The fall marked the beginning of Germany's
By ERIN LARUFFA
The Berlin Wall, along with its barbed wire and checkpoint towers, still remains a symbol of the Cold War and 20th century international politics. Today, in the place of one famous checkpoint, stands Berlin Checkpoint Charlie Plaza, an eight-story modern office tower, according to Business Week.
Clearly, change in Germany and Europe in general has been tremendous since the collapse of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989, but the story of the Berlin Wall, both before and after 1989, is complicated.
At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union controlled what became the communist country of East Germany. British, French and U.S. forces occupied the western portion of the country, which became noncommunist West Germany.
On Aug. 13, 1961, residents of Berlin discovered a barbed-wire barrier dividing their city. The 12-foot high, 103-mile long Berlin Wall soon replaced the wire. Hundreds of East Germans died over the next few decades trying to escape to the West.
In the late 1960s, West German politicians developed the "Change Through Drawing Closer" policy in hopes of ending the division between the two Germanys, according to J. Robert Wegs, a Notre Dame history professor.
West Germany then made deals with both the Soviet Union and East Germany to allow West Germans to travel in the East, especially in order to visit family members they had not seen in decades. In addition, East Germans began to see the better living conditions of West Germany through the tourists, Wegs said.
"It changed the mentality of East Germans," Wegs said.
In addition to economic factors within the two Germanys, various international factors also led up to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, including the Soviet Union's move towards democratization prior to 1989.
In addition, Hungary's opening of its border with Austria in the summer of 1989 aided in the Wall's removal. East Germans were then able to pass through Hungary and Austria into West Germany.
East German citizens began to destroy sections of the Wall on November 9, 1989. Their government later began to remove the Wall, and in 1990, the two parts of Germany reunited.
The process of reunification since the fall has not been easy.
"[Reunification] forced the two different German populations to face their fundamentally different histories," said A. James McAdams, chair of the Notre Dame Government Department.
"[The German economy] is not nearly as strong as Germans would hope," he said.
In addition, high unemployment is a major area of concern in Germany, although Wegs said that most European countries have high unemployment rates.
Reunification has also cost more money than originally expected, according to McAdams. West Germans have spent a tremendous amount of money to help rebuild the East.
"Germany's Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, wants to reign in government spending and streamline its tax system," said Notre Dame government professor Andrew Gould.
East Germans, on the other hand, are upset that some of their socialist programs, such as government-run child care, were abandoned during reunification. West Germany cut such programs when it imposed its governmental system on the East, Wegs said.
"The problem [of reunification] was how to make a single economy out of two countries at such different levels of economic development," Gould said.
Of course, East Germans now have a higher per capita income, new cars, restored buildings and increased opportunities than they experienced during separation from the West. Manufacturing is also growing at a faster rate than it is in the West. In addition, East Germans now have the right to travel and make choices, and most would not want to return to the Communist system, said McAdams.
"The Communist system clearly didn't work," he said. "Many East Germans had realized that [by the 1980s]."
Overall, the German economy appears to be improving.
"Unemployment has stabilized in West Germany," said Wegs. He said he believes that the upturn in the Western economy will spread to the East.
The telecommunications industry, for example, has experienced growth in Germany in recent years.
The effects of the collapse of the Wall were felt far beyond Germany.
"It's taken the Europeans out of the protective shell that was provided by the Cold War," McAdams said.
"The main effect [of German unification on Europe has been] to open up central European countries as legitimate candidates for entry into the European Union," said Gould. "Germany and other European countries now have to wrestle with the question of how to organize European society without the militarily imposed division into capitalism and communism."
Various Central European countries — among them Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic — plan to join the European Union by 2003, according to Business Week. These countries have been able to privatize large portions of their economies, and the standard of living has risen.
Even what was once the Communist Party in Germany has reinvented itself since 1989, but the party continues to represent the views of many East Germans.
There was an increase in the amount of votes for former Communists in Berlin municipal voting last month, according to The New York Times. The largest percentage of the votes for Communists came from eastern Berlin
The three major world leaders of the late 1980s — the Soviet Union's Mikhail Gorbachev, West Germany's Helmut Kohl and former U.S. President George Bush — will be in Berlin to celebrate the anniversary of the Wall's collapse.
All News Stories for Tuesday, November 9, 1999