What is German Unity Day – Tag der Deutschen Einheit

What is German Unity Day or the Tag der Deutschen Einheit? This National Holiday is the celebration of when Germany unified into ONE whole country. For 41 years, Germany was split between the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the Democratic Republic of Germany (East Germany). They existed as two separate nations. On November 9, 1989, the checkpoints at the Berlin Wall opened, and the Wall that separated the two countries came down. Once again people could travel freely between the countries. Negotiations brought both sides back together, and on October 3, 1990… German Unification was Official.

Why was Germany Divided after World War 2?

At the end of World War 2, Germany found itself divided into 4 sectors. Each part was controlled by a member of the Allied countries who won the war. England got the North, France occupied the Middle of the West, America controlled the Southern Sector, and the USSR was in charge of Eastern Germany. Although allied during the war, there was never a great deal of trust between the Soviets and the Western Nations. On Oct 7, 1949, the Soviet leader Stalin, fearing another war if Germany regained full strength, created a new country, the Deutsche Demokratische Republic (DDR) out of their controlled Zone.

berlin Wall
The East Sector of Germany became  the GDR/ German Democratic Republic. (In German we say DDR for Deutsche Democratische Republic). Ruled by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, the DDR acted as a western buffer for the USSR. In 1955, East Germany was granted status as an independent state, although the USSR still kept troops there, and had quite a bit of influence over the politics. Unfortunately, it became the Hot Zone in the Cold War.

The Border around the country,  and the Wall that cut through Berlin divided families made communication difficult. And travel between the nations was difficult. Still, in 1972, West Germany recognized East Germany as a separate country… and both joined the UN as independent nations in 1973.

For just over 40 years the DDR and West Germany existed separately.

East Germany and West Germany. LOC 91685645
United States. Central Intelligence Agency, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Fall of the Berlin Wall

Demonstrations against the DDR Government were dangerous. Anyone speaking out against the regime risked jail. Over time, people grew more brave, or more desperate. In 1989, demonstrations in Leipzig encouraged people to demonstrate for political reform and open borders all over East Germany. These “Monday Demonstrations” had an effect.

GErman unity day

Photo used with permission- Protest on November 4 at Berlin’s Alexanderplatz.
By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1989-1104-437 / Settnik, Bernd / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5424801

In an effort to smooth over the situation, the leadership of East Germany decided to “loosen” the restrictions on travel. On Nov. 9th, 1989, the spokesman Günter Schabowski, announced that East Germans would be free to travel to the West. He forgot (or didn’t mention) that there would still be restrictions in place.

The Western media mistakenly announced that the borders were officially open! East Germans FLOODED the checkpoints. The Border Guards, unsure how to react, let people through. It was the beginning of the end for the Wall.

Why is German Unity Day Celebrated on October 3?

After the Wall fell, political reform soon followed. The first Democratic elections in East Germany took place in March 1990, and paved the way for Unification. After a series of negotiations, the “Treaty of Unification” was signed in August 1990. Finally, on October 3, 1990, German Unification became official. Both parts of Germany now shared one Chancellor and one President.

Why isn’t German Unity Day Celebrated Nov 9?

November 9 seems like such an important day in the events of German Unification. Why not celebrate on THAT day? Because of history. In Germany, they call November 9 the “Schicksaltag” (the Day of Fate). November 9, 1923  Hitler attempted the Munich Beer Hall Putsch (an unsuccessful attempt by the National Socialist Party to seize power in Munich). Fifteen years later, November 9, 1938 erupted into Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass), when Jewish people all over Germany were attacked. But the date’s significance goes back further… November 9, 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated the throne, establishing the Weimar Republic.

With so much significant and emotional history on November 9, the State chose October 3rd as the official National Holiday.

what is german unity day

How is German Unity Day Celebrated?

German Unity Day is a Public Holiday in Germany. This means that stores, banks and post offices are closed. Most people have the day off.

The official Bürgerfest (Citizen Celebration) rotates to a different German city every year. In 2022, the city of Erfurt hosted the festival. This year the celebrations are happening in Hamburg. Expect speeches, concerts fireworks, and demonstrations of local craftsmanship and industry…. as well, as FOOD. For the 30th anniversary next year, the Bürgerfest moves to Potsdam (outside of Berlin).

Most Germans celebrate Unity Day in a fairly “low key” way. According to Helmut Kohl, ‘it is a day in fall with nice weather that can be used by the people as a feast and picnic day’. And that’s what some people do. Different communities may have small celebrations or exhibitions. Still, Unity Day is not a day for parades or displays of military might. It’s a day for people to just enjoy family and neighbors.

The re-unification or Wende wasn’t always a smooth process. Generations lived under different political ideas, and they don’t always mesh. There are also economic and social issues that are still being addressed. Years later, people understand that coming together as one people requires more than just knocking down a wall.

Still, German Unity Day is a day to remember history… and to be glad that families that were once divided by a Wall can now come together. 

german unity day

10 thoughts on “What is German Unity Day – Tag der Deutschen Einheit

  1. Actually Germany was not reunited on October 3, 1990. German states east of the Oder-Neisse are still under Polish and Russian occupation. Never forget that these states had a clear majority German population until they were forceably expelled by the Red Army and the Polish government.

    1. I should restate. East and West Germany were united. Naturally, the German nationals left in the East who weren’t expelled by the Russians and Poles weren’t part of this. (My family is from Silesia, I am very well aware of this.

  2. Karen – Your posting of today is so, so interesting. I don’t think the Germans will EVER celebrate anything again on November 9th, too many bad memories. I loved what you wrote of my home town, Hansestadt Hamburg (a city state), a city of great historic as well as economic importance. The latter to this day. It doesn’t hurt that Hamburg is beautiful! Am I prejudiced? Maybe a tad, but then, I am a proud Hanseat!

    1. Hamburg is such a beautiful city. You should be proud.

  3. Ostdeutschland wurde vin Kommunisten regiert und nicht von Socialists. Dann haben wir 2022- Sie schreiben dieses Jahr sind die Deutschen Einigkeitsfeiern in Kiel- dieses Jahr waren diese in Erfurt. Gruß Gabi

  4. Hello everybody. I just got writing a comment, but then my PC acted up. I clicked on refresh and my comment was gone. My mother was born and lived in Danzig Prussia. During the war she didn’t want to leave. The Russians were a few miles out continually bombing Danzig. The German Wehrmacht forced her to leave. A German officer held a gun to her head and made her leave. He didn’t wanted the Russians to get ahold of her. After my mother died on August-1-2007, my oldest sister send me black and white pictures of Danzig before the war destroyed it. Danzig is no longer German. It belongs to Poland now. The pictures are folded like an accordion. The actually don’t mean much to me. If anyone would like to have them, please let me know.
    Karen, I hope you were not caught in the flood the had in California. Please be well and safe. Greetings from Texas. Gigi.
    I knew quite a lot of people that were caught living in the DDR. The have many sad stories to tell.

  5. Any suggestions on how to celebrate in American high school German classes?

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