TWO Germanys or one? The leaders of today's two German states disagreed at once over this issue when Erich Honecker, leader of the Communist German Democratic Republic, made a historic visit to West Germany this week as the guest of Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The answer remains two Germanys, for as far ahead as can be seen. The constraints on Mr. Honecker within the East bloc and on Dr. Kohl in the West to observe the division of the Germans, and of Europe itself, still set limits on how far the two leaders can go. Taboos attached to the 38-year-old division, rooted in the fear of a reunified, powerful Germany at Europe's center, persist.
More positive factors were at play, too. Honecker's visit benefited from current efforts to reach a midrange nuclear arms accord between Moscow and Washington. Mikhail Gorbachev has been wooing Kohl and Honecker and everyone else in sight with his policy of glasnost, or openness - and what better way to illustrate a more humane dividend of that policy than by letting the senior Honecker return for a sentimental visit to his Saarland home? Presumably a greater sense of self-confidence in Warsaw as well as Moscow made the Honecker visit appear less of a risk.
Protocols in Bonn left enough ambiguity to please both sides - a near-state visit to suit the East Germans' insistence on permanent separation as well as the West Germans' constitutional aim of reunification.
Differing tendencies over the future of the Germanys are at play. Younger Germans grow accustomed to separate states reflecting communist and capitalist cultures. Yet the two Germanys remain major achievers in their separate economic spheres, and their placement at Europe's center serves to emphasize their common interests.
The easing of tensions sufficiently to allow the visit of Honecker was welcome. Other reminders of the East-West division's inhumane side, like the Berlin Wall, should also be relegated to history's past.