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Challenges remain 30 years after German reunification, but we’re better for it

Adjusting to new circumstances in life over the past 30 years has been the hallmark of East Germany

SHARE Challenges remain 30 years after German reunification, but we’re better for it

In this Wednesday Oct. 3, 1990, file photo, youth light flares in front of Berlin’s Reichstag to celebrate German unification. Germany celebrates the 30th anniversary of the country’s reunification, following World War II and the Cold War, on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.


Listeners tuning into the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day likely noticed a theme running through the proceedings: becoming brothers and sisters in Zion. Coincidentally, the first sessions of the conference, held on Saturday, occurred on the 30th anniversary of German reunification.

Unity in Germany has not been easy. It has not come free, and it is not without its challenges. But seeing the issues happening before the walls came down is important to see what lies ahead.

Two walls came down in 1990. One was the more famous Berlin Wall, which was just 96 miles long. The other, more dangerous, wall was the one separating East and West Germany that stretched along for more than 866 miles. Both borders were heavily guarded and 790 people were killed in trying to escape the East.

Political division in the East was rampant while the walls were up. The first attempts on German unity during the popular uprising on June, 17, 1953, were squashed by the Soviet and East German armies, and another 55 people were killed on that day. The West German government declared June 17 as its original “German Unity Day” from 1954 to 1990 in honor of that gruesome event.

During those three decades of separation, Germans stayed together in one mind. Many citizens in the East had relatives in the West, and vice versa. Even though walls separated people, the common bonds of family and friends could not be cut.

Religious leaders in the United States helped members in the East to overcome spiritual adversity as well. Historic visits by Elder Thomas S. Monson of the Church of Jesus Christ to Görlitz in 1963 and in 1975 to Radebeul ushered in a new understanding of Christian truths.

The paramount event came in 1985, when the Freiberg Germany Temple was dedicated and the fulfilling of prophecies uttered more than two decades previously became a reality. It’s obvious the Lord requires patience when advancing his marvelous work.

In 1989, after five decades of exclusion, missionaries were allowed to enter East Germany again. More than 500 conversions to the church occurred in the final months of that year. Countless church leaders helped the East, whether they were located in America or in West Germany. The common bond of the gospel could not be cut by barbed wire, guard towers, intimidation or two rival political systems. Faith is universal and has the ability to sustain people of all nations, kindreds and tongues.

The important events of 1989, which included the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the vital Peaceful Revolution in communist East Germany changed the trajectory of global politics.

For Germany, the final blow to the old order came in early October 1989, when the people of Leipzig Plauen went to the streets in masses and asked for significant changes regarding travel and freedom, proclaiming boldly, “Wir sind ein Volk” (“We are one people”). More than 70,000 people congregated inside and outside of Leipzig’s historic St. Nicholas Church and began to march around the city ring despite intimidating threats. Nobody knew how the government would react.

Six important figures from government and society in that city called for a peaceful resolution with a proclamation of “Keine Gewalt” (“No Violence”), as they certainly did not want to duplicate what happened in China a few months earlier.

A month later, on Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, and people were able to visit the West without preconditions again.

As an East German born in 1988, those events shaped my life significantly. I am grateful that I can experience such freedom today that, for the most part of their lives, my ancestors could not have dreamt of. The freedom to think, act and be happy has never been more urgently needed than today in times of a global pandemic. After many negotiations between the two Germanys and the Allied forces (the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France), German unity was finally proclaimed and granted on Oct. 3, 1990.

But what came after reunification was the hardest part. Four decades of a run-down economy and issues with global competitiveness proved difficult for converting minds to a capitalist society. More than $2.3 trillion were invested to get businesses, infrastructure, education and other parts of society up to date. More than 20% of people were unemployed in the East in 1993, when major businesses closed down. Many areas in the East became deserted as 3.6 million people left for better living conditions in the West. In the past few years, however, 2.4 million people have returned to the East as rents are cheaper and affordable housing is easier to find.


Marc Schulz

Challenges also persist in the political sphere. Decades of communism turned the populace somewhat apolitical. Only a few East Germans hold leadership positions across the country’s parties, companies and national institutions. As of 2020, even companies headquartered in East Germany, and almost all universities in East German cities, are led by people from West Germany.

Wealth accumulation is still a challenge 30 years of reunification. After three catastrophic floods in 1990, the economy could hardly recover. Today, a little more than 7% of East Germans are unemployed, higher than in the West. Because of that any many other challenges the far-right AfD party has obtained a foothold in all six East German State Houses, accumulating more than 20% of the collective vote.

The 2015 European refugee crisis estranged people even more. A mostly closed society in the East had to be opened up to people from all over Africa and the Middle East.

And yet, despite the many challenges, the process of German unity can still be considered a huge success in an ever-changing world. Germany can be grateful for the Allies that led the country to become independent, and for the people on both sides of the Iron Curtain that made it happen. Thousands of religious missionaries have brought people closer to Christ in both the East and West, including myself. Symbolic of that inclusion is the religious leader Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who members in both the East and West claim as “their own.”

Reunification is still an ongoing process, but as President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in general conference this weekend: “Unusual times can bring unusual rewards.” Adjusting to new circumstances in life over the past 30 years has been the hallmark of East Germany. We are better for it.

Marc Schulz was born in East Germany in 1988. He has studied business and law.

Correction: A previous version misspelled the author’s name. It is Marc Schulz, not Marc Schultz.