TODAY the Germans realize their 40-year-old dream of reunification. The division of the nation and the post-war era of East-West confrontation have ended. The remarkable process of change begun by candlelight street protests in East German cities last October has been accomplished in just under one year.
But ahead lies a long period of adjustment for the Germans: internally, as they try to integrate two different economies and societies; externally, as their role in world politics evolves, especially in relation to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. (German governments merge, Page 4.)
With a population of nearly 80 million people, the new Germany is the most populous country in Europe, excluding the Soviet Union. In land mass, it is now second to France. Economically, it is at the top of the list.
But the united Germany also has more neighbors than any other European country (nine, to be exact). This fact, combined with the burden of its role in two world wars, is why a united Germany will exercise ``responsibility,'' not ``power'' in the world, as Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher recently put it.
Most diplomats and politicians understand this to mean an emphasis on economics and diplomacy, rather than on military might. They also see Germany anchored in the European Community (EC) and NATO, continuing its push toward Western European integration, but at the same time doing more to bring Eastern Europe into the fold - if only through loose association at first.
For instance, Mr. Genscher, the most popular politician in Germany, was a key figure in the drive to ``institutionalize'' the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which will take up some of his ideas at its summit next month.
Through the Ostpolitik begun in the 1970s, Bonn, more than any other West European capital, had close ties to the East. With reunification, this relationship is expected to intensify politically, culturally, and economically.
``We can and we will do more for these countries,'' says a senior government official here, who asked not to be named. One reason Germany is intent on this, he adds, is fear of what might happen if Eastern Europe, above all the Soviet Union, is neglected.
``Anarchy or erosion of Soviet Russia might be very dangerous,'' says the official. ``If a country is weakened at home, it sometimes tries to find a solution abroad.''
The Germans have already agreed to provide Moscow with $8 billion to facilitate removal of its troops from eastern Germany. An economic agreement is expected to be initialed shortly.
But, say the Germans, they cannot do it all, especially in view of the cost of reunification, which could easily run 100 billion deutsche marks ($65 billion) a year for the forseeable future.
``The goal has to be that the West agrees on a huge aid program for the Soviet Union,'' says Wilhelm Bruns, foreign policy specialist at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation here.
Indeed, Bonn started the ball rolling in this direction at this year's EC summit in Dublin and economic summit in Houston. Feasibility studies on Soviet aid are expected this fall as a result of both summits.
The big question among Germany's Western allies is whether a new Eastern thrust (or even just the preoccupation with unification itself) will be at their expense.
A senior Western diplomat here points out, for instance, that the Germans have less enthusiasm for European monetary union these days.
Germany's engagement in the East ``won't affect its long-term relations to the EC, because that's where its bread is buttered,'' says the diplomat. ``But I do think it will affect the speed with which the Germans allow economic and monetary union - because the burden, to a very large extent, will fall on the deutsche mark.''
The diplomat also expressed disappointment at Germany's response to the Gulf crisis, wondering if by ``responsibility,'' Genscher means ``leaving the question of soldiers and tanks to other people.''
Given their geographic location and their immediate, enormous task of integrating eastern with western Germany, it is not surprising that the Germans can not bring themselves to think beyond the northern hemisphere.
While ``experts'' argue about how long it will take to revive the ``kaput'' economy in eastern Germany, (estimates range from five to 15 years), they are nevertheless confident it can be done. They view it as a technical problem that can be fixed by applying German efficiency, organization, skill, and, of course, money.
A much trickier problem being talked about these days is how to bridge the ``mentality gap'' between East and West Germans.
Now that the wall has fallen, ``we must take care that the barbed wire disappears from men's thinking, too,'' said former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt in Berlin last week.
Forty years of ideological, cultural, and social differences between the former halves ``will take decades to overcome,'' says Eberhard Schulz, of the Institute for German Society and Foreign Policy here.
During the course of the rebuilding process, he adds, there will also be ``the big difference between rich West Germans and poor East Germans and all the emotional consequences of this.''
If long-term unemployment sets in or the East Germans continue to feel they are second-class citizens, the effect could be increased political divisiveness and factionalism, even unrest and violence, Mr. Schulz says. Rightist radical groups are already developing in eastern Germany.
``There will be quite a lot of `them and us,''' agrees the Western diplomat here, who expects sharper public debate in the Parliament as a result.
Rather than settle disputes in the back room, as the West Germans are used to doing, the new East German members will drag them onto the parliament floor, the diplomat believes. Last week, the East German People's Chamber (parliament) was pitched into hysteria over the issue of Stasi (or secret police). Lawmakers wept, shouted, and staged a sit-in.
So far, the great uncertainty in the country - in the East, over joblessness, and in the West, over the cost of reunification - does not appear to be hurting Chancellor Helmut Kohl. He leads in all polls for the first all-German election, scheduled for Dec. 2 and considered here an almost sure win.
But if the integration is too slow and painful, says the diplomat, the ``unity chancellor'' will find himself in trouble. His center-right coalition will either have to become more state- and social- oriented or face losing to the left-of-center Social Democrats in the next election round.