Encouraged by liberal reforms introduced by the Communist governments of the Soviet Union, Poland, and Hungary, GDR citizens hoped for political concessions from their own government. When these concessions failed to materialize – and when, instead, the GDR government stubbornly insisted on the correctness of its authoritarian path – citizens decided to take action. In the fall and winter of 1989-90, they left the GDR in droves, fleeing by way of neighboring Communist countries. This mass exodus was followed by demonstrations in GDR cities, where citizens demanded long hoped-for political concessions, including the dissolution of the old-guard Communist leadership around Erich Honecker. In quick succession, civic protests compelled the government to open the Berlin Wall, negotiate with oppositional forces at the so-called Round Table, and allow the formation of new parties.
The call for political participation inherent in the slogan “We are the people” [“Wir sind das Volk”] quickly developed into a demand for German unification under a new motto: “We are one people” [“Wir sind ein Volk”]. The success of the “Alliance for Germany” in the first democratic elections in March 1990 and the ongoing flood of GDR citizens into the Federal Republic strengthened support for a swift merger of the two German states. Thus, any notion of a “third way” – i.e., reforming the GDR – was firmly rejected. German unification had entered the realm of the tangible practically overnight.
Events proceeded at breakneck speed, and the feeling of needing to seize the moment drove both German-German and international negotiations (9). A solution to the German question required the approval of the Allied powers, and international reservations vis-à-vis German unification came not only from the Soviet Union, but also from the Western Allies, who articulated their concerns with varying degrees of forcefulness (with Great Britain being more vehement in expressing its reservations than France). In the “Two-Plus-Four” talks between representatives of the two German states and the U.S., France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, the U.S. government took a decisive leading role (10). At first, the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, expressed reservations about unification in and of itself, then about a unified Germany's entry into NATO, and finally about the withdrawal of Soviet troops from GDR territory; but these issues were resolved through skillful negotiation and the extension of generous financial assistance packages to the Soviet Union, which had been greatly weakened both politically and economically. After some initial hesitation, Chancellor Helmut Kohl allayed Polish fears about a revision of Germany's postwar borders by officially recognizing the Oder-Neisse Line as the border between the two countries. In a departure from its usual admissions procedures, the European Community acted quickly and unbureaucratically in agreeing to allow the Federal Republic of Germany, one of its member states, to expand its territory to include the former GDR.
(9) Konrad H. Jarausch, Die unverhoffte Einheit 1989-1990 (Frankfurt am Main, 1995) and The Rush to German Unity (New York, 1994); Wolfgang Jäger, Die Überwindung der Teilung. Der innerdeutsche Prozeß der Vereinigung 1989/90 (Stuttgart, 1998); Charles S. Maier, Dissolution: The Crisis of Communism and the End of East Germany (Princeton, NJ, 1997); Hanns Jürgen Küsters and Daniel Hofmann, eds., Dokumente zur Deutschlandpolitik. Deutsche Einheit. Sonderedition aus den Akten des Bundeskanzleramtes 1989/90 (Munich, 1998).
(10) Philip Zelikow and Condoleezza Rice, Germany United and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft (Cambridge, MA, 1995); Werner Weidenfeld with Peter M. Wagner and Elke Bruck, Außenpolitik für die deutsche Einheit. Die Entscheidungsjahre 1989/90 (Stuttgart, 1998); Mary Elise Sarotte, 1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe (Princeton, NJ, 2009).