Social Education 57(4), 1993
1993 National Council for the Social Studies

A United Germany in a Uniting Europe

Donna Stassen
German unification is a complex process that began three years ago when the movement of East Germans through other eastern European countries toward West Germany and Western Europe eventually forced the fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening of the border between East and West Germany on 9 November 1989. A little more than a month later, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and East German Minister President Hans Modrow presided over the official opening of two pedestrian border crossings at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. This marked the beginning of a political process that would culminate in the unification of the two postwar Germanys on 3 October 1990-less than a year after the opening of the border. During this period, the other Eastern European countries were also breaking away from the control of the disintegrating Soviet Union, thus bringing down the Iron Curtain and ending the cold war.
Unification added five eastern states that had made up the communist German Democratic Republic to the eleven states of the old Federal Republic of Germany. Germany's population grew from sixty-three million to eighty million overnight, on a territory smaller than that of the state of Montana.

Unity paved the way for even greater mobility within Germany, initially from east to west, and indeed, for migration from Eastern European countries to the countries of the strengthening European Community as well. Great numbers of ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union and Romania, asylum seekers from the former Yugoslavia and other parts of the world, and workers from Turkey and the Mediterranean member states of the European Community and their families have arrived in increasing numbers in the western part of Germany and other western European countries in search of security and a better standard of living.&Mac222;

Consequently, German cities and villages in the west have increasingly taken on the face of a multicultural society. In shops and restaurants, the style and flavors of what used to be the exotic from other countries have become almost commonplace.

Although disturbing clashes have served as a reminder of the problems involved in integrating diverse ethnic groups into a relatively homogeneous society, encouraging signs of positive solutions do exist, particularly in the schools. Children learn German as the first step in the process of acculturation and, eventually, assimilation.

The eastern and western states of the new Federal Republic of Germany are trying to grow together. That process is proving to be more difficult than originally imagined. In addition to coping with massive migration as the result of relatively open borders, Germany must attack its daunting environmental problems, particularly in the eastern part.

Long a priority in the west, recycling now also contributes to the protection of the environment in the east, and each household has separate containers for recycling paper and glass.

Here, a brewery in the western industrial center of Duisburg processes old bottles and cases. It serves as a model for its eastern counterparts.

Efforts are underway to clean up air and water in many cities in the eastern part of Germany. Western investors seek to build in the east modern factories and industries that will be environmentally and ecologically sound.

Germany's unification, geographically and politically, is at the center of a large European unification movement. Within the existing European Community, the abolition of border controls as of 1 January 1993 permits the free movement of citizens, goods, and services among member states.

The Europass, the community passport, is the identification a European shows when traveling outside Europe. The European Currency Unit is at the basis of the European Monetary System (created to expedite the formation of a single European market). It is still very much like a basket of currencies, a mere unit of account for intra-European trading purposes. After the turn of the century, it will likely replace the various national legal tenders.

As ties between the societies within the European Community create a strong multicultural, political, and economic union, the eventual addition of the newly independent Eastern European countries to those in central and northern Europe already considered for admission will perhaps bring the number of member states of the European Community to twenty-four by the end of the century. The road to this goal is long and arduous. German unification, with all its promise and problems, serves as a case study for eventual European unification.

Donna Stassen teaches English at the German School in Washington, D.C.