October 1, 2015

The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of German Unification: A Conversation with Two Architects

Georgetown University's BMW Center for German and European Studies hosted the sixth Herbert Quandt Lecture commemorating 25 years of German unification on October 1, in partnership with the Hanns-Seidel-Foundation's Washington Office and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.

“The process of German unification was a great success,” said Dr. Philipp Ackermann, deputy chief of mission at the German Embassy, as he introduced the Quandt Lecture.

The process of reunification between East and West Germany was a pivotal event in consolidating Europe: Eastern Germany was a centrally-planned socialist state, while the Western front was fully integrated in the world economy. The states were separated by a wall, and citizens were not allowed to cross the barriers.

This year’s Quandt Lecture was delivered by Dr. Theo Waigel and Dr. Robert Zoellick.

From 1989 to 1998, Waigel was Germany’s federal minister of finance. Named the “architect of Germany’s monetary union,” Dr. Waigel explained the process of building a united Germany, and the difficulties behind it.

“People did not believe unification would actually happen,” said Waigel.

The fall of communism in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, among others, brought public pressure to the German front. Paired with economic difficulties in East Germany—including rising debt, falling industrial production, and investment—it created the political and public support to begin the unification process.

“There were winners and losers of unification, but everyone gained more freedom,” Waigel added.

Dr. Robert Zoellick, the chief U.S. negotiator during the discussions that resulted in German unification, addressed the need to act quickly and take advantage of the pro-unification momentum.

“In Germany there was this incredible phenomenon sense of hope and opportunity,” said Zoellick.

Dr. Zoellick stressed the importance of creating good governance through the partnership between decision-makers and those on the ground. He noted how “sometimes diplomats operate in a world de-linked from public opinion,” but the process of German unification and the collaboration with international powers proved how “public diplomacy can build momentum on the ground.”

Following the lecture Dr. Jeffrey Anderson, director of the BMW Centre for German and European Studies, moderated a Q&A session with the two architects. Dr. Anderson’s questions addressed the importance of maintaining the principles of international solidarity that built the unification of the two sides of Europe at a time when issues such as the refugee and economic crises have started to strain the notion of a united Europe.