Bronze chariot rider and four horses atop the Brandenburg Gate

German Reunification: 30 years

German Reunification: 30 years

News coverage from 1989 and 1990

1990: Reunification

Germany celebrates German Unity Day, a national public holiday, on 3 October. The date commemorates the formal completion of the reunification of West Germany (Federal Republic of Germany) and East Germany (German Democratic Republic) on 3 October 1990.

This is how the Australian news media reported on reunification 30 years ago:

On 3 October 1990 Germany officially becomes one nation, 1990. Courtesy: Seven Network. NFSA title: 802912

1989: The Wall Comes Down

After the Second World War, the Soviet Union and its Western allies separated Germany into two zones, effectively creating separate countries. The city of Berlin, located within Soviet-controlled East Germany, was also split in two. 

For 30 years, from its construction in 1961, the 155 km Berlin Wall that marked the boundary between East and West Berlin served as one of the most enduring symbols of the Cold War. The wall restricted freedom of movement and many East German citizens lost their lives trying to escape to the west.

By the late 1980s, the power of the Soviet Union began to wane and communist regimes in eastern Europe were losing their grip on power. The end of East Germany was relatively swift, and a little unexpected.

When the East German Government announced on 9 November 1989 that its citizens could visit West Germany, thousands of East Berliners assembled at the wall expecting to be able to cross to West Berlin. Guards opened the checkpoints and East Berliners swarmed through, greeted by rejoicing West Berliners with flowers and champagne.

Rejoicing soon turned to spontaneous destruction of the wall itself as people took up sledgehammers and any tools at hand to continue the work (see NFSA Stories: Making History on the Berlin Wall, below). Official demolition of the wall began the following year.

A few days before the Berlin Wall was breached, Australian media reported on an exodus of East German citizens heading to the west via Czechoslovakia:

East German exodus days before the Berlin Wall came down, 6 November 1989. Courtesy: Network Ten. NFSA title: 49955

NFSA Stories: Making History on The Berlin Wall

Crowds on top of the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate
East and West Germans at the Brandenburg Gate in 1989. Published under Creative Commons 3.0

NFSA Senior Curator, Thorsten Kaeding was in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.

'I’d been in Europe for about six months backpacking and had just returned to my German family in Hildesheim, not far from the east-west border', he recalled.

'By 8 November I hopped on the train and made my way to West Berlin where it was evident things were moving fast.

'By the evening of the 9th, crowds were building on both sides of the wall, East German guards were stationed on top of the lower wall section at the Brandenburg Gate and in No Man’s Land. News travelled fast and it became clear the checkpoints would be opened to allow East Germans into West Berlin.

'Hammers and chisels started to appear and were passed around to the growing crowds in the west, who were soon joined by East Germans pouring through the opened checkpoints to cheers from the massed crowds. The wall had lost its power to intimidate as people from east and west swarmed on top of it and chipped whole sections away.

'I think I have one small piece of concrete left, the rest of the bits I chiselled from the wall that night were given to friends and family who weren’t able to be there. My lasting memory is the overwhelming outpouring of emotion and solidarity from people from the east and west over those days, of people coming together to make history.'


Main image: 'Brandenburg Gate in Berlin'. Published under Creative Commons 2.0. Photographer: Werner's World