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30 German years: 1980 – 2010

From the Fall of the Wall to the reforms of the year 2000.

© picture alliance/Hubert Link

The 1980s

It is the decade in which a new political force appears in Germany. The Greens, the party that grew out of the peace movement and environmental groups, is founded in 1980. Just three years later, it enters the Bundestag for the first time – with knitted sweaters and sunflowers. Culture shock for the established parties. Helmut Kohl (CDU) has been Federal Chancellor since 1982. He was elected head of government by the Bundestag when the FDP left the SPD-FDP coalition under Helmut Schmidt (SPD) and formed a new coalition with the CDU/CSU.

However, all the decade’s domestic policy events are outshone by the autumn of its last year: the Berlin Wall falls on 9 November 1989. What Germans in east and west had come to regard as almost impossible now happens: under pressure exerted by its own population, the GDR opens the crossing points to the west. The era of German division comes to an end. This event was preceded by the weeks of the peaceful revolution in the GDR: the reforms of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and the movements for democracy in Hungary and Poland have created an atmosphere in which many people in the GDR can also openly express their dissatisfaction with the government: by fleeing via Hungary and Czechoslovakia – and through participation in the Monday demonstrations that begin in September 1989 in front of the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig. Both these events shake GDR structures so powerfully that Erich Honecker resigns as SED General Secretary and Chairman of the State Council on 18 October 1989.

On the evening of 9 November, at a press conference, Politburo member Günter Schabowski surprisingly announces radical relaxations in travel restrictions for private travellers that enter into force “immediately, without delay”. The very same night, thousands of GDR citizens rush to the border with West Berlin, where GDR border guards open numerous crossings without clear orders: the Wall collapses. In December, representatives of the GDR citizens movements negotiate on a democratic restructuring of the GDR. At the same time, however, more and more Germans in the east demand German reunification at demonstrations.

The 1990s

The first free elections to the GDR People’s Chamber take place on 18 March. The election campaign focused mainly on the shape and speed of unification with the Federal Republic. The election result, a victory for the conservative Alliance for Germany, is a clear vote in favour of the fastest possible unification and the introduction of a social market economy. The integration of the GDR into the Federal Republic is practically completed following the creation of an economic, currency and social union in May. In foreign policy terms, the road to German unification requires the consent of the four victorious powers of the Second World War: the United States, the Soviet Union, France and the United Kingdom consult with the two German states on the arrangements in the Two Plus Four talks. The Two Plus Four Agreement is signed in Moscow on 12 September 1990. United Germany gains full sovereignty and the Allies territorial rights end on 3 October 1990. Germany’s unity is achieved on the same day following the accession of the GDR in accordance with Article 23 of the Basic Law. The first all-German Bundestag elections are held in December 1990: Helmut Kohl (CDU) is the first Federal Chancellor of reunified Germany. The foreign policy of the Federal Republic strongly supports the deepening of the European community: in 1995, Germany is among the first countries of the Schengen Agreement, which abolishes border controls between its members.

The 1990s are strongly marked by the economic consequences of unification and the reconstruction in eastern Germany. Federal and State Governments conclude a solidarity pact to even out the differences arising from 40 years of division. Additionally, a Solidarity Tax is levied in east and west to benefit the reconstruction of eastern Germany. Berlin has been Germany’s capital since unification; it also becomes the seat of government following a decision by the Bundestag. The Bundestag, the Federal Government and most of the ministries move from Bonn to Berlin in 1999. Gerhard Schröder (SPD) moves into the new Chancellery: he has been at the head of the first SPD-Green coalition at federal level since the 1998 elections.

The 2000s

The first decade of the new millennium presents a number of occasions for the world to look towards Germany. The first World Exposition of the century is held in Hanover: Expo 2000 is the first at which presentations focus on the themes of sustainability and a balance between humankind, nature and technology. That is appropriate in a new era with new coordinates: globalization moves the world closer together, both economically and politically – at the end of the decade it will also present its downside in the form of the global financial crisis.

The 2006 World Cup puts the country into optimistic party mood. The “summer fairytale” changes the image of Germans for many people abroad: they are cordial hosts and know how to relax and celebrate. The European Union also celebrates its 50th birthday in 2007 during the German EU Presidency in Berlin. The Berlin Declaration recalls the accomplishments of the EU and the shared values and roots of the member states. In 2004 and 2007 the community grows by 12 countries to reach a total of 27 member states. The new members are primarily central European countries. In the same year the G8 also meets in Germany: new impetus for global climate protection, Africa policy and cooperation with the newly industrialized countries come from Heiligendamm.

In domestic policy, Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, at the head of a coalition of SPD and Alliance 90/The Greens, sets out to implement reforms of the welfare system and combat unemployment with the Agenda 2010 programme. In foreign policy, during this decade Germany frequently demonstrates its readiness to assume wide-ranging international responsibilities within the framework of the international community to contribute to solving conflicts and promoting civil society. In November 2005, a woman becomes government leader for the first time: Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel governs with the votes of a CDU/CSU and SPD Grand Coalition.