The Day of the German Unity is the national holiday day in Germany and it is celebrated on October 3rd. Since 1990 this public holiday has commemorated the German Reunification between the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR). November 9th – day of the fall of the Berliner wall – had been initially suggested during the Reunification process in 1990, but wasn’t taken on because this day also remembered the fall of the Empire on November 9th, 1918 and the Kristallnacht on November 9th, 1938. Therefore, the second article of the German Reunification treaty chose October 3rd, which is the only federation-wide public holiday in the German civic calendar: Germany is a federal state, so the Länder usually establish the other public holidays.
But ten years ago this celebration almost disappeared when, in 2004, the Chancellor Gerhard Schröder suggested to make it a working day out of economic reasons and to move The Day of the German Unity to the first Sunday of October. He already put this idea forward in 1995, only five years after the German Reunification. That shows that October 3rd isn’t construed anymore as the symbol of the national unity it was supposed to be. In 2004, fifteen years after the fall of the Berliner wall, the public opinion and especially the political establishment stood quite against this proposition, so it was abandoned. At that time, a survey of the weekly magazine Der Spiegel showed that 67 % of the Germans were against the suppression of this public holiday. Not a mass majority.
Well, October 3rd has nothing to do with the 4th of July in the United States, or with the 14th of July in France, which is full of popular jubilation, village dances and giant concerts at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. In Germany, the 3rd of October is like any other Sunday and the festivities are organized by the State. Why do they gather less people than the Oktoberfest in Munich?
Apart from the beer factor, the quite ambivalent link between the German people and their recent history can be the part of an answer. Alan Posener, famous German-English journalist, tells us about the concern of some residents of Stuttgart the day after the Reunification in 1990 convinced that « a lot of Trabants were going to clog up the highways everywhere… ». Still nowadays, lots of East Germans, the Ossies, feel like the real losers of that Reunification; especially the youngest who pine for an idealized and protective GDR that they never knew and that a lot of them don’t even regard as a dictatorship. In the East as well as in the West, people sometimes still don’t understand each other.
By the way, Germans have known five different national days during the twentieth century!
- Under the Empire, January 18th celebrated the coronation of the first Prussian king in 1701 but the annual military parade and the birthday of the Emperor in particular were pretexts for a display of authority and power.
- After World War I, August 11th became the national day for the Weimar Republic because the first President of the Reich signed the new Constitution on August 11th, 1919.
- After 1933, the Nazis made an other choice: May 1st, now « National Day of the German People »; by choosing this date they were clearly in competition with the traditional trade-unionisme of that time.
- After World War II, divided Germany made different choices : the GDR chose October 7th as national day, commemorating the foundation of the young socialist republic in 1949. In the West, in FRG, June 17th was chosen, as it was the day of the 1953 uprising in East Germany, which caused dozens of deaths.
This long violent twentieth century has prevented the young German nation from agreeing on a common, civic, emblematic date. Historically, October 3rd wasn’t established as other national days in Europe: it has been chosen for its neutrality. And that is certainly a major obstacle to its success: it’s not a symbol, as could be November 9th. It’s more an intellectual construction than an emotional need.
Thus, not every city organizes official festivities. Indeed, since 1990, that has fallen to the capital of the Land which presides over the Bundesrat (the federal council which assures the representation of the 16 German Länder) – the Presidency follows an annual rotation since 1950. This year, it’s the turn of Hanover, because the Land of Lower Saxony is now presiding over the Bundesrat. More recently, some others celebrations took place in Berlin, particularly in front of the Brandenburg Gate, and made this discreet October, 3rd a little visible on the European scene.