Today is the 20th anniversary of German Reunification. That's a big deal, wouldn't you say? Twenty years ago today, there was no longer "East Germany" and "West Germany," there was no longer Communism and Capitalism right next to each other, and everybody could come together as one. And, for the most part, this transition has gone pretty smoothly. Of course, there were bumps in the road, but a lot has been accomplished in the past twenty years.
That's really not the big piece of news here, though. At the end of World War One, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, and part of that treaty was the Guilt Clauses, blaming Germany and its allies for starting the war and therefore saying that they needed to pay back reparations. They originally needed to pay 226 billion Marks, which was then reduced to 132 billion Marks. In terms of today's money, that's 438 billion 2010 dollars. Even economists at the time thought that was a crazy amount for Germany to have to pay.
But they did it. As of October 3rd, 2010, all of the reparations have been repaid. It took them 92 years, but they did it. Here are the news articles about it auf Deutsch and in English.
Honestly, this makes me all the more impressed with Germany. First of all, who actually knew that Germany was still repaying these reparations? I certainly didn't. Second, and this is probably just my economic-nerdiness coming out, but if you think about the economic history of the country, it's amazing that they were able to pay it off. After the first world war, the country experienced EXTREME hyperinflation. Several people have heard the stories and seen the picture of people filling wheelbarrows with money just to buy a loaf of bread. Then there was World War Two and the economic troubles afterward and the Economic Miracle, as well as the separation of the country into two different economic systems. And now, 20 years after reunification, Germany is an economic powerhouse: 3rd largest economy in the world and the largest economy in Europe. It makes me excited to see what's going to happen in the next 20 years. After all, this is a chance for Germany to start putting the past behind them, one step at a time.
(Edit 30.11.2010: The Treaty also said that they were supposed to finish their payments by 1999. So, given that they had 45 years where they weren't expected to pay anything, given the division of Germany, being only 11 years late is nothing to scoff at.)
Oh, and for more trivia for you, for reading to this point: There have been six currencies in Germany in the time between the Treaty of Versailles and today:
Mark: 9. July 1873- 15. November 1923
Pension Mark: 15. November 1923- 30. August 1924. It was only meant to be a temporary solution to the hyperinflation and was set at a 1:1 Billion ratio with the Mark.
Realm Mark: 30. August 1924- 20. and 23. June 1948. Also known as the Reichsmark.
German Mark: 20. June 1948- 1. January 2002. Also known as the Deutsche Mark to non-Germans and Deutschmark to Germans. This was the new currency introduced to West Germany, but was not accepted as the currency in Soviet-controlled East Germany.
GDR Mark: 23. June 1948- 1. July 1990. Also known as Ostmark, this was the new currency in East Germany.
Euro: 1. January 1999-today. It was first introduced in Germany in 1999, but the complete switchover didn't happen until 1. January 2002.