Twenty years ago

Twenty years ago, on October 3, 1990, Germany celebrated reunification. In some respects, it was something of an anti-climax after the drama of the previous Autumn with the fall of the Berlin Wall. But we were there for the official reunification and it was only late yesterday that I realized where I was twenty years ago and what happened.

We were far from the center of things, living in Tuebingen in Baden-Wuerttemberg, in Germany’s southwest. Tuebingen is a university town. When we arrived in September of 1990, it was already bursting at the seams as a result of the changes taking place. Students from the east were eager to study in West German universities. Housing, always a problem in a college town, was impossible.

There were no parades, no speeches, no flags on October 3, 1990. All that we saw in the center of the city was a counter demonstration–people dressed in black symbolizing mourning and if I recall correctly, they were singing or playing somber music.

I remember the hope and excitement of 1989. I also remember the disappointment as reunification actually took place. The cutbacks forced in the west to pay for reunification were already taking their toll. West Germany’s Fulbright Foundation learned just a few days before our arrival that they would have to find money for the East German scholars from the budget that had already been appropriated for us. It was also the time of build-up to the first Gulf War.

Over the course of that year, we had occasion to visit Berlin, and Wittenberg, where some of the early demonstrations took place. We saw Soviet troops pulling out of East Germany. We saw the scars left by the Berlin Wall.

From the perspective of 2010, those events seem ancient history. The euphoria, the hope, and the important role Protestant Christians played in the demonstrations that led to the collapse of the DDR, opened up a future that no one could have imagined a year or a decade before. Twenty years later, that imagined future lays beneath the rubble of problems–from the reality of the hard work of reunification that still needs to take place, to September 11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the financial meltdown, the global environmental crisis. I wonder if there is any way to rekindle the hope of twenty years ago.

1 thought on “Twenty years ago

  1. The “Day of German Unity” passes unnoticed in the US, though it certainly is observed in Germany. As a frequent visitor during the years 1990-2006, I have a much more positive impression of what was accomplished. The transition from the GDR to much freer society and polity was achieved in record time without any major outbreak of violence and a general acceptance in the West of the necessary sacrifices.
    German unity did not put an end to the threats that confront the USA or the rest of the world, but it did effectively end the menace of conflict in Western Europe. After centuries of interstate warfare, Europe today is an area where people can live without the fear of invasion or large scale violence. There are problems managing the affairs of more than 20 countries that are linked in the EU, but warfare is no longer an option.
    That is certainly something to be celebrated — even if there are new threats and challenges that impact Europe as well as the USA.
    In view of these fundamental changes, there are many people in Germany today who wonder why the US still maintains significant military forces in their country.

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