The German Day of Unity

Brandenburg Gate

October 3rd marks the anniversary of Germany’s unification. Across the country, people remember the date in 1990 when East and West Germany united to become one federal Germany.

Why was Germany divided?

For anyone born after 1990, it is odd to imagine a time when Germany was divided. Prior to 1990, Germany was split into the Soviet-controlled East and the West which was divided between the French, Americans, and British. After the Second World War, the allied nations agreed to divide Germany in accordance with the Potsdam Conference of 1945. The country was to be divided between the allies fairly and its people to be treated uniformly. This agreement quickly fell apart as each of the four zones began to look after their own interests.

The Soviets wanted reparation and stripped the Eastern zone of many of its assets. This was very different from the approach taken by the western zones where the focus was on economic growth for a Germany which would become a peaceful member of the European Union. The opposing ideologies drove a wedge between the East and West. Stalin controlled the East which became known as the German Democratic Republic. His communist regime saw private industries return to state ownership and wealth redistributed among the poor. It was in stark contrast to the political and economic influence of the western allied zones which in 1949 became known as the Federal Republic of Germany.

Tensions between the East and West grew during the Cold War era. In the GDR thousands of people were kept under surveillance by the secret police. It was a repressive regime. The Berlin Wall was erected to prevent the inhabitants of the East from being corrupted by Western influences. Over eighty people were killed attempting to escape over the Berlin Wall into the West between 1961 – 1989.

In 1989 a peaceful protest against the GDR in Leipzig kicked off a spate of protests in other East German cities. On November 9th, 1989 the border checkpoints were opened up on one of the most memorable days of the twentieth century – the day the wall fell.

The fall of the Berlin wall paved the way for political change. On March the 18th 1990 the ‘Treaty of Unification’ was signed and on October 3rd, 1990 Germany’s Unification was official.

How is Unity Day celebrated?

The 3rd October is a public holiday across the country so the banks, schools and many shops are closed. The holiday is in its infancy as it has only been observed since 1990 but there are traditions in place already.

Each year one of the capital cities of one of the sixteen federal states of Germany hosts a special observance of the holiday. This year Berlin will host a special three-day festival near the Brandenburg Gate to celebrate the unification.

Across the nation, German flags fly from major public buildings and television shows air which explains the history and significance of the date.

How do ordinary German people celebrate?

Many German people choose to quietly observe German Unity Day. It is a chance to reflect on the amazing growth the German nation has enjoyed in such a short time. Friends and families meet over dinner to remember a time when people from the east and West never met.

Twenty-seven years later the holiday is a relaxed, easy-going affair which is possibly the most appropriate way to mark a day which saw the tyranny of division finally brought to a close.

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