1990 remembered

Thirty years ago, on 3 October 1990, East and West Germany were reunited as East Germany formally joined West Germany. This date is now celebrated as Unification Day in Germany.

Helmut Kohl campaigning in Erfurt

1990 was a year of rapid change in East Germany following the dramatic events of 1989, the peaceful revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall. A ‘round table’ acted as an interim government until the elections in March 1990 which resulted in the first democratically elected parliament in the history of East Germany. This parliament approved the decision for East Germany to join West Germany. The unification was preceded by the conversion of the East German currency to West German currency in July 1990. All these internal events were accompanied by negotiations on an international level. While the dramatic events of 1989 have a clear place in the collective memory it seems that this is not the case for the events of 1990.


A substantial publication entitled Das Jahr 1990 freilegen (S950.a.201.7422), published at the end of last year, provides a wealth of material allowing us to reconstruct the events of this pivotal year and discover lesser known aspects of this period. This large format volume with nearly 600 pages presents a collage of texts and images in roughly chronological order. The photographs by photographers Ute Mahler, Andreas Rost among others bring the year 1990 to life again. Not only are the political events covered but also aspects of everyday life. For example, there is a moving section on the conditions of the contract workers from Africa and Asia or the circumstances of female prisoners in East Germany. The images are accompanied by essays, letters and interviews and the well-known author Alexander Kluge contributed 32 stories. The book is not for continuous reading but dipping in will reveal interesting facts.

An open page in S950.a.201.7422

When I catalogued the book, I was impressed not only by the abundance of information it contained but also by how the material was presented. I thought it was a very well-designed book from the choice of typefaces employed to the general layout of the pages. So, I was pleased to discover that Das Jahr 1990 freilegen received the “Preis der Stiftung Buchkunst” for 2020.

The editor of the book, Jan Wenzel, took part in a discussion on Das Jahr 1990 freilegen which was organised by Literarisches Colloqium Berlin in April and which is available to listen to here at Dichterlesen.net.


The year 1990 is also the background of the brilliant new novel by Lutz Seiler, Stern 111 (C216.c.3991) which was published earlier this year. The German critics agreed that this is the best literary treatment so far of this period – see here at Perlentaucher.de –  and it rightly won the prize of the Leipzig Book Fair this year. I am looking forward to reading this novel soon as I very much enjoyed Lutz Seiler’s first novel Kruso (C208.c.7772) which incidentally won the Deutsche Buchpreis in 2014.

Both Das Jahr 1990 freilegen and the novel Stern 111 should allow us to reflect once again on the momentous year of 1990 in the context of all that happened in Germany.

Christian Staufenbiel

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