A Primer on German Reunification

December 22, 1989

Report Outline
Special Focus


As East Germany rushes headlong toward democracy—and perhaps toward capitalism—the lip service paid for years to German reunification is now being put to the test of reality. But standing in the way are a host of difficulties: historical fears arising from Germany's Nazi past as well as its role in World War I; economic fears arising from the strength of both Germanys' economies; and geopolitical fears arising from the warming but still skittish relations between East and West.

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It all began last May, when Hungary removed the barbed-wire fences along its border with Austria. Almost Immediately, East German citizens, mostly young, productive workers and their families, began streaming across the opened border in droves. By early fall, the East German government was forced to open the doors to the West for successive groups of its citizens. In short time, the crisis proved too much for the leadership. On Oct. 18, Erich Honecker, the longtime East German Communist Party leader and head of state, stepped down.

His successor, former security police chief Egon Krenz, purged the party leadership and lifted travel restrictions, hopeful that reforms could save the regime that had governed East Germany for the past four decades. But it was not enough. On Nov. 4, a half-million East Berliners took to the streets to demand free elections and freedom of travel. Citizens in other cities followed suit. The government resigned.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Dec. 22, 1989  A Primer on German Reunification
Apr. 19, 1985  German Reconciliation
Feb. 25, 1983  West Germany's ‘Missile’ Election
Jan. 14, 1970  German Reconciliation
Jan. 29, 1969  West German Prosperity
Mar. 30, 1966  German Border Question and Reunification
Aug. 18, 1965  West German Election, 1965
Feb. 24, 1965  War Guilt Expiation
Jul. 01, 1964  German Question
Sep. 01, 1961  Captive East Germany
Aug. 23, 1961  West German Election, 1961
May 04, 1960  Berlin Question
Dec. 24, 1958  Berlin Crisis and German Reunification
Aug. 21, 1957  German Election, 1957
Oct. 19, 1955  European Security
Jun. 15, 1955  Germany and the Balance of Power
Oct. 19, 1954  German Rearmament
Jan. 19, 1954  West German Recovery
Mar. 12, 1953  Harassed Berlin
Apr. 26, 1950  German Problem
Feb. 18, 1948  Rehabilitation of the Ruhr
Oct. 23, 1946  Future of Germany
Nov. 25, 1944  Transfers of Populations
Nov. 01, 1940  Economic Controls in Nazi Germany
Mar. 09, 1939  Foreign Trade in German Economy
Apr. 02, 1936  Germany's Post-War European Relations
Nov. 02, 1934  The Coming Saab Plebiscite
Apr. 23, 1931  The Austro-German Customs Union Project
Feb. 05, 1929  The Rhineland Problem
Nov. 07, 1924  German National Elections December, 1924
Apr. 30, 1924  The German National Elections
Regional Political Affairs: Europe