How October 3rd became German Unity Day

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How October 3rd became German Unity Day
Photo: DPA

On October 3rd, Germany celebrates 30 years of reunification. But by that date in 1990, the cogs of reform had already been turning for quite some time. The Local looks at just what happened during this momentous year - from the night the Wall fell to the day two countries truly became one.


November 9th, 1989

At around 7pm on this November evening, East German official Günter Schabowski addressed journalists at a press conference which would later become world famous.

The East German government had revised one of its new travel laws. German Democratic Republic (GDR) citizens could now travel to West Berlin without having to meet the former strict requirements.

Upon being asked when this would happen, he looked down at his sheet.


"As far as I know... effective immediately, without delay."

Hearing the news in near-disbelief, thousands of East Berliners nonetheless flocked towards the Wall.

The numbers swamped border guards – and at 11.30 pm, Stasi officer Harald Jäger was forced to open the Bornholmer Strasse crossing, allowing citizens into West Berlin.

After 28 years, the Berlin Wall had fallen.

People celebrate atop the Berlin Wall on November 11th 1989, two days after its fall. Photo: DPA

November 28th, 1989

West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl announced his ten point plan for "Overcoming the division of Germany and Europe."

East Germany's economy was in crisis by this point, explained Dr Stefan Bollinger, Professor of Political and Social Science at Berlin's Free University.

"In the autumn of 1989, most people wanted to change the model of socialism" that governed the GDR, he told The Local.

West Germany and the USA "saw this chance and they used it," he said.

Kohl was reluctant to see "a reformed eastern bloc, or a democratic-socialist GDR, whose reforms [the West] would have to support economically" - so he laid down a clear set of aims for the GDR and its union with the Federal Republic.

"The basis was clear," Bollinger explained. "The SED [Socialist Unity Party of Germany] would have to relinquish its power, and the GDR would be moved in the direction of capitalism."

"Only then was Bonn [the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany at the time] prepared to help."

February 10th, 1990

Kohl travelled to the Soviet Union to personally meet with Mikhail Gorbachev. 

"The journey to Moscow took place at a time when Gorbachev no longer commanded a spirit of reform, either in his own country or in the Eastern Bloc," said Bollinger.


Kohl wanted to confirm that the USSR would allow German reunification to proceed.

March 18th, 1990

The first free elections took place in the GDR. The ruling SED government was overwhelmingly defeated by an East German counterpart of Kohl's Christian Democratic Union party (CDU).

This election and changeover of power was "one of the most important stages" in the reunification process, said Dr Arnd Bauerkämper, Professor of Historical and Cultural Science at Berlin's Free University.

CDU leader Lothar de Maizière after his party's victory on March 18th 1990. Photo: DPA

April 12th, 1990

The GDR People's Chamber elected Lothar de Maizière as Prime Minister of East Germany.

Leader of the East German CDU, de Maizière supported rapid reunification with West Germany.

He would be the first – and the last – democratically elected Prime Minister of the GDR.

April 27th, 1990

Discussions began on the economic and currency union of the two German states. These were led by GDR State Secretary Günther Krause and Hans Tietmeyer, director of the German Central Bank.

The question: should East Germany adopt the Deutsche Mark or stick with its own currency, the Ostmark?

Both currencies had been introduced in 1948, after the abolishment of the Reichsmark and the Rentenmark. But by 1989, inflation had left the Ostmark practically worthless outside East Germany.

May 2nd, 1990

After much debate, Bonn and East Berlin came to an agreement on a 1-1 currency conversion for wages, prices and basic savings.

Most citizens could exchange their Ostmarks directly for Deutsche Marks, up to a value of 4,000 Marks (less for children and more for pensioners).

Any savings above 4,000 Marks would be converted at a 2-1 rate. Meanwhile, so-called "speculative money" - money acquired shortly before reunification - was converted at a rate of 3-1.

A controversial decision: demonstrators in Leipzig argue: "yes to a currency union, no to an unfair conversion of our savings" in February 1990. Photo: DPA

May 5th, 1990

Talks began on the Two-Plus-Four treaty. The UK, USA, Soviet Union and France joined the two German states in negotiations about how foreign policy and security policy would be dealt with during reunification.

The aim: to reduce the treaty's members from six to five, by allowing the GDR to dissolve by mutual consent.

May 18th, 1990

The Federal Republic and the GDR signed a treaty agreeing to an economic, currency and social union between the two states. Kohl labeled this the "hour of birth for a free and united Germany."

As part of the treaty, plans began to separate East Germany into its five former states: Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia and Mecklenburg Western Pomerania.

These states had been abolished during the GDR era, in favour of a centralised East German administration.

July 1st 1990

As the Deutschmark officially replaced the Ostmark in East German currency, the two states' economic and monetary union was cemented.

The currency union was "an important step towards national and political unity," said Bauerkämper.

"It was an economic reunification, but also a symbol for political reunification," he told The Local.

Around 2.6 billion Deutsche Marks were handed out to GDR citizens in the hours after monetary unification, according to estimates. As citizens stormed the East German Deutsche Bank, many were injured. Photo: DPA.

July 6th, 1990

Consultations began in East Berlin about a second treaty – the German Reunification Treaty.

This was an agreement between West Germany and the GDR, and laid out the expectations for the unification: East Germany would adopt the Basic Law of the Federal Republic; the GDR would be abolished and re-divided into five states; and Berlin would be reunified and reinstated as Germany's capital.

July 16th, 1990

After close talks in the Caucasus Mountains, Kohl and Gorbachev announced that they had come to an agreement on Germany's NATO membership.

Germany would remain in NATO, but Soviet troops would have to leave the country.

It was "an important concession from Gorbachev," Bauerkämper explained.

Helmut Kohl and Mikhail Gorbachev. Photo: DPA

August 23rd, 1990

The People's Chamber settled on a date for Germany's official reunification: October 3rd.

The day's decision "sealed the fate of the GDR," Professor Schroeder, head of research into the East German Socialist Unity Party (SED) state at Berlin's Free University, told The Local.

Until now, the GDR had been in "a state in freefall," having thrown off its old laws but not yet adopted the new ones, said Stefan Wolle, Academic Director at Berlin's DDR Museum.

The decision to join West Germany on October 3rd "put an end to this period of cheerful anarchy," he told The Local.

SEE ALSO: The day that 'sealed East Germany's fate'

August 31st, 1990

The German Reunification Treaty was signed in East Germany, to go into effect under international law on September 29th.


It was approved by the Bundestag and the People's Chamber on September 20th, with a two-thirds majority.

September 12th, 1990

Representatives from the UK, USA, Soviet Union and France met in Moscow to sign the "Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany."

The Allied Forces renounced all rights and responsibilities in Germany, allowing it to become a full sovereign state after reunification.

(L-R) French Foregn Minister Roland Dumas, Soviet Foreign Affairs Minister Eduard Schewardnadse, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, USA Secretary of State James Baker, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, GDR Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere and UK Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd after the signing of the treaty. Photo: DPA

October 3rd, 1990

On the stroke of midnight, and to the sound of the German national anthem, the German flag was raised in front of the Reichstag building. In the streets of Berlin and other German cities, hundreds of thousands of people celebrated Germany's reunification.

On the night between October 2nd and 3rd 1990, Germany celebrated reunification. Photo: DPA

By Hannah Butler


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