Reunification of Germany was a beginning as much as an ending, and the story still inspires numbers of books. Here are a few noteworthy ones.
BEYOND THE WALL: GERMANY'S ROAD TO UNIFICATION, by Elizabeth Pond (Brookings, 367 pp., $28.95), is a careful, detailed account by a former longtime Monitor correspondent of the period up to and through the opening of the Berlin Wall.
The book starts in November 1989 to retell the story that so captured the world's imagination and then backs up into the cold war, the controversies over Euromissiles and nuclear Angst, and the changing political landscape in the about-to-dissolve Soviet Union.
Though Pond is too careful a reporter not to see the challenges in Germany today, she does tell this as a happy story.
The book draws chiefly on the author's own interviews with many of the primary actors in the drama; indeed, her list of sources reads like a Who's Who of the German government and the United States foreign policy apparatus.
Pond is bullish on Germany and on the German-American relationship. If both the US and Germany are, in some sense, "postnational" in a way that makes traditional diplomats worried, well, maybe that's not a bad thing.
Among the particular themes Pond explores in this book is the role the US played in facilitating German reunification, specifically in calming British and French fears about a resurgent German giant that could again dominate Europe. She credits the allegedly "visionless" Bush administration for handling the German situation more adroitly than is generally realized.
Sensitive to the human factors that can turn the path of history, Pond notes that for State Department Counselor Robert Zoellick, German was the tongue of both sets of his grandparents, not of a country ever on the verge of selling out to the Russians - or turning neo-Nazi.
JUMPSTART: THE ECONOMIC UNIFICATION OF GERMANY, by Gerlinde Sinn and Hans-Werner Sinn (MIT Press, 243 pp., $24.95), is a clear, accessible critique of what the authors argue are the wrongheaded policies of Helmut Kohl's government for achieving economic reunification. Economists tend to be skeptical of politicians' applications of economic principles, and this book is a clear example.
The Sinns question the wisdom of trying to achieve East/West wage parity when eastern Germany is so underdeveloped, for instance.
"The new economic miracle that many expected in East Germany has not occurred. Despite West Germany's powerful battery, the jumpstart in the cold has not succeeded - and what is more, there is some risk that the good battery will be run down."
The book conveys one especially interesting insight: Many of the revolutions within the former East bloc were as velvety as they were because the leaders of those countries were fatalistic enough and deeply enough schooled in Marxist theories of history to read the handwriting on the wall and realize that they had become irrelevant. They knew when their time had come to go.
The book jacket features a photo of the two authors out in the snow, running jumper cables from his (West German) Mercedes to her (East German) Trabant. The picture makes their point vividly and affords a reviewer the rare opportunity to use the words "German," "economists," and "whimsy" together in a single paragraph.
SPY TRADER: GERMANY'S DEVIL'S ADVOCATE AND THE DARKEST SECRETS OF THE COLD WAR, by Craig R. Whitney (Times Books/Random House, 375 pp., $25), views the cold-war period through a quasi-biographical lens. The book profiles the controversial East German lawyer Wolfgang Vogel, who made an unusual career for himself engineering swaps of Eastern for Western spies, many of them at the famous Glienicke Bridge in Berlin.
The work of a longtime New York Times correspondent, "Spy Trader" is a response to a literary agent's request that the author consider writing a spy novel. This work is not fiction, but it is nonetheless an engaging read.
A useful touch: A list of recurring figures with their capsule biographies at the front of the book helps the casual nonspecialist reader follow the story better.
A devout Roman Catholic whose religious values clearly informed his legal work (one of his early cases was a defense of a man who had stolen a goat to feed his family), Vogel managed to keep some moral sense about him as he came of age in postwar East Germany - although he did become an informer for the hated Stasi secret police.
His first big "spy swap" involved the trade of U-2 spy-plane pilot Francis Gary Powers for Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy operating in New York City, with an American graduate student arrested for alleged economic espionage thrown in for good measure.
Vogel's subsequent cases involved exchanges for Gunter Guillaume, the spy in the Bonn chancellery who brought down Willy Brandt's government, and Jewish human rights activist Natan Sharansky.
The opening of secret files after German reunification has brought waves of terrible revelations of the activities of the Stasi, and now Vogel, once considered a hero, has been under investigation. His story goes on.
Whitney notes: "Unification did not solve the German problem; it only cast it in a new light. There is still a Wall dividing Germans, the one inside their heads. Almost certainly, it will outlive Wolfgang Vogel."