In 1990, the German Democratic Republic joined the Federal Republic of Germany, thereby creating a unified German state; East and West Berlin were also reunited into a single city. The process of transforming the GDR into a democratic state and unifying the two Germanys began with the “Wende” (change in direction) in November 1989 and culminated in a Unification Treaty, which was signed by officials of both German states on August 31, 1990. This treaty, the result of intense negotiations between the GDR and the FRG, provided for the accession of the GDR to the FRG. The end of the unification process is officially called “Deutsche Einheit” (German Unity) and is celebrated annually on October 3, a national holiday in Germany.
In accordance with Article 23 of the Basic Law of the FRG, which took effect on October 3, 1990, five of the GDR’s newly created federal states (Bundesländer)—Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia—became states of the FRG. The 23 boroughs of Berlin formed Land Berlin, which became one of Germany’s 16 constituent states. Berlin was again designated as the capital of united Germany and, after the establishment of German unity, it also became the seat of the parliament and government. The socialist German Democratic Republic, founded after World War II on October 7, 1949, was no longer a satellite state of the Soviet Union and no longer a nation by itself.
Helmut Kohl, who died at age 87 on June 16, 2017, served as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1982 to 1993, then as Chancellor of unified Germany from 1993 to 1998. He witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and, following that momentous event, was a major force behind German reunification as the Cold War came to what many people thought was its end. He has been called, and he deserves to be called, the “architect of German unity.” When he perceived the possibility of forging the two Germanys into one, he moved decisively and through skillful diplomatic negotiations helped press forward in that direction. Another leader, one with less courage and experience, might have hesitated and lost the opportunity to reunite Germany. But Kohl—like Otto von Bismarck who, after uniting all the states of Germany, became the first Chancellor of the German Empire in 1871—was determined to build a stable and prosperous German republic with a unified national identity. He succeeded and, in so doing, secured his place alongside Bismarck in German history. Today, Germany is the most economically powerful and politically influential country in the European Union.