The Reunification of East and West Germany in 1990 Video

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  • 0:02 Reunification of Germany
  • 0:43 WWII and Partition
  • 3:21 Fall of Communism and…
  • 5:49 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the unique history of East and West Germany after Germany's defeat in WWII and the conditions surrounding its eventual reunification in 1990.

Reunification of Germany

Are you ever sick from school or work and find yourself watching endless hours of daytime TV? If you have, you've likely seen a few instances of one of daytime talk shows' favorite tropes: the reunion of long-lost family members. Whether it's a father who left home or two sisters mistakenly split up at birth, the reunion is usually surprising, tearful, and fulfilling for the viewer. While this sort of thing happens to average people every day, it isn't every day that countries get split in two and it's even rarer that they are ever eventually reunited. Nonetheless, this very thing happened in 1990 when East and West Germany were reunited after 45 years of separation to become simply, Germany.

WWII and Partition

Germany's defeat in World War II presented a bit of a problem for the Allied nations. The western Allies had advanced from the west and south with the Soviet Union advancing through German territory from the east, achieving the unconditional surrender Stalin demanded only through a prolonged siege of Berlin.

As Hitler committed suicide and his generals surrendered, the Allied nations had to decide what to do with the defeated German nation. Thankfully, several conferences and summits had been held at Potsdam and Yalta in the past year after it became apparent Germany would lose. There, the United States and the United Kingdom agreed to allow the Soviet Union to have direct control or influence over most of eastern Europe, including the eastern third of Germany. The western two-thirds was split into zones and controlled by the U.S., the U.K., and France. Additionally, the German capital, Berlin, which was in the middle of the Soviet zone, was also split between the two sides.

In both the western and eastern portions of Germany, new governments were set up. In the east, the German Democratic Republic was founded. Despite the name, the communist government that was set up in East Germany was tightly controlled by Moscow, and East Germany became a client state of the Soviet Union. In the west, there was a bit more freedom allowed in domestic politics, as the Federal Republic of Germany was founded in 1949.

Whereas East Germany had a communist economy that traded exclusively with its communist allies in eastern Europe, West Germany slowly rebuilt itself as a capitalist hub in central Europe, soon entering into trade agreements with other western European countries and becoming a founding member of what would later evolve into the European Union. Both states, however, were allowed virtually no personal military force as punishment for German aggression in World War I and World War II.

As the decades wore on, the two Germany's became more and more different. In West Germany, the economy prospered, as its industrial heartland in the Rhine Valley recovered from the devastation of war and grew into a European industrial powerhouse through increased European integration. East Germany, on the other hand, lagged behind its former compatriots, saddled with a centrally-controlled command economy dictated by Moscow and East Berlin.

The differences between the two halves were no more apparent than in Berlin, the German capital which had also been split in two. The standard of living and opportunities for professionals were so much better in West Berlin than in East Berlin, that the Soviet Union erected a permanent concrete and barb-wired wall in August 1961 to stop the mass exodus of East Berliners.

Fall of Communism and Reunification

As the 1980s wore on, it became increasingly apparent that the Soviet system was under an immense amount of internal pressure. The Soviet economy was failing and the political structure of communist governments in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were too stilted to be able to enact meaningful change.

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