Monday October 8, 2012
Day of German Unity 'just another holiday'
SAMBAL ON THE SIDE by Brenda Benedict
Oct 3, the Day of German Unity, passed by rather unspectacularly.
I DON’T think I would be far wrong to comment that my host countrymen are merrier during Karneval and the Oktoberfest than they are on the Day of German Unity.
I admit to sometimes missing the enthusiastic flag waving, the march-pasts with gaily – or gaudily – garbed contingents, and the grandiose displays of some of these countries’ military might who hail from a region consisting of formerly colonised countries.
But for a land whose dark past is oft discussed and dwelt upon, it is understandably difficult to pop corks and fly flags, even when its present population has nothing to do with the previous horrors that have indelibly blemished its reputation.
Honestly, I sometimes feel sorry for the current generation of Germans – some of whom I now call friends. They are constantly reminded of the Nazi era via history lessons, mixed media, and occasionally tactless headlines by sore loser soccer-playing countries or those forced to tighten their purse strings during this Euro zone crisis. I don’t envy Mrs Merkel having to tolerate unwarranted remarks about a “Fourth Reich”.
Most Germans, however, are wary of an overt show of patriotism for fear of being branded too “right”. This is also not to say that the country is free of this blight, given recent evidence linking a neo-Nazi terror cell to the murders of several immigrants about a decade ago.
Yet the words “never forget” ring true not just of the Holocaust and right-wing violence, but also of all the other atrocities that have occurred in our world since. What’s going on in Syria is no less contemptible. But as usual, I digress.
So why and how is the 3rd of October celebrated here?
Let’s start with the “why”. It commemorates the formal reunification date of the former East and West “Germanys”.
There is naturally more emotion surrounding Nov 9, 1989, as it marks the date the Berlin Wall fell, thus ending the Cold War. While it coincided with the anniversary of the proclamation of the German Republic in 1918, it was also the date of the infamous Kristallnacht (or Night of Broken Glass) in 1938 when the Nazis began their systematic attacks against the Jews. The name stems from the broken glass of the windows of Jewish homes and synagogues that were attacked.
Hence, Oct 3, 1990, the formal day of reunification, was chosen as the more appropriate national holiday.
And how is it celebrated here? Well, in my view, pretty low-key. There are, of course, the federal- and state-level commemoration activities. Cities and towns might also host their own street festivals. But they are all generally free of the hoopla surrounding other countries’ celebrations like, say, the 4th of July in America or our Merdeka Day.
For most people, the public holiday is a welcome reprieve from work. This year, it fell on a Wednesday, so many took Thursday and Friday off, thus enjoying a long weekend.
Obviously, there are no televised march-pasts or the like. What are often shown are historical documentaries. One of the clips that always gives me goosebumps is that of former West German Foreign Minister, Hans Dietrich Genscher on Sept 30, 1989. He had arrived in Prague, Czechoslovakia, to deal with the humanitarian crisis that was unfolding on the grounds of the West German embassy, to which thousands of East Germans had fled in a desperate attempt to escape to the west.
Speaking through a megaphone, he began: “I have come to you in order to inform you that today your departure….,” after which he was drowned out by a jubilant crowd who knew their safe passage to the West was guaranteed. Forty days later, the Berlin Wall fell.
Besides that, movies based on this era are also often screened. My favourite, which is also the first-ever German movie that I’ve watched without subtitles or translation, is the bittersweet Goodbye Lenin. Set in 1990, it revolves around the antics of a young man who wants to protect his recently-awoken-from-a-coma mother from the shock of learning that her beloved nation of East Germany no longer exists.
On a lighter note, there are also replays of the song, I’ve Been Lookin’ For Freedom performed by David Hasselhoff, at a New Year’s Eve concert in a unified Berlin in December 1989. A Spiegel report wryly remarks, “amateur video footage of his performance still makes for some of the most horrid viewing that YouTube has to offer”.
Perhaps in time to come, Germans may celebrate this day more. For now, it remains a reminder of a happy interlude in its history.
> Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Frankfurt. She believes that patriotism is all right if it is not practised blindly.