Ein Deutschland

On this day in 1990, East and West Germany come together on what is known as “Unity Day,” less than one year after East German officials opened the Berlin Wall, allowing travel between the blocs.

Long the starkest symbol of Soviet dominion, in 1961, to stem the growing tide of Cold War refugees attempting to leave East Berlin, the communist government of East Germany began construction of the Berlin Wall. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had become emboldened upon seeing US President John F. Kennedy’s youth and inexperience as weakness against Khrushchev’s bellicose aggression.

At that time, fashioning his own robust response, per Kennedy’s order, US troops marched from West Germany through East Germany, bound for West Berlin, with lead elements arranged in a column of 491 vehicles and trailers carrying 1,500 men. The column was 99 miles long, and covered 110 miles from Marienborn to Berlin in full battle gear; East German police watched from beside trees next to the autobahn all the way along. The front of the convoy arrived at the outskirts of Berlin, to be met by US General Lucius Clay and LBJ, before parading through the streets of Berlin in front of a large crowd.

Over a quarter-century later, as USSR President (Premier) Mikhail Gorbachev had continued glasnost and perestroika in the latter 1980’s, the wall’s physical and political fate slowly sealed. Seeming to answer POTUS Ronald Reagan’s exhortation from 1987, and amid growing demonstrative dissent, the longtime leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker, resigned on October 18, 1989 replaced by Egon Krenz.

Hungarian officials had opened the border between Hungary and Austria previously, effectively ending the purpose of the Berlin Wall, and East German citizens could now pour over the iron curtain by going through Hungary, into Austria, and thence into West Germany. In essence, East German citizens began giving their repressive government the finger, often literally.

Unlike 1956 and 1968, when Soviet forces ruthlessly crushed protests in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, respectively, Gorbachev actually encouraged the East German action. As such, the destruction of the Berlin Wall was one of the most stunning acts of the 20th Century, marking the defacto end of the Cold War’s bilateral world and the dawn of a multi-lateral muddle we bravely endure every damn day. It also made for some stunning live television.

Shortly thereafter, talks between East and West German officials, joined by officials from the United States, Great Britain, France, and the USSR, began to explore the possibility of reunification. Two months following reunification, all-German elections took place and Helmut Kohl became the first chancellor of the reunified Germany.
So bringing us back to Unity Day, here the lesson endeth.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.