My most crucial experience in the process of German unification was my visit to Dresden on December 19, 1989. When I landed with my entourage on the bumpy concrete runway of the Dresden-Klotzsche airport, it suddenly became clear to me: this regime is finished. Unification is coming!
Thousands of people were waiting for us at the airport; a sea of black, red, and gold flags fluttered in the cold December air – among them was an almost forgotten white and green Saxon state flag. When the airplane came to a halt, I descended the staircase and saw [Hans] Modrow waiting for me about 10 yards away with a hardened expression on his face. I turned to Rudolf Seiters, minister of the chancellery, and said: “That’s it. It’s in the bag.”
Tens of thousands lined the streets as we drove into the city: entire workforces had come out; entire school classes were standing there, cheering us on. Banners read: “Kohl, Chancellor of the Germans” and “The Federal State of Saxony Welcomes the Chancellor.” Modrow, who sat next to me in the car, seemed very self-conscious. In front of the Hotel Bellevue we were completely surrounded by a sea of people. People kept shouting “Helmut, Helmut,” “Germany, Germany,” or “We are one people,” but they also shouted that I should address them.
I had not actually planned to give a speech, but at that moment it was clear to me that I had to talk to the people. Wolfgang Berghofer, Dresden’s mayor at the time, suggested that I speak in front of the ruins of the Frauenkirche.
[ . . . ]
As I climbed the stairs to the wooden rostrum, I could feel the great hopes and expectations that the people had pinned on me. I gave them warm regards from their fellow citizens in the Federal Republic of Germany. Those words alone brought cheers from the crowd. I gestured to show that I wanted to continue speaking. It got very quiet. I then continued:
“The second thing I would like to convey is a word of acknowledgment and admiration for this peaceful revolution in the GDR. It is the first time in German history that people have demonstrated in a spirit of nonviolence, with seriousness, earnestness, and solidarity, to build a better future. For that I give all of you my most heartfelt thanks.”
Again there was thunderous applause, and then it got very quiet as I continued to speak. I said it was a demonstration for democracy, for peace, for freedom, and for the self-determination of our people, and then I went on:
“And dear friends, for those of us in the Federal Republic, self-determination also means that we respect your opinion. We do not want to – and will not – impose our will on anyone else. We respect your decision regarding the future of the country. [ . . . ] We will not abandon our compatriots in the GDR. And we know – and let me say this amidst the enthusiasm that I am so pleased to experience here – how difficult this path to the future will be. But let me also shout out to you: Together we will succeed on this path to Germany’s future.”
I then informed the hundred thousand who had gathered of the results of my talks with the GDR minister presidents, and I said that by this spring we wanted to conclude an agreement on a treaty community between the Federal Republic and the GDR. And that close cooperation in all areas was also planned.
“We especially want to cooperate as closely as possible in the economic area, with the clear goal of improving living conditions in the GDR as quickly as possible. We want the people here to feel comfortable. We want you to be able to stay in your homes and find good fortune here. It is crucial that the people in Germany can come together in the future, that freedom of travel in both directions is guaranteed. We want the people in Germany to be able to meet wherever they want.”