German Day of Unity

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BY SHONEL PERERA

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and German unification in 1990 (known in German as die Wende, the “turning point”), few West Germans even knew the date of their nation’s founding (23 May 1949). It was never celebrated as an official holiday.

East Germany’s national day was October 7, commemorating the founding of the socialist German Democratic Republic in 1949. In West Germany after 1954, the date of June 17 was observed as a national holiday, but it was never anything like 4th of July in the US. Since the Nazi era, nationalism and overt patriotism were frowned on by most Germans. Flag-waving was only seen at soccer matches and neo-Nazi gatherings.

The selection of the date for united Germany’s new national day was subject to concerns about events related to Hitler’s rule and Nazi crimes against humanity. Even the day on which the Wall opened in 1989 (November 9) coincided with the date of the infamous “night of broken glass” anti-Jewish pogrom in 1938. Were it not for this unfortunate historical coincidence, November 9th probably would have become the German national holiday.

Although you will see German flags flying at various government buildings in Berlin and in other public locations, private flags and public fireworks are not a big part of the October 3 celebration. Most people enjoy the day off and spend time with friends and family. Politicians make speeches and there are special TV broadcasts about German history. In Berlin there are usually open-air concerts or other festivities near the Brandenburg Gate which is more of youth social activity.

A unique feature of German Unity Day is an observance in the capital city of one of Germany’s 16 states. Each year the state that is presiding over the upper house hosts the celebration, which includes a Bürgerfest (citizens festival). In 2011 an exception was made for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Instead of the capital (Düsseldorf), the Unity Day festivities took place in Bonn, the former West German capital.

Frankfurt is known to be the best place to celebrate reunification every year, with Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in attendance.

In Sri Lanka too, the German Day of Unity is celebrated with the President and other high ranking officials including the German Ambassador in Sri Lanka.

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