BONN, AUG. 23 -- East Germany will vanish from the map and into the ranks of failed nations on Oct. 3, the country's only freely elected government decided early today.
At 2:50 a.m., after seven hours of heated debate and a long summer of political sniping, the East German parliament voted, 294 to 62, with only the former Communists opposed, to dissolve their country and join West Germany.
German unification will occur one year and one day after thousands of East Germans first marched through the streets of Leipzig, chanting "Gorby, Gorby," invoking Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in anti-government demonstrations that led to the collapse of 40 years of Communist rule.
From Oct. 3 to Dec. 2, the date of the first all-German elections, the West German government will rule over both parts of Germany.
The Oct. 3 unity date -- earlier than West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl wanted and later than the opposition Social Democrats favored -- falls one day after foreign ministers from the 35 European and North American nations of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe are to meet in New York to acknowledge the end of the postwar division of Germany.
Unification is contingent on the successful completion of unity talks among the Germanys and the four victorious World War II powers. The "Two-plus-Four" talks are expected to conclude Sept. 12 in Moscow.
"This is a truly historic hour," the legislature's president, Sabine Bergmann-Pohl, told her exhausted colleagues as she announced the vote this morning. The members, who had just voted to fire themselves after less than seven months in office, leaped to their feet and roared.
Moments later, Gregor Gysi, chairman of the former Communist Party, now known as the Party of Democratic Socialism, pronounced the decision "no more and no less than the destruction of the German Democratic Republic," East Germany's formal name. Gysi was drowned out by groans and jeers from his opponents.
In Bonn today, Kohl, who was awakened at 3 a.m. to hear the news from East Berlin, greeted the decision as "a day of joy for all Germans."
Recalling the 190 East Germans "murdered on the inhuman border that sliced across our fatherland for 40 years," Kohl gave credit for unification to the East Germans who took to the streets last fall, to the Hungarian government that allowed East Germans to flee their country through Budapest, to the Western allies who supported German unity and to Gorbachev's reform policies.
In a speech to parliament, Kohl said Germans could be proud that their country was reunited "without war, without bloody revolution or violence, and with full agreement from our friends, partners and neighbors West and East."
But the chancellor, who is seeking a third term in December, also conceded that the German unity process has not worked out quite as he said it would.
Sounding less bullish than usual about the ease of merging two vastly different societies, Kohl said that "40 years of economic mismanagement cannot be righted in barely eight weeks." Rather, he said, it will take years and many billions of German marks to rebuild East Germany's industry, infrastructure, environment and spirit.
Kohl admitted that Western investors have been slow to pump money into East Germany and urged industry to do its part. But Kohl's opponent for the chancellorship this fall, Social Democrat Oskar Lafontaine, blamed him for creating the belief that reunification could be achieved without sacrifice.
"It was a terrible mistake to say no one will have to give up anything," Lafontaine said. He acknowledged Kohl's achievements this year but attacked the chancellor for "miscalculating the costs of unity." Kohl has promised that taxes will not rise to pay for unification; Lafontaine says tax hikes are inevitable.
Parties spanning most of the German political spectrum agreed that the date of unification had to be advanced because of the rapid decline of the East German economy in the weeks since July 1, when the two countries' economies were merged.
About 300,000 East Germans are unemployed and 1 million more are receiving government "short-time" benefits, drawing full salaries though their jobs no longer exist. The combined numbers mean that in a country that admitted to no unemployment eight months ago, 16 percent of workers have no jobs.
Western companies have said they are holding back from investing in the East largely because the two Germanys have not settled the claims on as much as 60 percent of East German property by West Germans, Jews and others who fled Nazi oppression. The claims are one of the issues expected to be covered in a unification treaty under negotiation by the two German governments.
Many West German industrialists are said to be waiting for East German enterprises still run by the Communists to collapse so they do not have to take over the bloated payrolls and thick bureaucracies of the old, centrally organized industries.
Although East Germans will have no elected representation in the interim government from Oct. 3 to Dec. 2, 144 of the 400 members of East Germany's parliament will act as observers in the West German parliament.
After the Dec. 2 vote, the first meeting of the all-German body is expected to take place in the Berlin Reichstag building, where Adolf Hitler's puppet parliament met during the Nazi period. Although no decision has been made on the capital of a new Germany, officials in both Bonn and Berlin expect many official functions to start taking place in Berlin shortly after unification.