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Analyse the social and cultural impact in Berlin of the reunification of East and West Germany

| September 25, 2012 | 0 Comments

In 1989 the Berlin Wall that divided East and West Germany was finally opened, and the citizens of Berlin reunited. This began the process of formal reunification, in which Germany was declared a single state once again. As soon as the Berlin Wall collapsed, Germany was overtaken by celebration, and it was thought that the euphoric feeling that spread throughout would last for years to come. However, as many recent sources suggest, the result of the German reunification was not the blessing that it seemed, and did not seem to benefit any of the citizens of Germany as much as was thought.

Following the end of the Second World War, defeated Germany was, once again, placed at the will of the victors. The German territory was divided into four zones, thus creating a split between Western Germany, ruled by the Western allies, and Eastern Germany, ruled by the Soviet Union. Although the German capital, Berlin, was situated well within the Soviet zone, the city was also split into four zones and saw a similar division of east and west, only with the added physical barrier that took the form of the Berlin Wall. The construction of the Wall was ordered in 1961 by the German Democratic Republic -East Germany- in order to ‘stop the flow of citizens out of the GDR and [suspend] normal traffic between east and west’ following the Soviet declaration that the partition of Germany had created ‘two entirely separate German states’ (Quint, 1997, p.13). This situation continued until 1989 when the Berlin Wall was officially opened. This proved to be a momentous occasion, with reports of ‘an impromptu all-night street party’ taking place in West Berlin (Turner, 1992, p.234), and marked the beginning of the push for unity inGermany. Celebrations were to be expected, since the Berlin Wall had cut thousands of German people off from their families and loved ones, and a 1990 election in the GDR proved its citizens held a ‘strong desire to belong to the west and to share in its economic prosperity’ (Quint, 1997, p.20). It would seem, however, that the celebrations were not to last, and the reunification ofGermanywas not the wonderful reunion that was first imagined.

Even though the Berlin Wall had been opened, and the steps towards the formal reunification that was reached on 3rd October 1990 had been taken, and Germany had become engulfed in a state of euphoria, Dirk Verhayen (1999, p.197) states that it was ‘soon replaced by uncertainty, anxiety, irritation, and indifference’. It would seem that while the East German people held a strong desire to belong to the West as a unified German people, the feeling was not entirely reciprocated. In fact, after so many years of separation ‘the factors that still divided the two German populations loomed large’ (McAdams, 1993, p.207), even after the formal reunification, and it would not prove easy to bring harmony to what had now effectively become two separate nations. Quint (1997, p.3) attributes this to ‘radically different social structures, as well as quite dissimilar personal histories, [which] continued to divide the citizens of United Germany’ leading to ‘mutual suspicion and distrust [which] perpetuated a high degree of social segregation of the two groups, even in areas like Berlin where they lived in close proximity’. This was exacerbated not only by the startlingly different social structures that had emerged during the forty years of separation, but also by the economics that followed. During the division,East Germany had been beset by industrial and economic hardship, and after the reunification, responsibility for this became shared by the West Germans. This clearly was not a beneficial outcome of German reunification and, as McAdams (1993, p.208) observes, ‘by 1991 many average Western Germans were clearly frustrated at having to finance the exorbitant costs of economic recovery in the East’. Indeed, it would seem that by this time the euphoria and elation that surrounded the German reunification had turned sour, and the citizens of East Germany became ‘demoralised and relegated … to a second class status by the economic and political might of the [West]’ (McAdams, 1993, p.208). What resulted from this fact was a ‘systematic dismantling of everything from day-care centres to state-provided burials [which] had a devastating social effect on the former GDR citizens’ (Larres, 2001, p.28). With these factors evident in the post-reunification state of Germany, it is not unfair to argue that the reunification had little beneficial impact on the social and cultural state of Berlin.

Furthermore, whilst the reunification of Germany did usher in a number of constitutional changes that held great promise for social and cultural change, it would seem that ultimately none of those promises came to be, and instead the constitutional changes benefitted other aspects of Germany. The division of Germany in 1945 gave control of the Eastern part of the country over to the USSR, and the GDR became a communist satellite state. The collapse of the Berlin Wall brought an end to that, and evoked reactions that claimed an ‘entire era in the history of the Socialist system [was] over’ (Dunbabin, 2008, p.423). Indeed, following the opening of the Wall, the East German Parliament, the Volkskammer, began to make political amendments to the 1974 constitution, in an attempt to erase the leading role that the Communist Party played inEast Germanyand re-establish her political position inEurope. The strong and definitive reaction to the failure of the Wall, and the actions taken thereafter, exemplify the notion that the Communist rule inEast Germanywas over, and marks a turning point in European politics; but not in German society. The new constitutional draft promised a number of improvements including equality, free speech, religion and travel rights, but these ultimately fell through when the 1990 election called for a push to unity. Thus, Quint argues that German unification ‘represented primarily an achievement in the realm of politics and law’ (Quint, 1997, p.3).

With these factors in mind, it is difficult to claim that the reunification of Germany had any real beneficial effect on the society and culture of Germany, and least of all Berlin. In reality, the end of the German division only served to alter the political map of Germany and Europe and, if anything, exacerbate the already ruined relationship between East and West Germany. Indeed, as Klaus Larres (2001, p.27) claims, ‘so far unification has not produced a fusion of the two Germanys’, and it seems likely to stay that way.


Reference List

Dunbabin, J.P.D., 2008. The Cold War: The Great Powers and their Allies. 2nd Ed. Harlow: Pearson Education

Larres, K., 2001. Germany Since Unification: The Development of the Berlin Republic. 2nd Ed. Basingstok: Palgrave.

McAdams, A.J., 1993. Germany Divided: From the Wall to Reunification. Princeton:PrincetonUniversity Press

Quint, P.E., 1997. The Imperfect Union: Constitutional Structures of German Unification. Princeton:PrincetonUniversity Press

Turner, H.A., 1992. Germany from Partition to Reunification. Rev Ed. Princeton:PrincetonUniversity Press

Verhayen, D., 1999. The German Question: A Cultural, Historical and Geopolitical Exploration.Oxford: Westview Press

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