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Kathleen Fitzgerald

April 30, 2007


History 10b
Week 13: Postwar History and the “End of History”
Study Questions

How did the situation in East Germany change so rapidly in 1989? Assess the balance of
international and domestic forces in bringing about this rapid change.

On November 12, 1989, 28 years and 91 days of Berlin’s “wall sickness” came crashing

down alongside the graffiti-covered concrete blocks. “Most of the estimated two million East

Germans who flooded into West Berlin over the weekend simply walked the streets in quiet

family groups, often with toddlers in pushchairs. They queued up at a bank to collect the 100

Deutschmarks ‘greeting money’ (about thirty-five pounds) offered to visiting East Germans by

the West government, and then they went, very cautiously, shopping…Bewildered border-guards

waved [them] through.”1 The surprisingly rapid fall-out after the Berlin Wall’s collapse and the

calm reunification of Germany simply belied a larger, long-term European revolutionary

movement as well as a more recent increase in vocal East German protest.

During the 1970s and 1980s, events like Poland’s free election, Czechoslovakia’s

university student-driven protests and ultimately peaceful separation of the Czech Republic from

Slovakia, and even the violent overthrow of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu all

revealed the consensus among Eastern Europeans that socialism and closed economies were

dissatisfying and unworkable.2 Similar university protest groups and violent acts had been

occurring in Western Germany throughout the 1960s and 70s with groups like the Central

Committee of the Roaming Hash Rebels and the Blues; in Eastern Europe, the revolutionary

drive had initially been underground due to the German Democratic Republic’s repressive and

1
Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern, p. 61-62.
2
Kishlansky, Civiization in the West, vol. II, p. 936.

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violent policies like gunning down anyone who attempted to cross into the German Federal

Republic (West Germany). In the midst of the frustrating domestic repression and Eastern

Europe’s overall revolutionary tone, two events (one international, the other domestic to the

GDR) served as catalysts for the end of Germany’s walled division. As the international

catalyst, Hungary’s September 1989 dismantlement of the barbed-wire fences along its Austrian

border opened far more than just Hungary’s own borders to the West. In fact, the resultant

freedom of movement and expression quickly spread across Eastern Europe and somehow even

seeped into Eastern Germany.

As soon as the Hungarians starting cutting the barbed wire of the ‘iron curtain’, in
May, East Germans began to escape across it…The trickle turned into a flood:
some 15,000 crossed the border in the first three days, 50,000 by the end of
October. Others sought an exit route via the West German embassies in Prague
and Warsaw. This was the final catalyst for internal change in East Germany.3

Eastern Germany experienced yet another turning-point on Monday, 9 October, 1989, the day

after Gorbachev left, when 70,000 demonstrators in Karl-Marx-Platz were allowed to protest

peacefully without the slaughter and imprisonment that had even occurred just days earlier in

that same platz. This public allowance, combined with the international feeling (and reality) that

Europe’s Cold War borders were already crumbling, pushed the whole of East Germany into

labor, “an old world—to recall Marx’s image—pregnant with the new.”4 Speeches in which

orators complained that, “Socialism had not delivered what it promised… [and] ‘new socialism’

would not deliver it either,” essentially galvanized the Eastern European peoples to protest en

masse, eventually leading the government to allow the powerful populous to tear down the wall.

Finally, the FDR’s ‘big D’ no longer stood for Democratic; it now indicated Deutschland and

Deutschmark.5

3
Ash, p. 66.
4
Ibid., p. 68.
5
Ibid., p. 72.