by Moritz Borchardt
25 Years ago on October 3rd 1990, two German states became one country. As a Western German living in Eastern Germany, or to be more politically correct, the former GDR-central Germany, I have never much cared for this day. It was a public holiday, no school/university, and to drink? You don’t really need a reason to do that. (You’re only an alcoholic when you keep the habit after your studies, right?). Five years ago I was an ERASMUS student in Vilnius, Lithuania, and as we were Germans on their semesters off reality, the 20-year celebrations at home didn’t bother us too much, or better: Didn’t bother me too much.
The line between caring and not caring was that of the times that are now more than 25 years in the past: those who grew up and had parents that lived in the GDR cared and wanted to celebrate and those who grew up in federal, Western Germany surely acknowledged the fact, but essentially just wanted to hang out. We were too young to really remember 1990 and as the reunification had little to no negative effects on our parents’ lives, all it seemed to change were viable holiday locations to the east.
Today (Oct 3rd), for the first time since even acknowledging the significance of the day five years ago, I was touched and moved by what happened, although in a way, I’d rather I hadn’t been.
What happened on that day twenty years ago when I was just four years old was, yes, the official reunification, but also a number of speeches (featured in the official coverage on public television) were held that to my mind, may even transcend their meaning for the 1990 reunification itself:
“[…]So we witness this day as a present. History favors us today, which is all the more reason for us to thoughtfully introspect. […] To reunite means learning to share. […]On this day, the German nation takes its recognized place in Europe. For the first time us Germans are not a point of controversy on the European agenda. Our reunification was not forced on anyone but peacefully agreed upon. It is part of a European historical process towards the freedom of the European people in a system of peace. We want to serve this goal, our reunification is dedicated to it. I am certain that we will be successful in bridging gaps old and new. We have to combine the developed constitutional patriotism of the one with the experienced solidarity of the people of the other to form a healthy and strong whole. We have the shared will to tackle the great tasks ahead that our neighbours expect us to overcome. We are well aware how much worse off other countries are right now [around the globe]. History has given us this chance, we shall take it with confidence and trust – and the spark we feel is one of hope and glory.”
— Richard von Weizsäcker, first President of the unified Federal Republic of Germany
“This day signifies an end and new beginnings. The end of an afflicted and afflicting past, new beginnings towards a Germany that is reconciled with itself and seeks reconciliation with its neighbours.”
— Sabine Bergmann-Pohl, former President of the GDR parliament
“We have to rid ourselves of the terms of mine and yours, us and you. Sharing is one side of that. Surely those who want to create a community have to be able to share, but at the same time it is equally as important now to create a shared community by working together. If we do not master the test of solidarity on the inside, within ourselves and in the details, who should believe us that we are ready for and capable of solidarity on the outside, in the whole of Europe and the North-South conflict?”
— Rita Süssmuth, President of the (federal) German parliament
I was, and continue to be touched by those words, though less by what they meant at the time, but more so by how true they still ring 25 years later – and by how desperately we need to heed them in the refugee crisis today.
In parts of Germany, not just the East, that for the better part of the last century has had considerably less foreigners in its midst than others, the recent influx of refugees has struck a very questionable kind of chord. This is especially so in rural areas where the amount of foreigners has risen by sometimes several hundreds of percent. The speed of the influx has been too fast for anyone’s comfort, let alone at a pace that anyone could get used to the new status quo.
We in Germany are in the middle of a transitional phase in history; one that may very well be the precursor to a golden age of openness and progress through diversity. At least that is the hope. Until then though, until the capacities are built that will enable our new neighbours to take part in the society they so struggled to arrive in, Germany, its politicians and citizens, would be well advised to heed those words spoken 25 years ago:
“If we do not master the test of solidarity on the inside, within ourselves and in the details, who should believe us that we are ready for and capable of solidarity on the outside […]?”
— Rita Süssmuth
“History has given us this chance, we shall take it with confidence and trust – and the spark we feel is one of hope and glory.”
— Richard von Weizsäcker
Moritz Borchardt is a Director of GPPW.
Translations: by author
Image credit: PercyGermany under a 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND) Creative Commons license