Wende comes from the German wenden (to turn) and translates into English as ‘turning point’ or ‘change’. However, in its usual context it describes the period of political change around 1989 in Germany.
Wende was first used as a political term in West Germany when Helmut Kohl became Chancellor in 1982 and proclaimed a “geistig-moralische Wende” (a spiritual and moral turn). It took on a new meaning in 1989 and has now become synonymous not only with the fall of the East German government, but with the reunification of Germany.
The last communist leader of East Germany, Egon Krenz, was the first to use the term publicly in the GDR when he gave a speech on October 18th 1989, less than a month before the wall would fall.
The German Federal Government also published an article entitled “Wende”? “Friedliche Revolution”? “Mauerfall”? for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The article says that the “short and handy catchphrase” die Wende “is not always welcome” and in fact “many consider it a linguistic attempt at acceptance”.
It remains however a word used regularly to describe the political events around the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is often often used in the phrase, seit der Wende (since reunification/since the wall fell), and the word, die Nachwendezeit (the post-Wende time period).
Do you have a favourite word you'd like to see us cover? If so, please email our editor Rachel Stern with your suggestion.