He wished to be the chancellor of a liberated not a defeated Germany, said Willy Brandt on the evening of his election victory in 1969. Yet only on October 3, 1990, was Germany liberated. Better still: Germany liberated itself. Not all alone, of course. Every German politician pays tribute to Gorbachev, to the pioneers of emancipation in Eastern Europe, to the Americans, French, and British, without whom, as authors say in their Acknowledgements, this book could never have been written. But it was the Germans who wrote the book.
For all the discontinuities of West German policy since 1949, one can but admire the grand continuity in which all chancellors, from Adenauer to Kohl, all foreign ministers, all federal governments over forty years, now this way, now that, now in the West, now in the East, pursued the cause of German liberation.
Historians will argue whether Adenauer’s integration into the West or Brandt’s Ostpolitik contributed more to the success of the past year. There is much to be said for the claim that the East Central European year of wonders, ‘89, was a late triumph of Adenauer’s “magnet theory”—the idea that the attraction of a free and prosperous West Germany embedded in a free and prosperous Western Europe would sooner or later draw the unfree and impoverished East Germany irresistibly toward it. But could the magnet have exerted its full attractive force if the blocking iron curtain had not first been drawn back by the Ostpolitik which Willy Brandt launched in the late 1960s? And it was not Bonn’s Western but rather its Eastern ties—above all, those to Moscow—which directly permitted the transformation of an East German movement for freedom into an all-German state of unity.
Yet this East German rising for freedom was not contemplated in Bonn’s Deutschlandpolitik. Those in the GDR who contributed most to Germany’s peaceful October revolution—the tiny minority of human and civil rights campaigners—had benefited least from the Federal Republic’s governmental policy toward the GDR. Bonn politicians now ritually celebrate the “peaceful revolution.” Two years ago most of those same politicians would have described it as “dangerous destabilization.” Yes, it was a “dangerous destabilization” that made German unification possible. Without the brave minority that faced down armed police on the streets of Leipzig, Dresden, and Berlin, the ultimate goal of Bonn’s policy would never have been achieved—Gorbachev or no Gorbachev. (The real greatness of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner consists in the ability to accept often undesired and unintended faits accomplis—or what Mr. Gorbachev likes to call “life itself.”)
The pioneers of social emancipation and democratization in the GDR were then rapidly overtaken by those who wanted to have done with the GDR altogether. I recorded in these pages the electrifying moment at which, after the opening of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, the chant of the crowds changed from “Wir Sind Das Volk” (“We Are …