Celebrating German Unity Day…Or Not

Celebrating German Unity Day…Or Not

German unity dayGerman Unity Day (Tag der Deutschen Einheit in German) is a national holiday celebrated every year on Oct 3rd commemorating the joining of East and West Germany in 1990.   Germany has been very good to me this past year so I thought I should do something to celebrate, but despite numerous Google searches, checking the Munich Tourism webpage, and various other events listing pages, I came up empty-handed.  How could this be?  I even searched in German.  I was disappointed when I couldn’t find a Canada Day celebration, Celebrating Canada Day in Germany…Or Not, but not being able to find any German Unity Day in Germany?  This didn’t sound right, but when I informed J.P. (my German husband) of this, his response was “I’m not surprised” and my guess also secretly relieved that he wasn’t going to get dragged out of bed to go to another parade.

German unity day Google logo

Google is celebrating German Unity Day on it’s “.de” site on Oct 3rd with all the German state flags on its logo.

I’ve since learned that while there may be smaller events happening around Munich and elsewhere in the country, (ones that I couldn’t find in Munich), there is only one big celebration in one city for the whole country and a smaller scale celebration in Berlin.  The main German Unity Day celebration rotates every year and is being held in Bonn this year and has been turned into a 3 day celebration (also combining the  65th anniversary of the founding of North-Rhine Westphalia) with an expected attendance of 200,000 people.  So it seems that Germans are interested in celebrating German Unity Day, but may not have the chance to do so, depending on where they live.  German Unity Day  was last held in Munich  in 1996.  Unlike Canada Day or Fourth of July celebrations there are no flags hung in honor of the occasion, nor parades nor fireworks in every city in honor of German Unity Day.   The only annual reference I could find to German Unity Day in Munich is that Oktoberfest ends on Oct 3rd every year.

Considering what a big deal the reunification of Germany was, and we know Germans like to celebrate (hello Oktoberfest) which even has its own Oktoberfest Parade, why are there so few events scheduled around the country for German Unity Day?

J.P.’s response was not helpful “I don’t know.”  When I asked what Germans do on Germany Unity Day his response was “Well I don’t know about other Germans, but I’m happy to have the extra day for a holiday.”  Not helpful either but I do understand about being happy to have an extra day off.  As I bombarded him with further questions his responses remained unhelpful.

As a Canadian I feel as a country that we are modest in celebrating our accomplishments and nation as a whole,  and while I don’t actively seek out a celebration for every national holiday such as Labour Day (held the first Monday in September to celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers, and yes I did have to look that up), I do enjoy celebrating Canada Day and find its the one day that Canadians are unabashedly proud to be Canadian.  The United States is famous for its Fourth of July celebrations. So why are there not the same level of  celebrations all over Germany?  Is it cultural?  Modesty? Indifference?  I don’t pretend to have the answers, but will celebrate German Unity Day in my own way with a visit to the Starnberger See and thank Germany for all it’s given me these past 15 months.

What insights do you have on German Unity Day celebrations?

Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an adventure travel blog and company that helps people plan their active holidays in a sustainable way. Although Canadian, she lives in Germany. You can find her in the mountains on most weekends.
2015-03-27T17:52:24+00:00

26 Comments

  1. Mette Christensen October 3, 2011 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Strange the Germans are missing out on the celebrations. The unification has been commemorated – or at least mentioned – in Danish media, so I would think there should be some public events in Berlin and other big cities.

  2. The Travel Chica October 3, 2011 at 11:52 am - Reply

    I don’t know a thing about German Unity Day, but I do know we like to celebrate the crap out of everything in the US 🙂

  3. Dixie October 3, 2011 at 11:55 am - Reply

    I can think of some reasons German Unity Day isn’t such a big deal. First, the date was rather picked at random and wasn’t chosen because an event happened that day. Sort of a pity they couldn’t use the day the Berlin Wall was opened as the date of the holiday but that would be inappropriate. Second, it’s still a relatively recent event and one that wasn’t readily embraced by all. It could take generations for people to think the holiday needs a big to-do made out of it. Third, Germans still tend to shy away from big displays of national pride. And even before German Unity Day on 3. Oktober the national holiday in West Germany was 17. Juni and lots of West Germans couldn’t even tell you why it was held that day. Not surprising since the 17. Juni riots were held in East Germany.

  4. Annie October 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    I think even though J.P.’s response does not seem like helping, but may be that is how some (if not more) people there feel about the unity day. As time passed, those events turned into history, some stays strong in people’s minds, and some washes out. That goes for any other country as well.

  5. Zhu October 3, 2011 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    I must admit I’ve never heard of that day and I can’t remember hearing it mentioned in France, unlike the very famous Octoberfest. The fall of the wall is usually noted for anniversaries and such.

    Maybe reunification is still a touchy subject in Germany?

  6. Barry October 3, 2011 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    Perhaps the change requires some healing time. There are so many facets involved in a divided Germany, it may be best to move forward rather than look backward.

  7. Sophie October 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    Maybe they’re too tired from all the Oktoberfest celebrations to have another celebration right away 😉

  8. Sascha October 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    Hi there!

    I’m from germany and maybe i can give you an answer. Mind you, this is just a theory, but it reflects a bit of my own opinions and feelings.
    First there is the date. Of course, the 3rd of October 1990 was the offical day of reunification, but most people think more about the fall of the Berlin wall on November 9th in 1989. This date is much more packed with emotion. The 3rd of October is “just a date”, where the two Germanys became one.
    You can’t put a date on a process, that still hasn’t come to an end. We didn’t magically became one people on that day. There were and still are many differences. I mean, Germany always was and is a very diverse country. I think most of the germans will rather identify themselves as bavarian, saxon or hessian, than german. And now think of of even more regions added to that.
    And then of course, there is the Nazi time. Most people still have a problem, waving flags and celebrating Germany. We tried that once and it didn’t end good, as you all know. Although, people are more relaxed now about showing a bit of patriotism (not nationalism), there is always a bad aftertaste.
    For me personally, when i watch 4th of July celebrations, or “The last night of the proms” with all it’s patriotic songs etc. I’m enjoying it and think: You have fun people, I’m enjoying your love for your country, but when i see flagwaving germans I always have very mixed feelings.

  9. Michael Figueiredo October 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    Hmmm… Interesting. You’d think they’d want another holiday!

  10. Sabrina October 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    It’s kind of weird. The Germany Unity Day substituted the old National Day ever since Germany was reunited. I was kind of too young to remember if the old national day was really celebrated, but I have never known anybody who celebrated the reunification… weird, hm? It’s kind of sad since the national days are really such fun celebrations in most other countries. Maybe it’s because it’s not really an old national day?

  11. Laurel October 3, 2011 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    @Mette – I believe there are events held in Berlin every year and one of the state capitals where the big celebration occurs. I’m finding that the comments left after your comment are shedding some light on why the lack of German Unity Day celebrations.

    @The Travel Chica – So true, especially fireworks. The best fireworks I’ve ever seen were on the Fourth of July.

    @Dixie – Thanks so much for sharing your insights, this is very helpful. I knew the date was chosen at random, or as best as possible to coincide with the Berlin Wall, but not the actual date. I never thought about it being such a recent celebration but that makes sense. I think waving the German flag is an interesting notion. On one hand I get that Germans don’t want to celebrate their dark history, or give the impression that they are doing so, but on the other I don’t see the harm in celebrating the reunification of Germany, which was a happy event.

    @Annie – Good point and I agree that J.P. is not the only indifferent German and I’m quite sure he could ask me questions about Canada in which my response would also be similar.

    @Zhu – Interesting that you never heard about it in France either. From a couple of the reader comments it sounds like it’s still a touchy subject but I guess I would (perhaps naively) like to think the celebration is about the reunification of Germany and the falling of the Berlin Wall and in no way meant to celebrate the darker side to Germany’s history.

    @Barry – You might be right.

    @Sophie – After seeing so many people on their way home from the Oktoberfest, your explanation makes perfect sense 🙂

    @Sascha – Thanks so much for your insights. I was hoping some Germans would be able to provide some insight into this. Regarding Oct 3rd being random and not that meaningful, I can understand that. I also think you’re right about progress being ongoing and how Germans define themselves. I have a Swabian friend who says “I am Swabian first, European second and German third.” Regarding the flag to be honest I never thought of it still having negative connotations. From an outsider’s perspective I wouldn’t see it as celebrating the dark history, but celebrating all the good things about Germany, but perhaps that’s just naive on my part and not how everyone would see it. I also think my perspective comes from speaking with my German friends about it and seeing how ashamed, humbled and determined they are to never let something like that happen again. I appreciate how serious they take it, how well informed, and don’t just try to gloss things over, but take responsibility for what went horribly wrong. Thanks again so much for your comments, you’ve definitely given me a lot to think about.

    @Michael – Well when it comes to festivals, I’ve never seen as many as I have in Germany 🙂

    @Sabrina – Thanks for sharing your perspective. Interesting that you don’t know any Germans that celebrate German Unity Day either (I guess J.P. is not alone in that respect). I can see why Germans would be hesitant to celebrate the old national day, but the new one celebrating unity? That’s what I don’t completely understand, but through the different comments I’m starting to see it from a different perspective than my very admittedly Canadian one.

  12. Debbie Beardsley October 3, 2011 at 5:32 pm - Reply

    This is an interesting topic. I am wondering how Germans feel about the reunification. If they were ambivalent about it then that may explain their ambivalence to celebrating. I can actually see how the Berlin Wall coming down would be a bigger deal because you can attach a symbol to it.

    I like that you are celebrating for your adopted country in thanks for all its given you!

  13. Laurel October 3, 2011 at 5:46 pm - Reply

    @Debbie – From the comments above it seems that they are ambivalent about celebrating nationalism, most Germans I know have positive feelings about the reunification, even though it hasn’t been an easy process. I feel very lucky to live in present-day Germany.

  14. Technosyncratic October 3, 2011 at 7:32 pm - Reply

    We’re currently in Berlin, and I had no idea today was German Unity Day – we haven’t seen anything that would indicate a celebration. But maybe there was, and we just didn’t notice anything. =)

  15. Laurel October 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    I can believe you haven’t heard of German Unity Day before but I’m really surprised to hear that there wasn’t anything obvious going on, as I had heard that Berlin was the one city that consistently held celebrations, which would make sense given the Berlin Wall.

  16. Eileen Ludwig October 4, 2011 at 4:33 am - Reply

    Interesting. I can understand the hesitation of flags and some of the shows of patriotism as I see our country use those symbols mcuh more politically than they did 20 years ago – leaving flags out in all kinds of weather and over night was not the way I was brought up to treat the flag – it is very much become political which is troubling

  17. Jeremy Branham October 4, 2011 at 11:32 pm - Reply

    Laurel, did you know the America honors Germany with a German-American Day on October 6? I just found this out on Sunday when I went to Oktoberfest in southern California. Will be a big celebration at this year’s Oktoberfest! Even Americans honor and celebrate the Germans – beyond Oktoberfest!

  18. John D. Wilson October 4, 2011 at 11:48 pm - Reply

    I think the summation by the german is most interesting.
    Maybe it is best for a low key national unity day.
    Though, the end of the cold war ought to be remembered as an end to direct tyranny.
    Interesting story,
    Cheers,
    John D. Wilson

  19. robin October 5, 2011 at 10:32 am - Reply

    If it was Spanish Unity Day there would be a procession and no doubt the Virgin Mary would manage to involve herself, but then as we all know there is no such thing as Spanish Unity.

    I think a good number of Germans feel a bit cranky about the additional tax burden that the cost of reunification has placed on them?

  20. nikki October 6, 2011 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    Oh, I just wrote a post on this same topic! http://blog.young-germany.de/2011/10/searching-for-fireworks-on-german-unity-day/ When I first came to Germany I was totally perplexed by the lack of celebration. I had been naively hoping for fireworks. 🙂

  21. Eastgale October 6, 2011 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    I personally think it is mostly to do with wariness towards political celebration, and I guess another part is like you all said, Germany has always been a very diverse place, the national identity isn’t absolutely strong. And finally I do think it is a little naive to think that if they want to, Germans could just get on to celebrate it – there are still lots of people couldn’t wait to point finger at Germany if any unfortunate implication arises out of such celebrations, you might not believe it, but I have seen some people even point to the big crowd in Germany celebrating its 2006 world cup and say that the crowd reminds them of those nazi gatherings.

    To be honest, I feel more comfortable with the way Germans handle their political holidays. They commemorate them – you can always find information about them in the news, and whenever the day approaches they pull out all the historical events associated with it to remind everyone what it is about, however, they don’t do big celebration party about it, it is kept official, low key and symbolic, ordinary people can ignore it if they choose to. I reckon I feel more comfortable with this way of celebrating political holidays than the way they do it in the US, that makes me feel slightly uneasy, to be honest – of course, not to say that I would object to big celebrations, it is just that comparatively, I think feel more comfortable if such celebrations are not made too big, big celebrations of course have its good parts, maybe someday we can see those kind of celebration in German (actually, the original celebration for reunification is pretty big! I like to watch some clips about it on youtube, haha).

    However, what I like even better is that Germans spare little effort for other celebrations! All the cultural holidays, traditional holidays, football games, etc etc, they unleash their passion there. I find it a neat idea – that is still celebrating Germany, just without the political overtone, I rather like it that way.

  22. Graham October 8, 2011 at 11:30 am - Reply

    Perhaps everyone is waiting for the Solidaritätszuschlag to be scrapped before they start celebrating?

  23. Kaz October 11, 2011 at 10:25 am - Reply

    I’m German and I’m with Sascha – it’s the Nazi stuff. I think a lot of Germans have a very negative attitude towards patriotism because it feels like – we’ve been down this road once, we have to make sure we never go down it again. I’d never celebrate Unity Day because it feels too much like celebrating Germany and that’s too patriotic. And I also become very uncomfortable when it comes to flag-waving and displays of patriotism. Especially if it’s Germans doing it (yeah, those World Cup celebrations in 2006 were not my idea of a great time) because somehow it feels as if we should know better, but also when it comes to people from other countries. I may be a bit extreme on this front, but I think a lot of Germans are… wary.

    And to make it clear, it’s not really that anytime I see a flag I go “omg this is how Hitler started!”, it’s that because we grow up associating celebrations of national identity with Nazism that creates a cultural environment where being overtly patriotic is seen as sort of… indecent and slightly worrying. So it actually boils down to cultural differences, except that we can sort of tell where they came from.

    I’m not sure about the regional identity thing, but that may be because I’m from a place without a strong sense of regional identity and my parents are from two different regions, again without that. The closest I come is “politically but not geographically from the north and the west”. I can see why Swabians or Bavarians or Saxons would want to emphasise that, but I’m not identifying as being from southern Lower Saxony or whatever over being German!

  24. Joachim October 12, 2011 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    Hi there.

    Why don’t we celebrate the German Unity Day with parties, flags and fireworks everywhere, like the Fourth of July in the US or Canadians the Canada Day? Why is it more ore less just “one more day off”?

    Maybe I can add another “german” view. At first, I think Dixie and Sascha are absolutly right about “the date”. To me, the 3rd of October is just something like the date of an administrative act, no emotions connected. Ask anyone in Germany (who was old enough to remeber it) to name one specific date that he connects to “reunification”, one date he suddenly knew there is something coming together that belongs together. I’m sure almost everyone will answer with “November 9th”, the opening of the border in Berlin. If I had to choose a date that would be emotionaly suited to celebrate, that would be it.
    All the other things, that a real unification is a process that needs time, that there still are differences (and always will be, as we are proud of our local differences) would not stop us from celebrating.

    But even then – celebrating with german flags everywhere (not only official buildings) and a proud patriotic touch? I don’t see that – and I really don’t miss it. Don’t get me wrong – I really love to be german, I am proud of our contributions to culture, literature, music, medicine, technics, etc. I really enjoyed the World Cup in 2006. My car was equiped with flags and I had my face painted in black-red-gold when I went celebrating on the streets with all those people from everywhere. But just a date – defined by our administeration – and I should feel so very patriotic that I go out on the streets and celebrate? No, that is by far no reason to do so.

    We sure have a different view on “patriotism” than most other countries and clearly it has to do with our past. Goering, Hitlers second in command, made an interesting statement, how patriotism can be used by an administration to influence its people (http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview/id/235519.html). You can be sure this man was not only aware of that lever, he used it. For germans “patriotism” has lost it’s innocence.

    A lot is written about us germans regaining a “normal” (some even say “healthy”) patriotism. And I always wonder what that should be. Is it running around – showing your national pride and telling everyone everywhere how real patriotic you are? That manner strucks me everytime I’m in the US, and most times I really enjoy just watching it. But it is enjoying in form of “Nice to see they have their fun” and not in form of “That’s the real thing. I would want that for me too”.

    Many people seem to think it’s still a thing of “shame” and we should overcome this state eventually. But I see it more just like a more grown-up view of patriotism, not ashamed but more cautious. To me that feels absolutly “normal” and that’s nothing I really would want to overcome.

    Well, it’s a rather personal view why at least for me the german unity day is just day off.

  25. Eastgale October 14, 2011 at 5:09 am - Reply

    @Joachim

    “Many people seem to think it’s still a thing of “shame” and we should overcome this state eventually. But I see it more just like a more grown-up view of patriotism, not ashamed but more cautious.”

    I actually agree, and I am not German, 😉 The one thing I worry about my country is that it has too many fanatical patriots, it really worries me deeply.

    But I also still think that happily waving flags during World Cup IS a healthy way of having fun, especially for a country that is very cautious in every other regard about Nationalism, celebrating the national team during a world cup is a good way of having fun and as long as it is not being overtly fanatical, I like it.

  26. Joachim October 14, 2011 at 7:30 am - Reply

    @Eastgale

    ‘But I also still think that happily waving flags during World Cup IS a healthy way of having fun, …’

    I absolutely agree 🙂

Leave A Comment

22 Shares
Share12
Tweet8
Pin
Stumble1
+1
Buffer1