With broad smiles and repeated references to the historical significance of the moment, representatives of the two Germanys on Friday signed the treaty that provides the legal basis for political unification on Oct. 3.
Negotiations as tough and protracted as any in diplomatic memory were required to produce the 1,000-page document, and the result was regarded on both sides as a remarkable achievement.
"This treaty is without question one of the most meaningful documents in postwar German history," East German Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere declared at the signing ceremony in the 17th-Century Unter den Linden Palace.
West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who in 32 days will become the first leader of all the Germans since Adolf Hitler, hailed the treaty as "a document of the highest historical importance."
Its acceptance, after agreement in July on a treaty dealing with economic matters, completes the major diplomatic work on the internal aspects of unification. Ratification by the two German parliaments is expected to be routine and to take place in the next few weeks.
Agreement on the international elements of German unification is expected to be achieved on Sept. 12 at a meeting in Moscow of the two Germanys and the four principal World War II Allies, the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union.
The treaty signed Friday spells the end of the East German state that was created in October, 1949, out of the Soviet zone of occupied Germany. Two weeks short of its 41st birthday, and just under 11 months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the East Berlin government and the state it rules ceases to exist.
Until elections for an all-German Parliament, scheduled for Dec. 2, 144 of the 400 members of the East German Volkskammer will sit in the West German Bundestag.
De Maiziere took note of the hardships and uncertainties facing many in East Germany as the first steps are taken to overhaul its obsolete, centrally planned economy, and he warned his people not to look for any immediate relief from Friday's treaty.
"Even with this unity treaty, all our budding dreams won't come true immediately," he said. "But we are now on the right path. The prospects for the future are realistic and more favorable than at any time since the end of the war. We shouldn't forget that."
The treaty covers a broad range of affairs, from education, finance and international sports to postal regulations and the rights of civil servants.
Reconciling the two countries' laws on abortion--East Germany's is liberal, West Germany's very strict--had held up the treaty talks for nearly a week, until a compromise was struck that permits both laws to remain in force in their respective regions while new, all-German legislation is prepared.
The treaty covers the following also:
Berlin will be the capital of united Germany, but the question of where the new Parliament and government are to function is left open. The wording reflects the position, held in West Germany throughout the postwar era, that unification would return the capital to Berlin. Yet it also accommodates growing pressure from powerful, populous West German states to keep the capital in Bonn.
States such as Bavaria and North-Rhine Westphalia, where Bonn is situated and which has a population equal to that of East Germany, fear an erosion of their power if the capital moves so far east. This question of the site of the government is expected to produce one of the first major debates in the unified Parliament.
Oct. 3, the day of unification, is designated as Germany's national day, settling a question that had persisted for months, reflecting the uncertainty of national identity and tortured memories of the Nazi past.
Some had argued for Nov. 9, the day the Berlin Wall fell, but that was rejected because Nov. 3 is the date of Kristallnacht, in 1938, when Nazi toughs ransacked Jewish property throughout the country in an ominous prelude to the Holocaust.
Others, mainly on the political left, had proposed May 8, the anniversary of the Nazi collapse in 1945, but that too received only limited support.
Priorities are established for what is expected to be an avalanche of legal disputes over property in East Germany that had been owned by families now living in the West but was confiscated by the Communists and handed over to East German families, many of whom have been in residence for the better part of two generations.
In most instances, the treaty provides for reparations to be paid by the state, rather than restoration of ownership. By using this formula, the negotiators hoped to remove the financial uncertainty that has slowed Western business investment in the East.
A legal framework is outlined for merging the military and diplomatic services. Senior East German military officers and diplomats are likely to lose their posts and be retrained for non-government employment. The East German civil service, 2 million strong, is likely to be reduced by 600,000.
A West German Foreign Ministry spokesman said it is likely that "fewer than a hundred" East German diplomats will be retained in the diplomatic corps. At present, the two countries have roughly 6,500 diplomats each.
An official at the West German Defense Ministry in Bonn said plans are already being formulated for the dismissal of most senior East Germany military officers.
As many as 1,500 officers of the West German Bundeswehr are expected to be integrated into the East German Volksarmee, taking over most assignments above the level of battalion commander.
Most of the East German officers "will be demobilized and retrained for jobs in civilian life," the official said.
West German officials said that the level of political commitment required of senior military officers and diplomats by the former Communist government left them too tainted to serve a democratic state.
The leader of Germany's Jewish community, Heinz Galinski, criticized the negotiators and condemned Kohl for failing to follow through on a commitment to include a treaty provision recognizing the moral debt of united Germany to the victims of the Nazis.
"Our failure to convince those in political power of the need for a reference acknowledging the criminal past fills me with pain and worry," Galinski said in a written statement.
But there were few other expressions of dissent. The West German interior minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, who negotiated and signed the treaty for the Bonn government, captured the jubilant mood at the signing ceremony when he said: "This treaty is a victory for all Germans. Perhaps our neighbors see it better from a distance than we do here, but the future will prove this."