A Natural Aspiration

AGI is pleased to present this collection of essays reflecting on the 25th anniversary of German unification in October 2015. We are grateful to those who have contributed to this collection, all of whom have been affiliated with and supported the Institute in many different capacities. These essays leave us with thoughts not only about the past, but also about the future of German-American relations. Be sure to check back throughout the week for additional insights.

Eight months after the Berlin Wall came down, Deutsche Bank returned to Eastern Germany. Our bank was founded in Berlin in 1870, but Soviet forces had closed all our branches in their zone of occupation following World War II.

Converting the East German currency into the West German Deutschmark was a key step in equalizing conditions between East and West Germany once the reunification process began, and the two governments had moved quickly to implement monetary union.

We opened the doors of our branch on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz at the stroke of midnight July 1, 1990. Thousands of East Germans swarmed the branch, eager to exchange their East German money for Deutschmarks. In the first few hours after midnight, we issued around 10 million Deutschmarks to customers.

Some 300 journalists were there to document the scene. In photographs taken that night, you can see on people’s faces the excitement and the longing for what those Deutschmarks symbolized—freedom and prosperity.

Deutsche Bank’s former CEO and Management Board Spokesman Alfred Herrhausen had been one of the first in the West German business community to call for German reunification. In 1989, he said: “A single, united German state is clearly desirable, not because of the attraction of sheer size or any power that size might confer, but because—historically, culturally, and in human terms—it is a natural aspiration.”

Twenty-five years is not long ago in historical terms, but it is long enough to dim our memory of how much changed on July 1, 1990. Most of today’s 30 year olds have no recollection of a divided Germany at all.

This collection of essays commissioned by the American-German Institute puts Germany’s reunification into valuable historical context and reminds us that German reunification has very much shaped the world we live in today.

Jacques Brand is the CEO of Deutsche Bank North America and Chairman of the Board of the American-German Institute.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.