UC Santa Barbara > History Department > Prof. Marcuse > Courses > Hist 133c Homepage > 133c Book Essays Index page > Student essay

The Birth of a United Germany

Book Essay on: Elizabeth Pond, Beyond the Wall: Germany’s Road to Unification
(New York: Brookings Institution, 1993), 367 pages. UCSB: E183.8.G3.P67 1993

by Noelle Hirneise
June 5, 2007

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany, 1945-present
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2007

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
Plagiarism Warning & Links
at amazon

About Noelle Hirneise

I am a second year business economics major and history minor. I find history to be extremely interesting because it gives us insight into how we should act and react in the present and future. I decided to take this class because I wanted to understand more about the period after WWII and the events that led to both the creation and fall of the wall. I chose to write about the fall of the wall and unification because I was interested in the specific events that created the current German nation.

Abstract (back to top)

Elizabeth Pond’s Beyond the Wall is a detailed description of the events that led up to the fall of the wall and the reunification process that ensued. The book opens with the most symbolically important event, the opening of the wall. Then Pond jumps back a couple decades to explain the situations in the two Germanys that led to the wall’s construction. This is followed by an in depth look at the undeniable importance of the weapons standoff between the United States and the USSR during the 1980s. Continuing on to the focus of the book, Pond then takes a closer look at the situations in both East and West Germany on the eve of the fall. Pond goes on to describe the events, from peoples’ opposition to Russia’s cooperation, which led to both the fall of the wall and the subsequent unification of Germany. The book ends with a look into what the role of the newly unified Germany will be in both European and world politics. Through her meticulous breakdown of the events of that led to the fall of the wall and German unification, Pond argues that the process was the result of a combination of social, political, and economic forces acting together that ultimately proved to be the cause of unification.

Essay (back to top)

When the Berlin wall went up in 1961 it looked as though the dream of a once again unified Germany was to stay just that, a dream. Almost three decades later this dream was once again rekindled, and this time it did not remain a mere dream or wish for the future, it became a reality as solid as the wall that divided the German nation for so many years. In her book, Beyond the Wall; Germany’s Road to Unification, Elizabeth Pond delivers a detailed play by play of the politics and diplomacy that went into the ultimate reunification of Germany.

Beyond the Wall starts with the undeniably emotional day in November of 1989, when Berliners were able break free of the barrier that had separated them and celebrate as not just Easterners and Westerners, but as Germans. Pond then delves into the past with a brief description of the post WWII events in both the east and west that led up to the construction of the wall. With the grounds of East and West German diplomacy mapped out, the discussion then moves into explaining the European political situation of the 1980s that played a major role in the outcome of events. The book delivers detailed descriptions of the nuclear standoff between the United States and Russia that centered on Germany and the problems facing both Eastern and Western Europe, showing the need for a strong Europe and subsequently a strong German Nation. Pond then explains how these factors, coupled with the Germans’ desire for a better future for themselves and their children, brought about the relatively short, but at times bumpy, road to unification. The book ends with a summation of the effects of the fall of the wall and a look forward into what the future holds for not only Germany, but the United States and Europe as Germany once again becomes an international force.

The 1980s was a tumultuous time in European, and more specifically, German history. The 1989 crumbling of the Berlin wall proved to be both the beginning and the end of Germany’s problems. It is ironic that this catalyst for the unification of Germany, and in many ways Europe, happened seventy one years to the day after the collapse of imperial Germany, giving Germany a second chance at forming a solid nation, but this time one free of Nazi atrocities. The events that followed the fall were to shape the outcome of the seemingly never-ending German question and the landscape of European politics. Pond argues that the reunification of Germany was more than just a result of the two Germanies mending their differences; it was in reality an amalgam of social, political, and economic forces acting as one that ultimately fused the German nations back into a single Germany.

Perhaps some of the most important factors in dictating the path and timing of Germany’s road to unification were the decisions and interactions of international players. The two obvious stars in this theater were the United States and former Soviet Union, with supporting, but equally important roles played by France and Britain. Since the end of WWII the United States had been in the midst of the Cold War with the Soviet Union which included an ongoing nuclear standoff between the two nations (heightening at the Bay of Pigs in 1963). In the 1980s the Germans came to depend on the United States nuclear umbrella for protection against the Soviet threat, but as the decade progressed a nuclear angst began to develop in Germany. This eventually led to the NATO summit in May of 1989 where the West developed “a real policy toward Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union,” and “the nuclear beast was at least provisionally tamed” (Pond 55). These relaxed tensions between the Soviet Union and the United states allowed breathing room for both the East and West Germans and can be seen as the first crack in the Soviet Union’s armor of bloc politics.

The international influence of Britain and France should also not be disregarded. Both countries played significant roles, especially when it came to Germany’s participation in NATO and the EC (European Community). France took the initiative when President Mitterrand stepped in and offered council to Kohl. As Pond states, “Mitterrand, unlike Reagan, decided that the best way to prevent the feared German drift toward Moscow was not to browbeat Bonn, but to embrace it in a grip that would keep it bound to the West” (Pond 65). By doing this Mitterrand helped Germany stand up to eastern pressures and work towards a western democracy, instead of slipping into a compromise with the East that could have led to more Soviet power in the West. Along the lines of France, Britain wanted to keep tabs on Germany by implementing a “four plus two” arrangement with Germany, essentially meaning it would allow unification as long as the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union still had the upper hand.

When it came down to it, France, Britain, and the Soviet Union’s view of German unity was not as optimistic as that of the United States. They feared that the united Germany would pose a major economic threat to them, especially Britain whose Pound was falling off the exchanges. Kohl even notes this during the early months of 1990, “The Americans were the only ones without complexes” (Pond 161). The major reasoning for this came down to the fact that, no matter how powerful Germany became, it could never match the United States (at least that is how the Americans felt), since as Pond points out, West Germany was only the size of Montana. Eventually it was the Soviet Union, with Gorbachev’s “Miracle of Moscow” (July 15, 1990), who was the last to give the final go-ahead to the treaty that enabled Germany to unite and allowed it to be a member of NATO. Although there was great international (European) reluctance towards a unified Germany, it was inevitably seen as the best choice for creating a stable European community.

As the East German government began to show signs of weakness it was in many ways the citizens of the GDR who had the most say and power in the future of German unity. Inspired by the increasing activism in Hungary and Poland, the East Germans began to voice their opinions. Starting with the October demonstrations in Dresden and Berlin and continuing with the peaceful protests in Leipzig and Berlin, the East Germans made their feelings known. The protests began in Dresden, on October 7, 1989, where thousands of peaceful protesters wielding candles as a symbol of peace marched to the train station to protest the government’s false promise of sending East German squatters, who were camped out at the West German embassy in Prague, to the Federal Republic. The protests resulted in some minor police brutality, but the same could not be said for the protest in Berlin where thousands were severely beaten by the police. Then, the real test of the people’s will and courage to fight for what they believed in came on October 9 in Leipzig. In the wake of the events of October 7, many feared for their lives as they took to the streets. Then the unexpected happened, the Stasi and police held back and let the people protest in peace. “ ‘Wir sind das Volk!’ (we are the people) the crowd chanted, uniting that night behind what would become the rallying call of the revolution” (Pond 115). This proved to be a pivotal moment for the East German people, uniting them towards a common goal. Now all that was needed was one more push to bring the wall down.

Tearing Down the Berlin Wall at night

The final push came on November 4, in Berlin, in the form of another protest that reached the impressive number of 500,000 participants. The important part of this protest was the fact that the demonstrators in “ East Berlin had the heady feeling that “people power” really counted, and their march would help make history” (Pond 129). They were right because five days later the wall was breached. As Pond states, “When the Berlin Wall fell, the crash obliterated a country, an empire, and an era” (Pond 1). As seen in the demonstrations leading up to it, this event proved to be not only a response to numerous factors, but more importantly it was a response to the peoples’ opposition, a revolution from the ground.

The economic situation in the GDR and Federal Republic played a large role in the push for unity. The economy of the GDR had been struggling for years with the planned command economy never completely taking hold. Not only did East Germans want the incomes that they could be making under the western government, they also craved the goods to which the Westerners had access.

Unified Germany was at first everything the East Germans has been imagining but the influx of people and the damaging effects that the phasing out of the Eastern Mark had on the Western Mark proved to be an initial problem for the new Germany. Kohl told the German people that “the new demand in the east and overall German economic growth would cover the added costs of unification” (Pond 232). This meant that the West German economy had to essentially absorb the blow that the East Germany economy had on the market, which made for some nagging growing pains in the newly unified Germany.

The leadership in both West and East Germany proved to be an important aspect in the fall of the East and unification under the West. In East Germany the illumination of many of the high leaders’ connections with the Stasi, which was seen by many as corrupt, only created a deeper hole that the leaders would have to dig out of if they wanted to regain control of their country. A prime example of these party problems is Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski, who officially was a state secretary in the Foreign Trade Ministry. As the GDR began to fall apart it was revealed that he was not only part of the Stasi, but he also made use of very clever yet corrupt methods of obtaining hard currency for the state. Schalck was eventually forced, out of fear for his life, to flee to the west. The problem for the GDR was that Schalck was not the only one who committed crimes in the name of the GDR. These issues within the GDR played a major role in the collapse of the eastern leadership. Fortunately, for the easterners, the western government was much more stable than their own.

“Kohl’s offer of eventual unification came just in time to provide an alternative to what looked to many, in the first week of December, like approaching chaos in the GDR” (Pond 140). After unification the need for political leaders in the east was satisfied with the help of west German politicians, “some out of dedication, some out of flight from dead ends at home” (Pond 226). This influx of western leaders helped make the unification process smoother.

Pond manages to point out many nuances that others seem to leave out or disregard. For example, Fulbrook, in her book, History of Germany 1918-2000; The Divided Nation, fails to stress the importance of the 1989 NATO summit in which Bush agreed to back off American military presence in Europe. Although the Soviet Union was already struggling economically and socially at this point, the reduction of arms is not to be underestimated. As Pond states, “Within half a year politics, not arms control, would be the measure of East-West, and therefore of West-West, relations” (Pond 55). Without this crucial breaking point there would have been no breathing room for a struggling East Germany to cooperate with the Federal Republic and slowly succumb to the western government and views.

The international, domestic, and economic factors conveyed above all played important roles in the final unification of Germany. In addition to the success of unification, Pond points out that “it was the most peaceful change of this magnitude in European history” (Pond 224). This fact alone shows the immensity of the accomplishment, an attribute that has allowed for a lasting strength and stability in not only Germany, but Europe as a whole.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 6/20/07)


  • Croan, Melvin. "Beyond the Wall: Germany's Road to Unification." Slavic Review 53.n2 (Summer 1994): 613(2). Expanded Academic ASAP
    Points out the major events and players that the author believes Pond gives the most credit to in regards to the final results of unification. Croan feels that although Pond delivers an in-depth account of unification she ends with too much optimism in regards to Germany’s future.
  • Osmond, Jonathan. "Beyond the Wall: Germany's Road to Unification." International Affairs 70.n1 (Jan 1994): 169(1). Expanded Academic ASAP
    A critique of Pond's book that points out some of the areas, such as her trusting portrayal of Kohl and Genscher, in which the author feels that Pond came up a little short. This review is informative because it gives a more critical look at the book.
  • Morgan, Roger, Beyond the Wall: Germany's Road to Unification." The Economist (US) 328.n7819 (July 10, 1993): 84(2). Expanded Academic ASAP.
    This review provides a look at the book from the economic perspective and argues that Pond is too optimistic in her predictions for the new Germany.

Books and Articles

  1. Buckley, William F. Jr. The Fall of the Berlin Wall. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, 2004. (amazon page)
    Book about the fall of the Berlin wall that looks at the influences that the leaders involved had on the events.
  2. Schweizer, Peter. The Fall of the Berlin Wall: Reassessing the Causes and Consequences of the End of the Cold War. Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA, 2000. (amazon page)
    Focuses on the events of the fall of the wall from the perspective of the U.S., specifically the international advisors of the Regan administration.
  3. Stokes, Gale. The Walls Came Tumbling Down: The Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. Oxford University Press, New York, 1993. (amazon page)
    The book not only looks at the fall of the wall and European communism as a whole, in East Germany but in several other Eastern bloc countries.
  4. Schindler, Eloise. A Mighty Fortress was the Berlin Wall: Stories of Culture, the Cold War and the Kreuzberg Kiez. Xlibris Corporation, Philadelphia, 2001. (amazon page)
    The author writes of her experiences living in West Germany during the Berlin wall and then contrasts with her views when she goes back to a unified Germany in 1991.

Web Sites

(back to top)

Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 6/13/07; last updated:
back to top, to Hist 133c homepage, 133c Book Essays index page; Prof. Marcuse's Courses page; Professor's homepage