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The Day of German Unity
On November 9, 1989, a peaceful revolution, by the people of the German Democratic Republic, brought down the Wall that had divided Germany into east and west.
"The Day of German Unity", Tag der Deutsche Einheit, was first celebrated on October 3, 1990, and it commemorated a new beginning for a country divided into four military sectors following WWII. Controlled by France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Soviet Union.
On May 23, 1949, the three western sectors merged to bring about a Federal Republic of Germany, while on October 7, 1949, the Soviet Union named the region under its control the German Democratic Republic. It became known as "East Germany".
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 sad to see the people who stood on the eastern side of Checkpoint Charlie just watching as tourists and cars went through, their only contact with whatever it was that lay on the western side of the wall. Behind watch towers, fences, minefields and armed guards.
"Mr. Gorbachev, Open This Gate, Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!"
June 12, 1987, US President Ronald Reagan stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, addressing the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, whose policies of Glasnost (openness), Perestroika (restructuring), and reorientation of Soviet strategic aims, had long before begun to contribute to the eventual ending of the Cold War.
The totalitarian system was dismantling in Central Europe, a process started in the Polish city of Gdansk.
Nevertheless it was a call for a freedom and democracy that few thought 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.
Despite being requested to do so, and unlike earlier unrest in the country that the USSR had helped end with military intervention, Mikhail Gorbachev refused to interfere saying German reunification was an internal German matter.
"The Wall Fell" on November 9, 1989, checkpoints were opened and people could travel freely. This brought about political change, democratic elections and by August 1990 the leaders of both countries signed the "Treaty of Unification", which became official on October 3, 1990.
For some time November 9 was the favorite in the discussions to find a suitable date to celebrate reunification, as well as the day the wall "fell".
But this coincided with the founding of the Weimar Republic in 1918: the defeat of Hitler's first coup attempt the "Beer Putsch" in 1923, and Kristallnacht, the pogrom against Jews in 1938, so a day with no "bad memories" was chosen.
It replaced West Germany's "Unity Day", which had been held each year on 17 June to mark the East German workers uprising of 1953 that the Soviet Union had helped to crush.
A national holiday, "The Day of German Unity" is a time of celebration for a peaceful unification, as well as to reaffirm the country's commitment to use freedom to help shape the world, and the main celebrations take place in the capital of whatever German state occupies the chair of the Bundesrat that year. This is the upper house of 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, and this still takes place. Hundreds of public celebrations and festivities are organized, including of course speeches by politicians and other leaders, but also concerts, street parties, fireworks and regional events.
Some mosques are also open; helping to build a connection between Muslims and non-Muslims and also 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. A continuing process as the country did not automatically become one people on that day.
There were and still are many 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 Württembergers rather than German, nevertheless for most Germans "Tag der Deutsche Einheit", The Day of German Unity, means far more than simply 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.
Content copyright © 2018 by Francine McKenna-Klein. All rights reserved.
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