At the stroke of midnight on October 3, 1990, the independent states of East Germany and West Germany were officially reunited as a single nation for the first time since 1949.

The moment - marked by flag-raising ceremony at the Brandenburg Gate and a formal gathering in the Reichstag building - brought an end to the process of German unification which began with the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.

It also brought a close to one of the most painful periods of European history. 

Germany suffered the ignominy of being carved up following its defeat in the Second World War, with Britain, the United States, France and the Soviet Union each tasked with governing designated zones.

The division was meant to be provisional - a stop-gap measure designed to maintain order and help Germany back on to her feet. 

But ideological differences between the Soviet Union and the West soon led to the emergence of two very distinct states.

Whilst West Germany - formerly the Federal Republic of Germany - built a parliamentary democracy and developed a robust capitalist economic system, East Germany - the German Democratic Republic - fell squarely within Moscow's sphere of influence. For all practical purposes, it became a Soviet puppet state, complete with a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship.

[Read more: August 13, 1961: Berlin Wall divides a city]

Germany's two halves were to become virtual strangers. 

West Germany sprang from the ashes of war to build the world's third largest economy - and it took them less than a decade. 

East Germany chose a very different path: its leaders chose to close its borders to the West in 1952. They then attempted to block all ground travel into West Berlin - a city in the eastern sector which, like Germany itself, had been divided into ideological zones. 

When this failed, they erected a physical barrier to prevent East Germans from fleeing from the eastern side of the city to the western zone. 

This barrier grew into what became known as the Berlin Wall - a chilling embodiment of the 'iron curtain' as envisioned by Winston Churchill as early as 1945. 

While the wall stood strong for almost 30 years, cracks began to appear in the Soviet system during the mid 1980s. This lead to a change of tack in Moscow, with the policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (economic restructuring) emboldening the likes of Poland and Hungary to liberalise. 

The citizens of East Germany were not about to be left behind. Weeks of civil unrest culminated in an astonished government edict: restrictions on travel to and from West Germany and West Berlin were to be lifted with immediate effect. At a stroke, the divisions that stood between East and West Germans were reduced to relics of another era.

The two German states entered into a currency and customs union in July 1990, but the East-West divide was not officially consigned to history until October 3. 

The day is now a national holiday in Germany. It is celebrated as 'Tag der Deutschen Einheit' - The Day of German National Unity.

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