On March 19th 1970, the leaders of West and East Germany met for the first time since the country was divided in two in 1949.
Chancellor Willy Brandt of the West pursued a policy of ‘Ospolitik’ after his SPD-led government was elected in 1969. It aimed to transform the relations of the two-Germanies, ‘entailing mutual recognition and an amelioration of conditions for furthering human contacts between the two parts of the divided nation’ (Mary Fulbrook). This change in policy was extremely significant after two decades of conservative dominance, where US influence ensured outward hostility to the East German state. Critiques of the policy rendered it ‘appeasement’ of an ‘illegitimate’ communist state. However, at this point, with the Soviets and the US largely engaged in Asian conflicts, it seemed this policy was sensible in the unalterable situation of two already established countries. A more pragmatic approach would set the tone for a gradual ‘normalisation’ of relations, and possible future reunification (which eventually occurred in 1989).
When Willy Brandt arrived in Erfurt for initial talks with Eastern Prime Minister Willi Stoph, he was greeted with considerable enthusiasm, especially from students who craved for a break with, in their view, tired and outdated antagonism.