unchangeable fact, despite what was happening in Russia and Hungary the months before. Too often the thaw hadn’t lead to spring and summer.
    I remember that some Dutch people were worried by the reunification of Germany. WW II is an important (maybe the only) part of Dutch collective sense of history. Ten years later, those scares seem to be vanished.
    I miss the optimism of those days. Especially the wars in former Yugoslavia have showed that the disappearance of the Iron Curtain created as much problems as it solved. Europe remained the same worried continent.

    groeten, Jan-Willem

  7. Scott Hanson

    We moved to Germany as a direct result of reunification. After living in Phoenix for over a year, Frauke still hadn’t received the job she was promised, and we decided in the summer of 1990 that she would take a position with McDonald’s in Germany, since reunification would open up all kinds of opportunity for her as they expanded in the old DDR. We arrived with 4 suitcases and 3 cats in Kiel on September 1. Our furniture wouldn’t arrive until mid-November. Apartments were very difficult to come by, and we had a two-room unfurnished apartment near downtown, and had various carpets and pieces of furniture either on loan or taken from ‘Sperrmuell’.

    So on October 3, 1990, we were in Kiel. We went out for pizza and waited for the celebration in the streets… but it never happened. The party was apparently in Berlin and on TV, but in Kiel there was nothing out of the ordinary happening.

    Luckily for Frauke’s career, McDonald’s decided that they needed her more in Hamburg than in Berlin, so we never moved to Berlin.

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