Why is German reunification celebrated on 3 October?

Today, Germany celebrates the 30th anniversary of the reunification of East and West Germany on 3 October 1990. The history buffs among you will know that the Berlin Wall fell almost a year earlier, on 9 November 1989.

west_and_east_germans_at_the_brandenburg_gate_in_1989

So why did reunified Germany choose the 3rd of October as the new national holiday?

3 October 1990 was the day of official reunification, as the East German parliament had voted on 23 August 1990 for accession of its five states to the Federal Republic of Germany (this was the quickest way because it did not require the founding of a new country with the implementation of a new constitution, as the West German constitution conveniently had always included a provision to allow new states to join the Federal Republic of Germany) to occur on 3 October 1990. The date was chosen because the two German states had agreed on holding the first federal elections of reunified Germany on 2 December 1990. (West) German election law demanded that voters be registered 8 weeks before the election, which made 7 October 1990 the cut-off date for voter registration. The reunification therefore had to happen before this day. Also, 7 October was the national holiday of East Germany, and nobody knew how to “celebrate” it that year. So, better to make the country disappear before then.

If you think that all of this sounds a bit hasty, it certainly was.

You can see from reading this first paragraph that these political and legal proceedings are far less catchy and memorable than the fall of the Berlin Wall. So the question remains: Why did Germany not choose 9 November as the new national holiday? Surely Germans would prefer to celebrate the opening of the Iron Curtain, the end of oppression, the spread of freedom, instead of a date in a parliamentary protocol?

The problem was that 9 November had not only brought the fall of the Berlin Wall, but had proven to be a surprisingly significant date in German history on many previous occasions:

9 November 1918: Philipp Scheidemann declares the “German Republic” (to become the “Weimar Republic” in 1919), thereby ending the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II and German monarchy.

9 November 1923: Adolf Hitler attempts to overthrow the young German democracy with a military coup. The coup attempt in Munich fails after a few hours, but leaves 16 people dead. Unfortunately, Hitler didn’t give up and came to power (through elections) 10 years later. During the Nazi dictatorship, 9 November was a national holiday.

9 November 1938: In organized pogroms against Jews in Germany and Austria, more than 1400 synagogues were destroyed, many of them burnt down completely with the fire departments idly watching, thousands of Jewish homes and about 7500 businesses were destroyed, around 400 Jews were murdered and 30,000 Jews taken to concentration camps in the following days alone. This marked the beginning of open and systematic destruction of Jewish life in Germany (although social, political and economic discrimination had begun in 1933 already), ultimately to result in the Holocaust.

9 November 1989: Throughout the summer of 1989, East Germans had fled the country via other Eastern European countries which had opened their borders to the West, especially Hungary that had opened its border to Austria. Facing a mass exodus of its people, the East German government tried to regain control over the events and planned to announce an easing of travel restrictions, to come into effect on 17 November 1989. At a press conference on 9 November 1989, a spokesperson who had not been fully briefed announced these plans. When he was asked by a journalist when this would enter into effect, the spokesperson babbled “as far as I know, effective immediately”. The news spread within minutes and thousands of East-Berliners stormed towards the Wall where the border guards were overwhelmed because they had not been given any instructions. The guards were vastly outnumbered and nobody in the East German government gave orders to use the shoot-to-kill policy (which had been applied before against East Germans attempting to flee the country), leaving the East German border police no other chance than to open the gates. A peaceful revolution had been successful, there was no turning back any more.

9 November is therefore undoubtedly an important day in German history, but while some events are worthy of celebration, others are worthy only of shame. Most people in Germany found it a bit too tricky to have a national holiday that combines festivities and celebrations with somber commemoration. And who knows what else will happen in or to Germany on 9 November in coming years…

Links:

  • More about history.
  • And more about Germany.
  • By the way, for German reunification day, it is customary to send a present to your German friends. ;-)

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Cold War, Germany, History, Holocaust and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Why is German reunification celebrated on 3 October?

  1. homepaddock says:

    Thanks for pointing me this way and teaching me about the significance of the date.

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  5. List of X says:

    It would seem that Germany should still mark November 9 as some sort of Remembrance of History Day – because history isn’t just about victories and pride, it’s also about losses and shame.

    • It is marked as a remembrance day for the “Reichspogromnacht”, but it’s not an official holiday. But there are usually exhibitions, seminars, movies and speeches on that day.

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  12. Presents for October 3rd? It costs too much to mail a book from US, so I upgraded my Patreon.
    Happy Reunification Day🎉✨😁

    • Dear Angie,
      thank you very much for your support and your generosity!!

    • I’ve been celebrating by watching a spy series about 1989 (“Deutschland 89”) and by reading a book about the aftermath of reunification.

    • I remember watching people pulling the wall down on TV… and selling pieces of it. Capitalism already at work. Ronnie and his famous line “Mr Gorbachev, tear down that wall”.
      We in the US thought it was great. No more Soviet threat, no more worrying about nuclear war… it’s interesting to read in your post about your travels in eastern Europe and the difference between what we were told, and how people actually lived during the Soviet era.
      History is one of my favorite subjects. I love learning new things in all subjects but history is always fascinating. Especially from different perspectives.

    • I would say that what we learned about Eastern Europe was even mostly true (the oppression, the snooping, the labor camps), but what we failed to see – and what West Germans have been failing to see about the experience of East Germans – is that many people led a relatively normal life.
      If someone was not overly political, they could fail to notice how oppressive it was. Or get used to it. People get used to things very easily.
      And we never thought of the positive aspects of socialism, like full employment, lack of homelessness, and especially the absence of competition and materialism, which led to completely different interactions between people.
      A very good, eye-opening, but also eye-watering book is “Secondhand Time” by Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

      One problem with the German reunification was that Westerners (including me) were very smug, basically thinking that “our” system had won. This led to the discreditating not only of socialism, but also to everything that Easterners had done in their lives. Westerners were simply not interested in listening to Easterners, because they/we thought that Easterners couldn’t possibly contribute anything useful. Easterns who warned against this hubris were dismissed as people who didn’t realize that the past was the past. But now, I think they were right. We are having these discussions in Germany now, 30 years later. Now, more people concede that many mistakes were made, although the project itself is not put into doubt by anyone seriously.

    • Thanks for the book recommendation. I just borrowed it, in ebook form, from the library. Hopefully I’ll find time to read it before it’s due back.🙄🤦🏼‍♀️ Lately, every time I stop moving, I start falling asleep. 6 months of no school for King Ben has taken it’s toll. Whaaa whaaa whaaa🤐 I’ll stop whining now😉😂

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