The Inter-linked events lead to peaceful German unification as well but my fascination has been not linked to that alone but also to deep admiration for Germans for their rise literally from the ashes along with Japan post-Second World War
In November 1989, I was old enough to gather something momentous was unfolding in Germany from the news being followed keenly on the radio and our recent prized possession—a black and white TV. Many years later, I understood the real significance of divided Germans tearing down the Berlin Wall that month.
The demolition marked the culmination of the Cold War, the rivalry between the capitalist United States (US), the Marxist-Communist state of the Soviet Union, and their allies that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The ripple effects, the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan in February 1989, and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union were felt far and wide including in my native isolated Himalayan Valley of Kashmir.
I had recently begun school in Kashmir when people gathered on both sides of the Berlin Wall, thousands of miles away, and whacked it away with hammers and chisels. The wall was reduced to rubble decades after Germany’s eastern part went to the Soviet Union, while the western to the US, and Britain, following Second World War.
Berlin was accordingly split. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who believed the Soviets would not win if socialism did not triumph in East Germany, likened West Berlin, a capitalist city, to a bone stuck in the Soviet throat. After Khrushchev gave East Germany the go-ahead to stop the emigrant flow to the West, the Berlin Wall was erected in the 1960s to keep away Western ‘fascists’.
By 1989, President Mikhail Gorbachev’s push for reform meant the Soviet Union was no longer willing to back Eastern European Communist regimes. The borders between the two parts of Germany lost relevance. They would soon open for people to cross without checking of identities paving the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall a year after US President Ronald Reagan famously said: ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.’
Months before the wall was torn down, the Soviets exited from Afghanistan and emboldened Pakistan to fuel the insurrection in Kashmir. Pakistan played a key role in the US-backed Afghan war of the 1980s as a frontline state in the Cold War for the capitalist West and forced the Soviets to quit Afghanistan.
Islamabad hoped to replicate what it thought was its success in Afghanistan against its arch-rival India in Kashmir. But that was not to be as the Soviets were driven out of Afghanistan primarily because the other superpower—the US—pumped highly sophisticated arms and billions of dollars for it.
Inter-linked events that lead to peaceful German unification but fuelled upheavals in Kashmir always fascinated me about Germany. The fascination was not linked to that alone. It was also due to my deep admiration for Germans for their rise literally from the ashes along with Japan post-Second World War.
When my then-employer The Times of India offered me a trip to Germany to cover luxury vehicle manufacturer Audi’s annual press conference in Ingolstadt in March 2013 as the German success story continued, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Audi had the previous year achieved new records worldwide bucking the negative market trend, selling 11.7% more automobiles worldwide compared to that in 2011—around 1,455,100.
Germany, which was devastated in the Second World War eight decades back, continued to outperform in Europe and globally. It is now the world’s fourth-largest economy after the US, China, and Japan, and Europe’s largest.
Germany is the freest economy among the G7 grouping of the world’s advanced economies with auto manufacturing, electrical, engineering, and chemical industries as the strongest sectors. It is among the three largest exporting nations along with China and the US. Two-thirds or 150 international trade fairs and exhibitions take place in Germany annually and attract around 10 million visitors.
Though I did not get a chance to visit Berlin, my trip to Munich, around 600 km away, and Ingolstadt in 2013 offered me a first-hand glimpse into German resilience and prowess. Located in the southern German state of Bavaria along the Danube and Schutter rivers, Ingolstadt also suffered extensive damage in the Second World War.
Like the rest of West Germany, Ingolstadt expanded rapidly after its reconstruction to emerge as a hub of motor-vehicle production, and petroleum refining. When Germany surrendered unconditionally in May 1945, the city was in ruins much like the rest of the country.
The destruction of German cities was seen to be believed. Millions were left homeless with 66% of the houses destroyed in Cologne, and 93% in Düsseldorf. An estimated 70% of housing was wiped out overall across the country. Bridges, factories, and workshops were blown up.
Industry and agriculture were at a standstill. There was a widespread scarcity of food, starvation, and epidemics. Berlin was reduced to piles of rubble and ash. With virtually no government and all-round disorder, Germany was reduced to a desolate land.
Some two million German women underwent abortions annually between 1945 and 1948. Around 1.5 million were taken prisoners of war, a million soldiers were wounded, and around the same number of people were displaced. Czech expelled around three million ethnic Germans and Poland 1.3 million.
The country was in total disarray. Ivone Kirkpatrick, the British envoy in Germany after the war, saw hundreds of thousands of Germans on foot, trekking in all directions as if a giant ant heap had suddenly been disturbed. But the once-great power Germany would rise again thanks to its educated and skilled people who showed the capacity to rebuild the shattered nation with a strong economy from scratch.
Democracy took root. De-Nazification was quietly abandoned as Germany would have been unworkable if all former Nazis were prevented from working. But senior Nazis were tried at Nuremberg to prevent the recurrence of their crimes against humanity. West Germany dealt firmly with its Nazi past. Children were taught about the horrors of the Nazi regime, which killed six million Jews. Germany was disarmed with its Western and Eastern parts becoming part of intergovernmental military alliances.
In West Germany, the end of monopolization, central planning, price controls, and the state-led allocation in 1948, free-market policies, and the US aid under the Marshall Plan to reconstruct cities, industries, and infrastructure, remove trade barriers and foster commerce provided the pre-conditions for the economic revival. The success story continued after the re-unification in 1990 of German states. The thriving town of Ingolstadt and Munich, around 80 kilometers away, exemplified it.