On 3 October, the Federal Republic of Germany celebrates German Unity Day.
For 45 years, Germany was split in two. Several generations of Germans were traumatised and still remember life as it was then: the East administered by the Soviet Union and the West by the Western Allies.
In 1945, Allied forces partitioned the defeated Third Reich into four military occupation zones. France, the United Kingdom and the United States occupied the West, which became the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) when the three zones merged on 23 May 1949; and the Soviet Union occupied the East, which became the German Democratic Republic (GDR) on 7 October 1949.
Berlin suffered the same fate. It was split in two and despite lying deep in the soviet-dominated East, West Berlin remained an enclave of the western Allies.
Relations between East and West soon degenerated into the Cold War. And Churchill’s Iron Curtain metaphor was superseded by that of the Berlin Wall, which came to symbolise this troubled period. Meanwhile, in Germany, families were torn apart and Berliners often risked their lives to join their loved ones on the other side of the Wall.
NATO welcomed West Germany as a member on 6 May 1955, a day after its status as an occupied country came to an end (the Bonn-Paris conventions came into effect on 5 May 1955). East Germany became a member of the Warsaw Pact when it was formed a few days later on 22 May 1955. From then on, Germany became the hub of espionage and military activity throughout the Cold War and the centre-stage of diplomatic posturing. Soviet-occupied Berlin remained the capital of East Germany while West Germany chose Bonn.
The end of the Cold War was a massive U-turn in international relations. It happened over a very short period of time and was the result of a series of factors – political, economic and military - that culminated in the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. But the fall of the Berlin Wall 9-10 November 1989 marked the radical change in international relations, epitomizing the beginning of a new era. The reunification of Germany that followed was another step forward for Germany and all of Europe.
With the reunification of Germany on 3 October 1990, Berlin was reinstated as the capital city of united Germany and the Länder of the former German Democratic Republic joined the Federal Republic of Germany in its membership of NATO. Germany had withdrawn from the Warsaw Pact in September 1990, just a few days before German unity.
For decades, NATO support for German reunification had been steadfast and was all the more special that when it happened, the then Secretary General, Manfred Wörner, was the first German to have occupied this the post.
“Germany has overcome its painful, unnatural division. Thus a vital step has been taken to overcome the division of Europe. (...) No permanent peace, no new European order of freedom, democracy and prosperity could be built around a divided Germany, or in opposition to the wishes of the Germans themselves to live within a single nation. Today we put nearly half a century of confrontation and frustration behind us.” - NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner