Ostpolitik: West Germany Talks to the East

An old photograph of the Berlin Wall
Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Ostpolitik was a political and diplomatic policy of West Germany (which, at that time, was a state independent of East Germany) towards Eastern Europe and the USSR, which sought closer ties (economic and political) between the two and recognition of the current boundaries (including the German Democratic Republic as a state) in the hope of a long term ‘thaw’ in the Cold War and eventual reunification of Germany.

The Division of Germany: East and West

At the end of the Second World War, Germany was being assaulted from the west, by the US, UK and allies, and from the east, by the Soviet Union. While in the west the allies were liberating the countries they fought through, in the east Stalin and the USSR was conquering land. This became clear in the aftermath of the war, when the west saw democratic nations reconstructed, while in the east the USSR established puppet states. Germany was a target of them both, and a decision was taken to divide Germany into several units, one turning into the democratic West Germany and another, run by the Soviets, turning into the inaccurately described German Democratic Republic, aka East Germany.

Global Tensions and Cold War

The democratic west and the communist east weren't just mismatched neighbors that used to be one country, they were the heart of a new war, a cold war. The west and east began to align into hypocritical democrats and dictatorial communists, and in Berlin, which was in East Germany but divided among the allies and the soviets, a wall was built to divide the two. Needless to say, while the tensions of the Cold War shifted to other areas in the world, the two Germany's remained at odds but closely intertwined.

The Answer Is Ostpolitik: Talking to the East

Politicians had a choice. Try and work together, or move to the extremes of the Cold War. Ostpolitik was the result of an attempt to do the former, believing that finding agreement and moving slowly towards reconciliation was the best way to solve the issues finding the Germany's. The policy is most closely associated with West German Foreign Minister, then Chancellor, Willy Brandt, who pushed the policy forwards in the late 1960s/1970s, producing, among others, the Moscow Treaty between West Germany and the USSR, the Prague treaty with Poland, and the Basic Treaty with the GDR, forging closer ties.

It's a matter of debate how much Ostpolitik helped end the Cold War, and many English language works put the emphasis on the actions of the Americans (such as Reagan's budget troubling Star Wars) and the Russians. But Ostpolitik was a bold move in a world that was facing a split to the extremes, and the world did see the fall of the Berlin Wall and a reunited Germany, which has proved very successful. Willy Brandt is still very well regarded internationally.

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Wilde, Robert. "Ostpolitik: West Germany Talks to the East." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/ostpolitik-west-germany-talks-to-the-east-1221194. Wilde, Robert. (2023, April 5). Ostpolitik: West Germany Talks to the East. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/ostpolitik-west-germany-talks-to-the-east-1221194 Wilde, Robert. "Ostpolitik: West Germany Talks to the East." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/ostpolitik-west-germany-talks-to-the-east-1221194 (accessed May 30, 2023).