On the night of 9th November 1989, east Berliners streamed into west Berlin. On 3rd October 1990, less than a year later, Germany was reborn. What would have happened if the wall had stayed intact?
Egon Krenz, the transitional leader in east Berlin, would have been forced to liberalise travel by allowing limited stays in the west. East Germans would have been exposed to the material bounty of the Federal Republic, albeit in what the east German media termed “an orderly and reflective fashion.” Many would have stayed, despite being urged by Bonn to return home.
This caused a drastic drop in east German industrial production and exacerbated staffing shortages in schools and hospitals. In east Berlin, Hans Modrow, the pro-Gorbachev reform communist, called on civic protest groups to form a rainbow coalition with him. Some accepted, others refused to co-operate with the communists, causing a bitter split in the opposition. The new Modrow-led government, plagued by splits and crises, would have been unable to resist the lure of confederation with West Germany. The idea had been hovering on the fringe of thinking about the future of the divided Germany throughout the 1980s. We now know that insiders such as Gerhard Schr?, head of the east German state planning commission, thought it the only way to ward off a plunge in living standards. Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski, the country’s foreign currency trader, had also discussed the idea with Bavarian premier Franz Josef Strauss.
But how to convince the Soviets? President Mikhail Gorbachev would have staked out his position by demanding the neutrality of a confederate Germany-a suggestion which Stalin had made in 1946-47 and again in 1952-53. Bonn would have turned down this demand after a dire warning from Nato chiefs. But it would have acceded to the Soviets’ compromise suggestion of a demilitarised Germany, emptied of the medium-range SS-20s and Pershing missiles.
For Gorbachev, this outcome offered the advantage of appeasing his hawks in the military. He would also have extracted from Bonn some financial aid for his ailing reforms. The August 1991 coup would have been delayed for a year. The KGB hardliners would have settled on an unknown to replace Gorbachev-Gennady Zyuganov, the wily, worldly man who today heads the Russian Communist party. He would have been greeted by the west as a “New Soviet,” with a programme to devolve power to the republics, but keep the union…