Free at Last

Chancellor Helmut Kohl - Reunification of Germany, 1990

After World War II, two German states came into existence following the occupation by the victorious Allied powers. The Federal Republic of Germany, known as West Germany, was established in the territory occupied by the non-Communist powers (United States, Britain, and France); the German Democratic Republic, known in the West as East Germany, was established in the zone occupied by the Soviet Union. Berlin, the former capital, was divided into West Berlin and East Berlin.

West Germany remained politically stable over the next forty years and became one of the most prosperous nations in the world. East Germany developed into a centralized Communist state whose citizens endured a stagnant economy and poor standard of living. By 1960, people were fleeing Soviet East Berlin for West Berlin and the non-Communist world at the rate of 30,000 each month. To stop this mass exodus, the Soviets built the Berlin Wall, which stood as a grim symbol of the gulf between the Communist East and the non-Communist West for twenty-eight years. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, signaling the end of the Cold War. The following year, the two German states, divided for forty-five years, were reunited in a joyful celebration ceremony that Chancellor Helmut Kohl described in the brief telephone conversation transcribed in this White House memo.

Memo of telephone conversation between President George H.W. Bush and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, October 3, 1990

President Bush phoned Chancellor Kohl to wish him well just hours after reunification went into effect. The conversation lasted approximately three minutes.

National Archives, George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, College Station, Texas


“I am in Berlin. There were one million people here last night at the very spot where the Wall used to stand—and where President Reagan called on Mr. Gorbachev to open this gate. Words can’t describe the feeling.”

—German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, describing to President George H.W. Bush the celebration of German reunification in Berlin, October 3, 1990


President Bush on the telephone with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl during a meeting with congressmen at the White House, photograph by David Valdez, October 3, 1990

National Archives, George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, College Station, Texas [NLGB-P16308-10]


Reunification festivities at the Brandenburg Gate, photograph by Owen Franken, October 3, 1990

Some one million people in Berlin joyfully celebrated the moment of reunification at midnight with hymns, the peeling of a liberty bell, church bells, beer, and a special outdoor performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony ending with the choral celebration “Ode to Joy.”

© Owen Franken/CORBIS