United We Fall

The Rush to German Unity

by Konrad H. Jarausch
Oxford University Press, 272 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Beyond the Wall: Germany's Road to Unification

by Elizabeth Pond
Brookings Institution/Twentieth Century Fund, 367 pp., $28.95

German Unification in the European Context

by Peter H. Merkl, with a contribution by Gert-Joachim Glaessner
Pennsylvania State University Press, 448 pp., $18.95 (paper)

At the end of the diary that he kept from November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall ceased to be an effective barrier to free movement from east to west, until the Day of German Unity on October 3, 1990, Horst Teltschik, chief adviser on foreign and security policy in the West German chancellor’s office, described the scene in the Reichstag after the unification ceremony had been completed.

It is half-past one in the morning, he wrote:

Helmut Kohl and Lothar de Maizière [the East German minister president] are still sitting together in the Reichstag. Hannelore Kohl is present and so is Ilse de Maizière, as well as her daughter…. There are still tens of thousands of people standing outside. Their cries of “Helmut! Helmut!” show no sign of flagging. Over and over again the Chancellor steps to the window and waves to the people, and each time he urges de Maizière to come with him, but the latter hesitates. He seems weary, almost apathetic.

Wolfgang Bergsdorff [chief of the domestic department of the Federal Press Bureau] asks de Maizière’s daughter what she feels at the present moment. She reacts uncertainly. She was born in the DDR, and it has been part of her life.

At about two in the morning we walk in the direction of our hotel. There are broken fragments lying everywhere.

Germany is united.1

A passage rich in symbols for those who look for such things: the contrast between the moods of the supposed partners, the confusion and doubt of the generation that is now called upon to carry out the agreement that their seniors have made. And in the streets, after the crowd has dispersed, were the Scherben, a word often used in German to refer to the broken pieces that have to be picked up before a strained relationship can be put right. The feeling of triumph is muted and hesitant in this account, which ends on a note of almost forced optimism. Whatever Teltschik may have written, he must have known that Germany was not yet united, in any real sense, on October 3, 1990. It may be argued, indeed, that it is no more so today.

The state of mind of today’s Germans has been deeply influenced by the nature of the unification process and its immediate consequences. If it is difficult for people in the West to understand the current German malaise, this is largely owing to the fact that most of the writing on unification has been impressionistic, episodic, tendentious, or self-exculpatory. From journalists we have had exciting on-the-scene reports and exposés of the crimes of the DDR system; from the academics have come elaborate attempts to fit what happened in Germany into overall theories of revolution, as well as a great many highly technical studies of special problems. What has been lacking until now are comprehensive studies of the process as a whole, written by people who have a deep knowledge…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only – subscribe at this low introductory rate for immediate access!

Subscribe for $1 an Issue

Unlock this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, by subscribing at the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue — that’s 10 digital issues plus six months of full archive access plus the NYR App for just $10.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account.