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The Day of German Unity

The first official celebration held for the unification of Germany was on October 3, 1990. Tag der Deutsche Einheit, "The Day of German Unity", commemorates a new beginning for a country that had been divided into four military sectors after World War II, controlled by France, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union.

On May 23, 1949, the three western sectors merged to bring about a Federal Republic of Germany, while on October 7 that year the Soviet Union named the region under its control the German Democratic Republic.

Two "Germanys" with completely different political and economic systems and little contact possible between their citizens. A part and consequence of what became known as the Cold War.

It was heartbreaking to see GDR citizens on the eastern side of Checkpoint Charlie just standing and watching tourists and cars go through. Their only contact with whatever it was that lay on the western side of the wall, behind the watch towers, fences, mine fields and armed guards.

"Mr. Gorbachev, Open This Gate, Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!"

On June 12, 1987, US President Ronald Reagan stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and delivered a challenge to the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who with Glasnost, "Openness", and Perestroika, "Restructuring", had already begun far reaching reforms within the Soviet Union. And in its relationships with other countries.

Nevertheless few believed this call for freedom and democracy would materialize so quickly.

On September 4, 1989 there was a peaceful protest in Leipzig against the German Democratic Republic's government, accompanied by other demonstrations across the country, calling for political reform and open borders.

"The Wall Fell" on November 9, 1989. Checkpoints were opened, people could travel freely, there were political changes with democratic elections and by August 1990 the leaders of both countries signed the "Treaty of Unification", with it becoming official on October 3, 1990.

When discussions involving the date reunification should be celebrated began, November 9 was the favorite.

This date coincided with the founding of the Weimar Republic in 1918 though, as well as the defeat of Hitler's first coup attempt the "Beer Putsch" in 1923, and Kristallnacht, the pogrom against the Jews in 1938, so a day with no "bad memories" was chosen.

October 3.

It replaced West Germany's Unity Day, held each year on 17 June marking the 1953 East German workers uprising crushed with the help of the Soviet Union.

President Gorbachev made no similar attempt to stop the 1989 protests, although the Soviet military had bases throughout the country. He in fact put pressure on Erich Honecker, the East German leader, to allow GDR citizens to leave through Prague, Czechoslovakia.

"The Day of German Unity" is a national holiday. A time of celebration for a peaceful unification, as well as one in which to reaffirm the country's commitment to use freedom to help shape the world, and its main celebrations take place in the capital of whichever German state occupies the chair of the Bundesrat during the year.

The Bundesrat is the upper house of the Germany's parliament and similar to the US Senate or Britain's House of Lords.

On the first "Tag der Deutsche Einheit" in 1990 thousands of people symbolically walked through the Brandenburg Gate. Something that still takes place. Hundreds of public celebrations and festivities are organized, which of course feature speeches by politicians and other leaders but also include concerts, street parties, fireworks and regional festivals.

Some mosques are also open. Both to help build a connection between Muslims and non-Muslims and also to highlight the role they have played in the forming of modern Germany.

For many reasons Germans still tend to shy away from any big displays that could be interpreted as national pride, and October 3 was a random date where the two "Germanys" became one, but it is a continuing process as the country did not become one people on that day.

There were and still are differences.

Germany always was and remains a diverse country, and although a "Nation State" since 1871 many still think of themselves as Bavarian, Saxon or Wuerttembergers rather than German, nevertheless for most Germans "Tag der Deutsche Einheit", The Day of German Unity, means far more than just a day off work.

Instead the feeling is "Da feiern wir, dass unser Land ein Land ist" - We are celebrating because our country is one country. Aus zwei mach eins Two become one.

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