Reflections on German Reunification Day

Posted on October 3, 2013 

Milk, check, bread, check

—  This, October 3, is German Reunification Day. It’s sort of the German equivalent of the American Independence Day (July 4, not the movie).

It’s the official holiday in celebration of the day that the post-World War II creations of East Germany and West Germany became simply Germany, again.

The immediate outsider assumption, of course, would be that this is the anniversary of the day the Berlin Wall was opened. Nope. This holiday goes back to Oct. 3, 1990, the day the two governments officially merged. 

The Wall “fell” on November 9, 1989. I put “fell” into quotes because it didn’t actually fall. The gates were opened, and in the weeks and months after, it was chipped and whacked and hauled away.

Regardless, the Germans couldn’t celebrate November 9, because November 9 already represented something in German history: Kristallnacht.

Of all the dark nights in German history, Kristallnacht is about the darkest. That was Nov. 9, spilling into the 10th, in 1938. In English, it’s called the Night of Broken Glass. The name comes from the glass shards littering the streets after Hitler’s stormtroopers and citizen supports attacked Jewish shops and homes and synagogues. It was hardly the first example of anti-Semitism in Hitler’s Germany. But November 9 was the night when German actions announced, very loudly, German intentions. Still, in the context of what was to come, it was probably prologue. 

November 9 was not going to work as a day of German celebration, despite the fact that, if they were going to pick one day that summed up the change, summed up the hope and dreams of reunifying this nation, this would have been the date. And they couldn’t simply back it up a day, because Kristallnacht continued into the next day, as did the falling of the Wall. And, of course, next up is November 11. Germans aren’t going to try to coopt that day, either.

Berliners note that October 3 feels a bit more bureaucratic as a day of celebration, as opposed to the organic efforts of the people on November 9. But they generally insist they understand.

Still, as the German equivalent of the American July 4, it’s a bit subdued. It’s basically one more of the  milk and bread days here (days when all the stores close, so, you know, get your milk and bread the day before).    

But if it’s a breadless, milkless day for many, it’s a pleasant enough day otherwise. Tonight, there will be fireworks. This afternoon, the streets are packed with happy people out for strolls on their day off. They are happy people bundled up as if this were Anchorage in December, but that’s just Germany.

So happy reunification day. And enjoy that bread and milk.


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