The German reunification (Deutsche Wiedervereinigung) was the process in 1990 in which the German Democratic Republic (GDR/East Germany) joined the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG/West Germany) to form the reunited nation of Germany, and when Berlin reunited into a single city, as provided by its then Grundgesetz constitution Article 23. The end of the unification process is officially referred to as German unity (Deutsche Einheit), celebrated on October 3 (German Unity Day — Tag der deutschen Einheit). Following German reunification, Berlin was once again designated as the capital of united Germany. The Deutsche Bundespost with the incorporated Deutsche Post of the GDR provided postal services for the whole territory of the Federal Republic, and German stamps regardless of origin were valid until December 12, 1991, when the last of the GDR and West Berlin stamps reached their set expiration.
The united Germany is the enlarged continuation of the Federal Republic and not a successor state. As such, the Federal Republic of Germany retained all its memberships in international organizations including the European Community (later the European Union) and NATO, while relinquishing membership in the Warsaw Pact and other international organizations to which only East Germany belonged. The Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) includes 16 constituent states, covers an area of 137,847 square miles (357,021 square kilometers), and has a largely temperate seasonal climate. With about 82 million inhabitants, Germany is the most populous member state of the European Union. After the United States, it is the second most popular immigration destination in the world.
In 1987, United States President Ronald Reagan gave a speech at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin challenging Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” that had separated Berlin. The Berlin Wall had stood as an icon for the political and economic division between East and West, a division that Churchill had referred to as the “Iron Curtain”. In early 1989, under a new era of Soviet policies of glasnost (openness), perestroika (economic restructuring) and taken to even more progressive levels by Gorbachev, the Solidarity movement took hold in Poland. Further inspired by other images of brave defiance, a wave of revolutions swept throughout the Eastern Bloc that year. In May 1989, Hungary removed their border fence and thousands of East Germans escaped to the West. The turning point in Germany, called “Die Wende“, was marked by the “Peaceful Revolution”.
The longtime leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker, resigned on October 18, 1989, and was replaced by Egon Krenz that day. Honecker had predicted in January of that year that the Wall would stand for 50 or 100 more years if the conditions that had caused its construction did not change.
The protest demonstrations grew considerably by early November. The movement neared its height on November 4 when half a million people gathered at Alexanderplatz — East Berlin’s large public square and transportation hub — to demand political change,
The wave of refugees leaving East Germany for the West kept increasing. By early November refugees were finding their way to Hungary via Czechoslovakia, or via the West German Embassy in Prague. This was tolerated by the new Krenz government, because of long-standing agreements with the communist Czechoslovak government, allowing free travel across their common border. However this movement of people grew so large it caused difficulties for both countries.
To ease the difficulties, the politburo led by Krenz decided on November 9 to allow refugees to exit directly through crossing points between East Germany and West Germany, including between East and West Berlin. Later the same day, the ministerial administration modified the proposal to include private, round-trip, travel. The new regulations were to take effect the next day.
Günter Schabowski, the party boss in East Berlin and the spokesman for the SED Politburo, had the task of announcing the new regulations. However, he had not been involved in the discussions about the new regulations and had not been fully updated. Shortly before a press conference on November 9, he was handed a note announcing the changes, but given no further instructions on how to handle the information. These regulations had only been completed a few hours earlier and were to take effect the following day, so as to allow time to inform the border guards. But this starting time delay was not communicated to Schabowski.
At the end of the press conference, Schabowski read out loud the note he had been given. One of the reporters, ANSA’s Riccardo Ehrman, asked when the regulations would take effect. After a few seconds’ hesitation, Schabowski assumed it would be the same day based on the wording of the note and replied, “As far as I know, it takes effect immediately, without delay”. After further questions from journalists, he confirmed that the regulations included the border crossings through the Wall into West Berlin, which he had not mentioned until then.
Excerpts from Schabowski’s press conference were the lead story on West Germany’s two main news programs that night — at 7:17 PM on ZDF’s heute and at 8 PM on ARD’s Tagesschau. This, of course, meant that the news was broadcast to nearly all of East Germany as well. Later that night, on ARD’s Tagesthemen, anchorman Hanns Joachim Friedrichs proclaimed, “This 9th of November is a historic day. The GDR has announced that, starting immediately, its borders are open to everyone. The gates in the Wall stand open wide.”
After hearing the broadcast, East Germans began gathering at the Wall, at the six checkpoints between East and West Berlin, demanding that border guards immediately open the gates. The surprised and overwhelmed guards made many hectic telephone calls to their superiors about the problem. At first, they were ordered to find the “more aggressive” people gathered at the gates and stamp their passports with a special stamp that barred them from returning to East Germany — in effect, revoking their citizenship. However, this still left thousands of people demanding to be let through “as Schabowski said we can.”
It soon became clear that no one among the East German authorities would take personal responsibility for issuing orders to use lethal force, so the vastly outnumbered soldiers had no way to hold back the huge crowd of East German citizens. Finally, at 10:45 PM, Harald Jäger, the commander of the Bornholmer Straße border crossing yielded, allowing for the guards to open the checkpoints and allowing people through with little or no identity checking. As the Ossis swarmed through, they were greeted by Wessis waiting with flowers and champagne amid wild rejoicing. Soon afterward, a crowd of West Berliners jumped on top of the Wall, and were soon joined by East German youngsters. They danced together to celebrate their new freedom.
Another border crossing to the south may have been opened earlier. An account by Heinz Schäfer indicates that he also acted independently and ordered the opening of the gate at Waltersdorf-Rudow a couple of hours earlier. This may explain reports of East Berliners appearing in West Berlin earlier than the opening of the Bornholmer Straße border crossing.
The fall of the Berlin Wall (Mauerfall) began the evening of November 9, 1989, and continued over the following days and weeks, with people nicknamed Mauerspechte (wall woodpeckers) using various tools to chip off souvenirs, demolishing lengthy parts in the process, and creating several unofficial border crossings.
Television coverage of citizens demolishing sections of the Wall on November 9 was soon followed by the East German regime announcing ten new border crossings, including the historically significant locations of Potsdamer Platz, Glienicker Brücke, and Bernauer Straße. Crowds gathered on both sides of the historic crossings waiting for hours to cheer the bulldozers that tore down portions of the Wall to reinstate ancient roads. While the Wall officially remained guarded at a decreasing intensity, new border crossings continued for some time, including the Brandenburg Gate on December 22. Initially, the East German military attempted repairing damage done by the “Wall peckers”; gradually these attempts ceased, and guards became more lax, tolerating the increasing demolitions and “unauthorized” border crossing through the holes.
On November 28, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl announced a 10-point program calling for the two Germanys to expand their cooperation with the view toward eventual reunification.
West Germans and West Berliners were allowed visa-free travel starting December 23. Until then, they could only visit East Germany and East Berlin under restrictive conditions that involved application for a visa several days or weeks in advance and obligatory exchange of at least 25 DM per day of their planned stay, all of which hindered spontaneous visits. Thus, in the weeks between November 9 and December 23, East Germans could actually travel more freely than Westerners.
Initially, no timetable for reunification was proposed. However, events rapidly came to a head in early 1990. First, in March, the Party of Democratic Socialism — the former Socialist Unity Party of Germany — was heavily defeated in East Germany’s first free elections. A grand coalition was formed under Lothar de Maizière, leader of the East German wing of Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union, on a platform of speedy reunification. Second, East Germany’s economy and infrastructure underwent a swift and near-total collapse. While East Germany had long been reckoned as having the most robust economy in the Soviet bloc, the removal of Communist hegemony revealed the ramshackle foundations of that system. The East German mark had been practically worthless outside East Germany for some time before the events of 1989–90 further magnified the problem.
Discussions immediately began for an emergency merger of the German economies. On May 18, 1990, the two German states signed a treaty agreeing on monetary, economic and social union. This treaty is called Vertrag über die Schaffung einer Währungs-, Wirtschafts- und Sozialunion zwischen der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik und der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (“Treaty Establishing a Monetary, Economic and Social Union between the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany”) and came into force on July 1, 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.
On June 13, 1990, the East German military officially began dismantling the Wall, beginning in Bernauer Straße and around the Mitte district. From there, demolition continued through Prenzlauer Berg/Gesundbrunnen, Helligensee and throughout the city of Berlin until that December. Various military units dismantled the Berlin/Brandenberg border wall, completing the job in November 1991. Virtually every road that was severed by the Berlin Wall (that links from West Berlin to East Berlin) was reconstructed and reopened by August 1, 1990.
The Volkskammer, the Parliament of East Germany, passed a resolution on August 23 declaring the accession (Beitritt) of the German Democratic Republic to the Federal Republic of Germany, and the extension of the field of application of the Federal Republic’s Basic Law to the territory of East Germany as allowed by article 23 of the West German Basic Law, effective October 3, 1990. The East German Declaration of Accession (Beitrittserklärung) to the Federal Republic as allowed by article 23 of the West German Basic Law, approved by the Volkskammer on August 23, was formally presented by its President to the President of the West German Bundestag by means of a letter dated August 25, 1990. Thus, formally, the procedure of reunification by means of the accession of East Germany to West Germany, and of East Germany’s acceptance of the Basic Law already in force in West Germany, was initiated as the unilateral, sovereign decision of East Germany, as allowed by the then existing provision of article 23 of the West German Basic Law.
Germany was officially reunited at 00:00 CEST on October 3, 1990. East Germany joined the Federal Republic as the five Länder (states) of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia. These states had been the five original states of East Germany, but had been abolished in 1952 in favor of a centralized system. As part of the May 18 treaty, the five East German states had been reconstituted on August 23. At the same time, East and West Berlin reunited into one city, which became a city-state along the lines of the existing city-states of Bremen and Hamburg. Berlin was still formally under Allied occupation (that would only be terminated later, as a result of the provisions of the Two Plus Four Treaty), but the city’s administrative merger and inclusion in the Federal Republic of Germany, effective on October 3, 1990, had been greenlighted by the Allies, and were formally approved in a meeting of the Allied Control Council on October 2. In an emotional ceremony, at the stroke of midnight on October 3, the black-red-gold flag of West Germany — now the flag of a reunited Germany — was raised above the Brandenburg Gate marking the moment of German reunification.
The now expanded Federal Republic of Germany inherited the old West Germany’s seats at the United Nations, NATO, the European Communities and other international organizations. It also continued to be a party to all the treaties the old West Germany signed prior to the moment of reunification. 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. Also, the same President, Chancellor (Prime Minister) and Government of the Federal Republic remained in office, but their jurisdiction now included the newly acquired territory of the former East Germany.
October 3 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 June 17 commemorating the Uprising of 1953 in East Germany and the national holiday on October 7 in the GDR, that commemorated the foundation of the East German state.
On November 14, 1990, the united Germany and Poland signed the German–Polish Border Treaty, finalizing Germany’s boundaries as permanent along the Oder–Neisse line, and thus, renouncing any claims to Silesia, East Brandenburg, Farther Pomerania, and the southern area 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 June 20, 1991, the Bundestag decided that the parliament and parts of the government and central administration would be relocated from Bonn to the capital, Berlin. At this time, the term “Berlin Republic” (alluding to the Cold War-era “Bonn Republic” and the interwar “Weimar Republic”) emerged.
On March 15, 1991, the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany — that had been signed in Moscow back on September 12, 1990, by the two German states that then existed (East and West Germany) on one side, and by the four principal Allied powers (the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union and the United States) on the other — entered into force, having been ratified by the Federal Republic of Germany (after the unification, as the united Germany) and by the four Allied nations. The entry into force of that treaty (also known as the “Two Plus Four Treaty”, in reference to the two German states and four Allied nations that signed it) put an end to the then-remaining limitations on German sovereignty that resulted from the post World War II arrangements.
Under that treaty, December 31, 1994, was set as the deadline for the withdrawal of the remaining Allied forces. The bulk Russian ground forces left Germany on June 25, 1994, with a military parade of the 6th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade in Berlin. The withdrawal of the last Russian troops was completed on August 31, 1994, and the event was marked by a military ceremony in the Treptow Park in Berlin, with the presence of Russian President Yeltsin and German Chancellor Kohl. Although the bulk of the British, American, and French Forces had left Germany even before the departure of the Russians, the ceremony marking the withdrawal of the remaining Forces of the Western Allies was the last to take place, on September 8, 1994, in the courtyard of the Charlottenburg Palace. Thus, the removal of the Allied presence took place a few months before the final deadline.
Vast differences between the former East Germany and West Germany in lifestyle, wealth, political beliefs, and other matters remain, and it is therefore 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 American Civil War. While the East German economy has recovered recently, the differences between East and West remain present. The modernization and integration of the eastern German economy is a long-term process scheduled to last until the year 2019, with annual transfers from west to east amounting to roughly $80 billion.
Since reunification, Germany has taken a more active role in the European Union. Together with its European partners Germany signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, established the Eurozone in 1999, and signed the Lisbon Treaty in 2007.
Germany took part in the NATO war against Yugoslavia in 1999, when German forces saw combat for the first time since World War II. Chancellor Schröder supported the war on terror following the September 11 attacks against the United States, and sent a force of German troops to Afghanistan as part of a NATO effort to provide security in that country after the ousting of the Taliban. Germany also sent forces to Kosovo and other parts of the world. These deployments were controversial since Germany was bound by domestic law only to deploy troops for defense roles.
In the 2005 elections, Angela Merkel became the first female Chancellor of Germany as the leader of a grand coalition. In 2009, the German government approved a €50 billion economic stimulus plan to protect several sectors from a downturn. In 2013, a grand coalition was established in a Third Merkel cabinet. Among the major German political projects of the early twenty-first century are the advancement of European integration, the energy transition (Energiewende) for a sustainable energy supply, the “Debt Brake” for balanced budgets, measures to increase the fertility rate significantly (pronatalism), and high-tech strategies for the future transition of the German economy, summarized as Industry 4.0.
Germany was affected by the European migrant crisis in 2015 as it became the final destination of choice for most migrants entering the EU. The country took in over a million refugees and developed a quota system which redistributed migrants around its federal states based on their tax income and existing population density.
Deutsche Post AG, operating under the trade name Deutsche Post DHL Group, is the world’s largest courier company. With its headquarters in Bonn, the corporation has 467,088 employees in more than 220 countries and territories worldwide and generated revenue of €56.63 billion in 2010. Deutsche Post is the successor to the German mail authority Deutsche Bundespost, which was privatized in 1995. The Mail division delivers approximately 70 million letters in Germany, six days a week and provides services across the entire mail value chain, including production facilities at central hubs, sales offices and production centers on four continents, as well as direct connections to more than 200 countries. The Mail division inherited most of the traditional mail services formerly offered by the state-owned monopoly, for which it uses the Deutsche Post brand. Its exclusive right to deliver letters under 50 grams in Germany expired on January 1, 2008, following the implementation of European legislation. A number of companies are vying to challenge Deutsche Post’s near monopolistic hold on letter deliveries, including Luxembourg-based PIN Group and Dutch-owned TNT Post. In 2002, Deutsche Post was granted a license to deliver mail in the United Kingdom, breaking Royal Mail’s long-standing monopoly.
Scott #2441A, featuring Bellevue Palace (Schloss Bellevue), was released as a self-adhesive coil stamp on May 3, 2007, and is a companion of sorts to the stamp I featured in the article about West Berlin (Scott #9N201). The 55-cent stamp has die cut perforations measuring 10×10¼. An adhesive sheet stamp utilizing the same design (Scott #2441) was issued the same day, perforated 14.