Tag der deutschen Einheit (German Unity Day)

The 3rd October marks one of the newer public holidays on the European calendar.  It is the date of modern Germany’s national holiday and marks the day on which the former countries of East and West Germany were officially reunited in 1990.

From 1949 Germany had been divided.  On the one hand there was West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany), which followed a Western capitalist model with a democratic system, a market economy and membership of bodies such as NATO and the European Community.  Aided initially by international reconstruction aid and subsequently by its strength in manufacturing and engineering, it became arguably one of the world’s most successful and prosperous modern economies and societies.  In contrast was East Germany (the German Democratic Republic), which was dominated by the Soviet Union politically and economically.  The communist GDR had state ownership of resources and infrastructure, a centrally planned economy, a massive military and security regime, heavy censorship and the constant threat of harassment or arrest by the Stasi, the state’s notorious secret police.  In many ways, the divided Germany and especially its most famous symbol – the Berlin Wall – was a microcosm of the Cold War between Western and Soviet ideologies.  As was happening in many Eastern bloc nations by the end of the 1980s, the economic and political systems in East Germany ultimately proved unsustainable and, backed by increasing popular calls for greater freedom and democracy, the regime began to crumble during 1989.  This culminated in one of the most iconic events of the era – the opening of the Berlin Wall on 9th November of that year.

While these developments were largely welcomed by people and politicians in West Germany, it brought a huge challenge.  It was obvious that any re-unification of Germany would essentially involve the former GDR being integrated into the prosperous West German state, and that it would be West German taxpayers who would be footing the bill.  Meanwhile, those in the East feared the unknown, economic hardship and to some extent loss of identity.  Nevertheless, a sense of national pride and duty won the day and the German parliament voted in favour of a process that would see the state of East Germany cease to exist and its territory become five new states of the Federal Republic.

After a currency union during the summer of 1990, which saw the Deutschmark become the official currency of the entire territory, the 3rd October was the day on which Germany was reunited after 41 years of separation.  The subsequent years have brought many difficulties – including the cost of economic modernisation, reconstruction and social security programmes in the East, establishing common political institutions, education, health and social care facilities across the country, and the massive undertaking of moving the seat of government from Bonn to the nation’s traditional capital of Berlin.

So how is the date marked in Germany these days?  Because it is such a modern invention, there are no longstanding traditions that are followed.  It is also true that modern Germans do not really go in for huge public shows of patriotism.  A recent survey showed that almost half of all German people do not do anything special to mark the occasion, merely enjoying the public holiday as relaxing day off work.  Imagine half of Irish people not celebrating St Patrick’s Day!  However, there are official and community celebrations that do take place on 3rd October each year.

The most important official celebration is held in different locations each year, usually rotating between the capitals of the German states.  This year will actually mark the second occasion when that “tradition” will be changed, as the festivities will be held in a city that is not a state capital, Frankfurt am Main – Germany’s major financial centre and one of its largest cities.  The first non-state capital to play host was the former West German capital Bonn.  The celebration always includes public events such as concerts, along with firework displays.  At the same time as these celebrations are being held, there are similar events in Berlin every year and smaller festivals in numerous cities and towns.  In Munich, the world-famous Oktoberfest is extended until the national holiday if its traditional end date (first Sunday in October) falls before 3rd of the month.  Since 1999, there have also been celebrations in the four towns that mark the extreme Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western points of Germany, marking the borders of the modern country.

Aside from these official public events, for most German people the day is about spending time with friends and family and (hopefully) enjoying some pleasant early-Autumn weather to be outdoors for a picnic or drinks in the garden or a park.  Indeed, this was how Helmut Kohl, the Chancellor of Germany at the time of the reunification, actually suggested that the date should be marked.

While celebrations for 3rd October are relatively low-key, there are expectations that the date will become more significant and more elaborately marked in the future.  As the holiday becomes a more longstanding fixture on the calendar, and a new generation of people grow up who were born into the modern German nation and do not feel burdened by the country’s troubled history, it is likely that it will be less about post-war politics and the Cold War than about celebrating the traditions and culture of the country.  Perhaps then the Tag der Deutschen Einheit will start to take its place among the more famous national days that we might be more familiar with around the world.

Huge thanks once again to my lovely husband, Blue Badge Guide Ian Braisby, for writing this for me.

Related post: Spanish National Day

How do they celebrate Christmas in Germany?

advent wreath with holly leaves and 4 candles - 3 purple and one pink This is a guest post from Rainer Schlötterer of RS_Globalization Services.

In Germany almost all families decorate their homes with an “Adventskranz” (advent wreath). This is a wreath most often made from twigs (fir tree, spruces) with four candles and often also decorated. The candles are lit on every Sunday before Christmas starting with 1 candle in the first week up until all 4 candles are lit on the last Sunday before Christmas day (25 December).

In the weeks before Christmas most families bake a lot of Christmas cookies. The children may help in the kitchen and have a lot of fun cutting cookies in all sorts of different shapes or nibbling at the fresh pastry. All-time favourites are the vanilla crescents and the “Spitzbuben” (“rascal cookies”). If you are too lazy to bake them yourself you may also buy them on one of the numerous Christmas markets in every town and city where you can get all sorts of Christmas bits and pieces while enjoying a mug of mulled wine.

When finally the children have opened the last door of their advent calendar on 24 December, Christmas eve is only hours away. Families usually go to church in the afternoon to celebrate the “holy night” and then come back with the children to find that the “Christkind” (Christ child) was here and put presents under the Christmas tree. This is a magical moment for the children although usually they may be a bit disappointed to have missed the “Christkind” once again as in the years before.

Families then traditionally would play and sing Christmas songs and have a special Christmas eve dinner if the children are not too busy unwrapping presents and play with the new toys. There is no traditional dinner for Christmas eve. Some families have a fondue or raclette when the children are a bit older. But roast, trout, home-made pizza or any other special meal will also do.

On the first Christmas day (25 December) it is time for visits of relatives, grandparents, etc. Now the traditional Christmas meal is goose which is roasted and served with delicious dumplings, gravy and red cabbage. If you find goose a bit too much or if your family is smaller, then also duck will do.

Boxing day (26 December) is also celebrated and is another chance for visiting family and relatives. There is no special Christmas dinner for boxing day but why not have another roast in the oven.

Many thanks to Rainer for this guest post. Rainer is the owner of RS_Globalization Services, which provides multilingual translation and localization services to SMEs and corporate clients. RS_Globalization Services is EN15038 certified.

Related posts: How do they celebrate Christmas in Greece?    How do they celebrate Christmas in France?    How do they celebrate Christmas in Denmark?