| Jean-Baptiste Piggin |
BERLIN (dpa) – Since the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, Germany has slowly reunified and settled into a new role as an important political and economic power in Europe.
On Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel is to preside over the 25-year anniversary celebrations, at a moment when the country’s newfound clout is more clear than ever.
“The game changer was the outbreak of the eurozone crisis. It propelled Germany into the role of reluctant hegemon within the eurozone,” William Paterson, a Birmingham University political scientist, told dpa.
The change, coming years after Germany’s formal division ended, was often catalysed by outside forces rather than an internal desire for power.
“In many ways, Germany is reluctant still to wield its influence in Europe and in the world more generally. But at least in the economic realm, we can say that in many ways Germany has met the expectations that many people had 25 years ago,” said Michael Baun, a political scientist at Valdosta State University in the United States.
On August 13, 1961, the East German government began erecting a wall to stem the flight of its citizens toward the west. The barrier solidified the division of a country into the east, administered by the Soviet Union, and the west, administered by Britain, France and the US according to an agreement ratified in the wake of World War II.
The boundary separated families and stifled the flow of goods and services across the former country, and two parallel economies grew alongside each other.
When, in 1989, a miscommunication led one East German official to mistakenly announce that the blockade was over, thousands of people poured into the streets and the barrier was unexpectedly overwhelmed.
Less than a year later, on October 3, 1990, Germany officially reunified for the first time since the end of the war.
After reunification, many analysts expected Germany to assert itself immediately, but it took the country years to adjust and mend its economic and social fissures.
Political scientists say it wasn’t until the 2008 euro crisis forced Germany to take a leading role in stabilising the economy and quelling market fears that a new European order became apparent.Beyond Europe, Germany with its immense exports of cars and machine tools is seen as a trade power and guarantor of the euro currency.
“If the Chinese leadership come to Europe, the one person they want to see is Chancellor Merkel,” said Paterson.
Merkel’s cautious style, which Richard Whitman of Britain’s University of Kent summarises as “not grandstanding,” has also helped to win Germany credit.
“Germany has become normal,” said Whitman. “What it has been doing over the past decade is doing what a state of its size does.” The main celebrations Sunday take place at the Berlin Wall Memorial and at an iconic triumphal arch, the Brandenburg Gate. At dusk, 8,000 sky lanterns – tiny balloons – will be released from places along a 15-kilometre stretch where the Wall used to divide Berlin.