The Third of October

3 10 2018

Munich;  Berlin

October 3 is to Germans what July 4 is to Americans.

The process known colloquially as “German reunification” was formally and legally consummated 28 years ago today.  Which must have meant that Oktoberfest 1990 was really special.

I was in the seventh grade for the most part when it all went down, though the final events of German reunification happened in the first month of my eighth grade.

It all started almost a year before, on October 7, 1989, on the “celebration” of the 40th anniversary of East Germany (“40-Jahre DDR”).  Erich Honecker and Nicolae Ceaușescu were both there, among many other commies.  Little could either of them know that, eleven days later, the former would be out of a job, and eighty days later, the latter would be out of a life.  Anyway, that evening, protests in East Berlin and other then-East German cities, including (and this should sound familiar) Chemnitz, then known as Karl-Marx-Stadt, started rolling the snowball downhill.  And you know most of the rest.  While the DDR technically lived to see 40, it would not live to see 41.  And to show you how fast things can move, a wall that was extant and militarized on October 7, 1989 came crumbling down so fast, both figuratively and literally, that supposed pieces of it were on sale at Famous-Barr locations in St. Louis that Christmas shopping season, though even then and even at the age of twelve, I figured the turnaround was too soon, and those pieces for sale were fake.

One of the forgotten elements to the history of German reunification is what happened in March 1990.  Then, the DDR held the only open elections in its history, and of course the East German CDU won handily, installing what turned out to be a placeholder Prime Minister to negotiate the DDR’s part for reunification, he being an heir to a long time Franco-Prussian Huguenot family.  Even before then, from 1949 to 1989, political parties other than the East German Socialist Unity Party, the one party of the one party state, technically did exist, the East German CDU was one of them, it’s just that they weren’t permitted any legislative power based on a “constitutional technicality” (cough cough).  Anyway, that was one of the things that made reunification as a legal and diplomatic process much easier.

Also, one of the things that made reunification easier is that, legally speaking, German reunification wasn’t really reunification.  Like I wrote above, “German reunification” is a colloquial term.  Legally, what happened is that the entity colloquially called “East Germany,” legally the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), abolished itself, and its territory joined the entity colloquially called “West Germany,” legally the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, and then that enlarged country became colloquially called “Germany” but legally with the same name.  Along with the March 1990 elections, what helped that process was a provision (“Article 23”) in the BRD (though that acronym was and still is largely frowned upon) Basic Law (constitution) that permitted territory to “ascend to observing the Basic Law” (i.e. joining the BRD) with a simple majority vote in both the existing BRD and the new territory.  And that did indeed happen.

But it was a little more complicated than that.  West Berlin, during the wall and curtain days, was associated with West Germany, but never legally part of it.  Reunification meant that the West Berlin territory and residents also “ascended to observing the Basic Law” formally, and then it and the former East Berlin were combined to form the city-state of Berlin within the suddenly larger BRD.  Speaking of Berlin, when the Berlin Wall fell, I thought that it was a gimme that Germany would reunify and the capital would move back to Berlin.  While the reunification part was an easy layup, and while the capital was eventually moved back to Berlin, that part was not the gimme that it seemed it would have been in November 1989.  In reality, the proposal was very contentious, it was a close vote in the reunified Bundestag, and on top of that, it was not an instantaneous process (did not happen formally until 1999), and it was not a consummate process, as most of the BRD bureaucratic and administrative functions that were in Bonn during the West Germany days did not move, stayed there, and are still there to this day.  Which means that it was simply more or less moving the legislative capital in terms of elected Federal politicians back to Berlin, but little else.  Not to mention other government offices that were spread around West Germany in cities other than Bonn, including one you know, the Supreme Court in Karlsruhe.

One other issue that had to be ironed out before reunification is that, since West Germany and Poland never shared a border, only East Germany and Poland did, the BRD had to accept the Oder-Neisse Line as the permanent eastern boundary between what suddenly became a larger BRD and Poland.  Also, the provision of the Basic Law used to add the DDR to the BRD, Article 23, was amended such that it excluded any legal possibility of adding territory under Article 23 from east of the O-N Line.  Eventually, Article 23 was totally eliminated and replaced with some EU mumbo jumbo, which means legally speaking, Germany cannot add any more territory.  Which is just as well, because just about all of what used to be Germany but isn’t anymore was ethnically cleansed decades ago.  The only one that wasn’t was the Alsace, but if it ever comes to be where the Alsace is not part of France anymore, it will become an independent state instead of part of Germany again.  Especially since much of the EU is planted in Strasbourg.

In the years since reunification, we came to find out that the then Israeli PM, Yitzhak Shamir, in addition to being publicly opposed to German reunification out of spite and “principle,” (i.e. hatred of Germans), he tried to do a whole lot behind the scenes to prevent it.  Margaret Thatcher, who never expressed a public opinion on the matter, also tried to prevent it behind the scenes.  Mainly because of Britain’s long standing policy of seeing to it that no single entity on the continent ever becomes that powerful.  Even though through 1990 she was standing on shaky political ground in her own country, which was not apparent to the rest of the world until November when she resigned as PM.  Gorby was too busy trying to save the dying Soviet Union to care.  So what made the difference?  One of the few really positive things he ever did — George H. W. Bush was whole hog in favor of reunification, and of course he was Commander-in-Chief of by far the biggest piece on that chess board.  The Bush family itself being mostly of mixed English-German heritage.  That is, until Jeb! married that bowling ball, bringing that something-something into the woodpile.  Besides, the Vice-President behind “Tear Down This Wall” couldn’t have said no.




7 responses

3 10 2018

Inserting an addendum into this history, Angela Merkel joined the East German CDU at the first expedient moment. I say this to try to get people out of this silly notion that Merkel’s immigration treachery has something to do with her being part of the East German Socialist Unity Party as a young woman. It has everything to do with universalist center-right capitalism.

4 10 2018

please keep posting these bits of german history, I took german at uni witha provo who would’ve lived during this time but all she taught as that Germans are good engineers and utterly humourless.

8 10 2018
Nicholas Stix

Been on the road, and thus haven’t read that much, while following the anti-Kavanaugh campaign on a hotel room TV. (Every major hotel chain blocks my blog, along with all the other sites we read on a regular basis, but they haven’t yet caught up with you.)

During my days as a West German university student (1980-1985), the story I always heard was that W.G. had a Grundgesetz (Basic Law), instead of a Verfassung (Constitution), was because of the divided Germany, and that once Wiedervereingigung (re-unification) came, a constitution would be enacted. However, when re-unification–which nobody had expected–came, the promise of a constitution was forgotten.

9 10 2018

Nick, look in your e-mail box. I have a couple week old message in there waiting for you.

I just presumed that Grundgestz and Verfassung was a distinction without a difference.

1 12 2018
Bush 41 | Countenance Blog

[…] of his few redeeming qualities as President is something I explained here about two months ago on Unity Day, that he was pretty much single handedly responsible for German reunification happening, when the […]

4 12 2018
Dale Gribble

When the Wall fell I worked in St Louis near a bakery a 50 something German woman ran. I went in the morning to get doughnuts for the office and I tried in my undergraduate German asking her what she thought of a Deutschland “verein”?

Her response was “do you mean REICH?”

22 01 2019
MPGA Hat | Countenance Blog

[…] running a unified unitary German nation-state starting in 1871 would make Berlin its capital.  I told you back on Unity Day that a subtext of the politics of German reunification were the politics of the national capital, […]

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