PRESIDENT Mikhail Gorbachev's weekend visit to Bonn and Ludwigshafen, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's home town, marked the beginning of a closer relationship between the Soviet Union and the newly united Germany. ``Gorbachev's visit ends a chapter in our history and begins an era of total cooperation with Europe,'' says Eberhard Schulz, deputy director of the German Foreign Policy Council in Bonn.
``The venom is out of the relationship,'' agrees a Bonn government official. ``The division of Europe is over. We are now in the process of sorting out the plan from here out.''
Treaties between the countries aim to establish models for East-West cooperation in a post-cold war Europe.
The two leaders signed a 20-year partnership and cooperation treaty on Friday. It was one of a series of four new agreements outlining political, technical, and economic assistance to the Soviets.
How to plan for and manage change in the new Europe was a key theme in the talks between the two leaders.
Part of this management will mean sending money to Moscow. Germany has already pledged more than 13 billion marks ($8.8 billion) in cash and credits. Sending additional money appears unlikely. The job of rebuilding the former East Germany is expected to keep Germany busy for the next decade and cost upward of 1 trillion marks.
Unifying Germany will not be just a domestic concern. The Soviet Union lost its most important trading partner, after the Oct. 3 disappearance of East Germany.
``Kohl and Gorbachev will need to find an acceptable business arrangement to establish new economic contacts between Germany and the USSR,'' says Mr. Schulz, explaining how East Germany's economic ties will have to be replaced.
Converting the former East German economy from a communist to a free-market system would be seen as a model for other countries. Expertise gained there might be helpful to the Soviets and to East European countries.
Moscow is carefully watching the activities of the treuhand - the trust set up to dispose of formerly state-owned property and companies in East Germany.
``The treuhand's job in the GDR [East Germany] is extraordinarily difficult,'' says Schulz, ``but a Soviet treuhand would be a thousand times harder.''
Direct human contact is where the German-Soviet relations offer the most danger and the most promise.
``The Soviet soldiers in the GDR are now a social rather than a military problem,'' says Wilhelm Bruns, a Soviet expert with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bonn. The degree to which the military is made to feel like the cold war's loser may have an impact on more than just German-Soviet relations. Critical or hostile attitudes held by returning military officers could adversely effect Mr. Gorbachev's plans for perestroika (restructuring).
The partnership to construct housing for the returning soldiers could become a model for ways that Western companies can operate inside the Soviet Union.
Government officials here say that the details for Western companies to build houses in the Soviet Union will be worked out over the winter and that construction should begin in the spring. This will not be solely a German-Soviet enterprise, however.
``There is not enough building capacity in Germany or the Soviet Union to handle the Soviets' housing shortage,'' says Schulz. ``Other countries will need to take part, too.''
Bonn officials see the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe summit meeting in Paris on Nov. 19 as a chance to continue planning Europe's post-cold war future.