Sunday, October 3, 2010 marked the anniversary of a new beginning, as well as the closing of a final door on history.
Sunday marked the 20th anniversary of Germany’s reunification. For me, this occurred when I was 19, so I can now say that most of my life has been lived in the presence of a single German state … something that seemed ludicrous and distant not too long before that.
The more quiet event was a US$94 million payment made by the German government … the final payment due on via the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I …. some 90 + years ago.
The 1919 Treaty of Versailles, all told, required Germany to pay out the equivalent (in 2010 US$) of $400 billion. Needless to say, Germany’s only recourse was to print the money and ship it out … this in turn led to crippling inlfation (some of you no doubt have heard the stories of a literal wheelbarrow full of German Marks being used to buy a loaf of bread. My stamp collection includes a not-all-that-rare-or-valuable 10 million mark stamp. With the German economy in ruins, it wasn’t long before the Germans turned to a cult of personality to lead them from ruin to being mighty once again; the seeds of National Socialism and World War II, and all that has come about as a consequence because of it … everything from nuclear weapons and the Cold War and space travel to digital computers … even the founding of Israel and American involvement in the Middle East … all lie in that document.
Why the long payback (besides the hefty amount involved)? Germany had stopped payback when the economy went belly up (even before Hitler came to power … France actually invaded and occupied part of Germany after the payments stopped). Hitler would have no part with the payment of money to any foreign nations or bond holders. When Germany was divided, West Germany balked at payment unless East Germany chipped in, which it was not going to do. Thus West Germany suspended payments “until Germany is reunified”. When that happened in the 1990s, a plan was worked out, and repayment started up again … until the final payment was mailed in on Sunday.