Are there any good books in English about the mechanics of German reunification? I'd be interested to know how such things as:

  1. Criminal justice. Who was released and who remained in prison? Did West German law apply retrospectively to people tried under the GDR system? Not political prisoners, but regular convicted criminals etc.

  2. Property restitution. If you were an East German, or indeed Jewish from before the Nazis, and were expelled from Germany, did you have the right to reclaim property taken by the GDR state?

  3. Was every GDR border guard who shot someone trying to flee the GDR tried?

  4. Re-connecting utilities and public transport, what were the priorities? U-Bahn, S-Bahn, regular rail, roads? How long did it take to completely upgrade telephone services, airports, train stations etc. etc. Who got what, when, and how was it prioritized?

  5. How was education handled? One minutes the teachers had to say to kids "Capitalism is evil"... what did they say when the wall came down "No kids I was only joking". How was the education system de politicized? What if you were studying Marxist Economics at Humboldt university, did you go on studying Marxist Economics or switch to Milton Friedman?

There's plenty of info about the actual fall of the wall and the ceremonies etc., but I'm interested in the details. What went right? What could have been done better? What was done badly?

This is a fascinating and unique historical event... there must be books on it...

  • 1
    Re. traffic, you might want to read en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Unification_Transport_Projects . In Berlin, roads came first because they were the easiest to reopen. Subways also were quite quick to reconnect, but e.g. the Ringbahn took 10+ years to fully rebuild. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Ringbahn
    – Jan
    Sep 23, 2021 at 5:31
  • Re. schools, if the teachers said anything then mostly that they were wrong. It had been pretty obvious that socialism was not perfect and that capitalism was quite viable as well (guess why people tried to emigrate). So all that was needed was a new appraisal of each system's strengths and weaknesses. But there also was a great reorganization of the whole school system in 1990, from 10 year primary + secondary schools to 5 or 7 years of primary school and then a seperate secondary school. So a lot of teachers were transferred anyway.
    – Jan
    Sep 23, 2021 at 5:40
  • 1
    We discourage reference requests because they are bad subjective. A Marxist will write about the re-unification as a chilling example of Imperialist aggression against the proletariat. A specialist in another discipline will take a different approach. There is no way to authoritatively select which is "good". is Milton Friedman an economist or a tragic joke? The answer depends on your politics and your approach to studying the problem.
    – MCW
    Sep 23, 2021 at 9:31
  • 1
    Point 5: Note that Education in Germany is the remit of the Länder, so each of the five new Länder in principle had to develop its own strategy and the federal government has very limited influence, although there is some level of (somewhat informal) coordination between all 16 Länder. Sep 23, 2021 at 10:40
  • 1
    @MCW The reference request might need removal, but your suggested title is very broad, and the rest would only bring down the list of broadly connected but disjunct questions down +5. Since "what went bad" is also inviting opinions as answers? I suggest splitting each listed question into its own full blown question? Although those would need temporal spacing for asking them (one after the other, not all at once) and demonstrate more" prior research"? Sep 23, 2021 at 13:10

2 Answers 2


You should read about the Treuhand.

Keep in mind that there was roughly a year between the "fall of communism" and complete reunification. At first it wasn't quite clear if and when reunification would come, or if the GDR would simply reform itself. But pretty soon it became obvious that people would simply leave if the material wealth of the FRG wasn't shared quickly.

Re 1. Certain laws did apply retroactively to the benefit of the inmates, but by and large criminal convictions did stand. There is a process to have GDR sentences appealed, even retroactively. Strafrechtliches Rehabilitierungsgesetz

Re 2. That's complicated. Some restitutions were possible, some where not, and there are still trials going on.

Re 5. Trigonometry was still trigonometry and grammar was still grammar. It did change subjects like civics and history, and also teachers who had been vocal in their support of the old regime. But everybody knew that not paying lip service to Communist orthodoxy was difficult.

There are still intense debates about what went right and wrong, from "FRG capitalists profited by destroying viable GDR industries" to "the GDR economy was totally broke and the 'old states' subsidized the 'new states' with several trillion Euro."

  • Re 1, there were also at least two amnesties. I think there already is a relevant question about this somewhere on history.stackexchange, but can't look it up now.
    – Jan
    Sep 23, 2021 at 8:37

Re. point 3, the German wikipedia has an article on that topic. It seems that for approximately 100 deaths along the border around West Berlin, around 110 former soldiers were tried. Most of them received six months to two years on probation. One former soldier was sentenced to ten years (without probation) for killing someone who had already surrendered.

There were similar trials for the approximately 500 deaths along the border between East and West Germany.

A number of upper military ranks and political functionaries, including the state and party leadership, were also tried. Those defendants usually received harsher sentences than the low-level soldiers. The East German minister of defense was sentenced to 7.5 years. The most prominent defendants (Erich Honecker, Erich Mielke) were not sentenced due to ill health.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.