I lived in Germany working for the US Army and saw the unity of Germany. Thankfully the evil DDR ran by the Stasi (1 of 6 East Germans were in the Stasi or worked for it) is dead and gone.
Enjoy your day of celebration! 🇩🇪🇩🇪🇩🇪
I was there in Germany in the summer of 1989 (August), the year of DDR's 40th anniversary when the country was already being drained of professional citizens by their opting to get to Hungary, a generous move by the Hungarians as they opened up the Austro-Hungarian border.
In August of 1989 it was the last time I saw "Changing of the Guard" (Wachtabloesung) by the East German troops, the NVA, in East Berlin on Unter den Linden. I crossed the border solo into East Berlin at Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse , not Checkpoint Charlie, very crowded at the Friedrichstrasse border , Vopos everywhere, mandatory currency exchange to get the day visa.
When the Wall came down, I was back here in SF at work, likewise on Oct 3, 1991.
no wonder the trains and hotels were full!
I would like to ask to think about what it's like that from one day to the other somebody is telling you that what you have done and what you have thought until yesterday was wrong. From the next day on you must wave somebody elses flag.
Yes a day to celabrate but the DDR was much more than just an evil state ran by the Stasi - typical western phrase. Not everybody there was happy about the reunion and it is our task to accept this without any comment. I'm born in Munich Bavaria and this means I do not know how it was to life there but I do know from several friends born there that not everything was just evil. And most of them never got in contact with the Stasi. It is our job to bring it together now without pointing out that the western view is always right and the eastern view was completely wrong.
We lived in Augsburg and worked with people that had family that escaped from the DDR. Universally, they all hated what Communism did to East Germany.
If the DDR was so great, why did so many people risk their lives to escape. I visited the International border at Fulda Gap with the US Army and saw the towers with huge fences (with mines) to keep people in the prison of the DDR.
I visited the DDR soon after the wall came down and we could drive over the border. The country's infrastructure was in deplorable condition. Buildings in Erfurt, Dresden and Weimar that had been damaged in WWII were still standing. The autobahns in the DDR had so many potholes, you could not drive over 60KPH.
We also visited Poland in 1989 and it was in a similar condition. Look at those countries now and how prosperous they are.
I don't want to get political on a travel forum, so I won't respond to the comments above in detail.
From the perspective of tourism and for those interested in visiting our country, I will say this: the issues surrounding the end of the DDR and the unification of Germany are extremely complex and nuanced, and those coming to visit could do well to keep their eyes and ears open for the range of complicated, jumbled emotions that surround this entire topic. It is, surely, not some far distant history for many Germans.
Hm just reading again what I've wrote and can't find words like great. I did my homework and learned everything one must know. Still I'm saying yes a day to celebrate but to respect that not everyboby is happy as well. We must learn that the western way of thinking is not the one and only and that we should respect other opinions as well. We are still not united in every aspect an words like evil DDR will not help because it might hurt feelings.
But I also think this is getting political now and also ok for me to delete my messages.
Mignon: I entirely agree. I am from the west (grew up in Ruhrpott), but have a Migrationshintergrund and my parents come from Eastern Europe. And it is all just very complicated.
And I understand that politics as such does not belong here, but I do think this is relevant to tourists in our country: many are very interested in how we deal with history here, given the unrivaled evils of the NS-time, and the history of divided Germany is a part of that larger story.
Indeed it is complicated, and today's Germany still has remnants of the divisions that formally and politically ended in 1991, and visitors need to be mindful about that. In another context, I remember meeting a Russian woman at the Trotsky site in Mexico City some years ago, expressing my appreciation that communism was no longer in power in Russia, and her expressing some regret about that. We need to tread carefully with other people's history.
A sad moment in my Berlin visit last year was at the Berlin Wall Memorial, where there's a monument with pictures of the people who died trying to get over the wall between 1961 and 1989 -- especially looking at the photos from the last months it was up and thinking "if only they'd waited a little while." But no one can put themselves in others' shoes or foretell the future.
I want Germany to be Germany. I was there ready for the greatest tank battle after Kursk in the Fulda Gap as a M1 tank platoon sergeant. It still boggles my mind that border areas I couldn't get closer than a few Ks are now free and open. You can't see were the old border was in most cases other than Bundesland signs. I enjoy my trips to Thüringen and Sachsen and into the Czech Republic. Great culture. I recommend traveling the less touristic parts of Germany.
I strongly believe that when planning to travel, it is wise to understand as much of the history of where you are visiting as possible.
Knowing the history gives you a great understanding of the country enhancing your visit.
While the idea of a united Germany like a united Korea is a great idea, it was not always so great for those in East Germany. It is a well-known that after the wall fell a lot of rich West Germans went to East Germany and bought up housing because it was "cheap" to them displacing a lot of East Germans. Say what you want about the DDR but most East Germans at least were guaranteed an apartment, however small, and a job-however menial. Plus pensions for the elderly. And there were many children from the former DDR that, while they might have had to sneak Western music in, felt that they had a fairly normal childhood.
In some aspects, Germans are still feeling the effects from reunification. There was a series on Netflix called Criminal, which told fictionalized stories of police interrogations in different countries. One story in Criminal:Germany dealt with the fall of the wall and the aftereffects.
heather, I remember reading and hearing of some of the issues facing reunification.
Yes, West Germany was far richer and people had a far higher standard of living. I remember that East Germans had to wait several years, something like 10 years just to buy a car. Also, the cars that were available, the trabi was a tiny car with a motorcycle engine that had cardboard as part of its structure. It was a terrible polluter. These cars were a joke, you could see them on the autobahn and highways, their top speed going downhill was about 100KPH.
The West German government did give a huge benefit to the East Germans by guaranteeing a one for one exchange rate for their otherwise pitiful currency. West Germans complained about paying for that and for paying for upgrading the pathetic infrastructure of the east.
Yes, there were some issues for those in the East, but they had freedom, something that is priceless.
I remember visiting Poland in fall of 1989 after Solidarity had won almost all the seats in the Parliament, but still had a Communist President. We met hundreds of Poles and all were ecstatic about the prospect of freedom and being rid of Communism.
I've been in Germany on a few unity days. Get out and about, there's always something fun happening somewhere.
Of course, you don't have to participate in the revelry. Why not stay home and get misty-eyed about the fates of Honecker, Schwanitz and Krenz, the poor souls whose families and cronies lost so much with the collapse of the GDR. Them and their ilk were resposible for millions dead or missing, millions orphaned and widowed, just as many destroyed physically or mentally. What's not to miss and get weepy about? And after forty years of tyranny, murder and censorship, not much more than a room full of lovely men and women were sentenced to jail time, if you can call it that.
Think nosy Ralph next door sticks his oar in too much? Watch 'The Lives of Others', a brilliant film which sheds a little light on Stasi operations.
Those who have been in Germany on Unity Day in the past might have noticed this, but it is a pretty low-key day here. We are kind of allergic to patriotism. There are celebrations of an official character in many cities; each year one of the state capital city is has the main celebration, in a rotating way, which has more pomp associated. What I, and many other Germans, do is spend time with our families or take a long weekend to travel. We also watch the special history programs and the official speech that is aired on television.
This year, that speech was given by the politician Bärbel Bas--it was a pretty good speech. Two sections of here speech below may give a sense to outsiders of how we talk about this period and our project of democracy: (German is original from the Bundestag, English is translated by DeepL):
East Germans and West Germans experienced the 1990s in completely
different ways. In West Germany, this was one of the reasons why we
did not perceive that the post-reunification period had inflicted
wounds and left scars. Today, I know from many conversations how
fundamental the upheaval in East Germany was. How much it led to a
feeling of being uprooted, because almost all structures collapsed.
....But democracy thrives on conflict. It is necessary that we talk to
each other - especially about controversial issues such as compulsory
vaccination or arms supplies. I would find it appalling if this of all
things were not discussed controversially! Democratic debate has a
purpose: It leads us to common solutions. But understanding and
respect cannot flourish in a poisoned atmosphere. I wish for less
anger and more respect. Less bossiness and more curiosity. Less
prejudice and more empathy.
Ostdeutsche und Westdeutsche erlebten die 90er Jahre völlig
unterschiedlich. In Westdeutschland haben wir auch deshalb nicht
wahrgenommen, dass die Nachwendezeit Wunden geschlagen und Narben
hinterlassen hat. Heute weiß ich aus vielen Gesprächen, wie
fundamental der Umbruch in Ostdeutschland war. Wie sehr er zu einem
Gefühl der Entwurzelung geführt hat, weil fast alle Strukturen
zusammenbrachen. ….Doch Demokratie lebt vom Streit. Es ist notwendig,
dass wir miteinander reden – gerade über Reizthemen wie zum Beispiel
eine Impfpflicht oder Waffenlieferungen. Ich fände es erschreckend,
wenn ausgerechnet darüber nicht kontrovers diskutieren würde! Der
demokratische Streit hat einen Zweck: Er führt uns zu gemeinsamen
Lösungen. Doch Verständnis und Respekt können nicht in einer
vergifteten Atmosphäre gedeihen. Ich wünsche mir weniger Wut und mehr
Respekt. Weniger Rechthaberei und mehr Neugier. Weniger Vorurteile
und mehr Empathie.
Used to own a small, neighborhood bar in Frankfurt. One of the regulars was a guy that helped build the wall in 1961. He wanted to leave the DDR, and they found out, so he spent time in jail, then was sent to the West. When the wall fell, he went back to his hometown. He found out his B-I-L had been spying on him for the Stasi. He also said people that he used to know, crossed the street to avoid him. He said he never went back.
Watch "Good-bye Lenin" if it is available in English, or "Balloon".
A few years ago, the protests in the East were extreme anti-immigrant, anti-Moslem and were attracting 1000s of followers. Check out Pegida if you want to know more.
Visit Point Alpha near Fulda if you want to see how bad people wanted to leave their secure jobs the DDR gave them.
There is always the big celebration of unification day in Berlin, because it is the Capital - I have been to several.
The MOST meaningful day to Berliners is November 9th - that's the day they became one again - that truly is their celebration.
The leap of hope that ended in despair … When Conrad Schumann jumped over the Berlin Wall, he became a symbol of freedom. But the burden was too great.
“Many people were standing around, and that was good, because they distracted my colleagues. I was able to swap my loaded sub-machine-gun for an empty one before I jumped. The jump was not so difficult then. After that the gun fell noisily on the ground; with a full magazine it probably would have gone off.”
That is how the East German border guard Conrad Schumann recalled, in one of hundreds of subsequent interviews, the moment he was devoured by history. At 4pm on 15 August 1961, two days after the Communist regime began erecting the Berlin Wall, the 19-year-old soldier set off on the journey that was to define his entire life. “My nerves were at breaking point,” he remembered. “I was very afraid. I took off, jumped, and into the car ... in three, four seconds it was all over.”
“Welcome to the West,” bystanders shouted. But Schumann, a simple NCO, was ill-prepared for the adulation. All he asked for when he arrived at the West Berlin debriefing centre was a sandwich. He said simply that he had been angered by the spectacle of a fleeing East German child being dragged back from the West, and did not want to “live enclosed”. A fit of desperation or an act of heroism: history books rarely distinguish between the two.
Little wonder that the hero-villain felt confused by his dual status. As he drifted through life in West Berlin, frequently changing jobs in the initial years, alcohol provided the only solace.
Lonely and depressed, his only human contact with his family in the East was through letters. He had not changed his name or gone underground, and now the Stasi, the East German secret police, were after him. They wanted the Cold War icon back, for their own purposes. The family wrote letters asking Schumann to come home - everything would be fine.
“Only much later did I realize how dangerous this situation was,” he recalled in a 1994 interview. “I did not know that the letters my parents were writing me were dictated by the Stasi.”
He was even naive enough to contemplate going home for a visit while the Wall was still standing. At the last minute, a West Berlin policeman managed to talk him out of that plan.
After the Wall fell and Germany was reunited, Schumann was able to return to his native Saxony for the first time. But the homecoming was not the triumphant procession he had anticipated. Many people had been kind to him, he said, but quite a few had shunned him. “There are still some people who refuse to speak to me,” he said. The traitor had remained a traitor to many, even if the country he betrayed had since disappeared.
But Schumann never really escaped. On 20 June 1998, something snapped. After a family row, Schumann left the house. He was found by his wife a few hours later, hanging from a tree in a nearby orchard. [The Indepedent]
Conrad Schumann is memorialized on Bernauer Strasse in Berlin.
Wow great speech - thanks for sharing part of it. I've missed it this year. Just returning from a one week vacation at the Black Forest. But I will read it this weekend for sure.
The MOST meaningful day to Berliners is November 9th - that's the day
they became one again - that truly is their celebration.
I am really sorry to turn the conversation this way, but there is a reason that the national holiday is not on November 9th, and I don't know a single person who has an easy time celebrating on that particular day.
We call it a "Schicksalstag" in German: a day of fate.
It was, namely, also the day of the Novemberpogrome in 1938, which are horribly called in English Kristallnacht (I can hardly make myself type that word, to be honest--I did not know that English-speakers still used the term until a few years ago--for me, the word is an unacceptable euphemism trying to make something awful beautiful, and it is absolutely not in use in German). It was also the day of Hitlers Coup in 1923, and a couple of other important events in 20th century history. Anyway: I am not saying that there is never reunification-related stuff on the 9th, but I am saying that it is always framed in terms of the terribleness of the day in other ways. An Ambivalent Day, I have seen it called.
I'm well aware of the historical reference, as are my Berlin friends who had family on both sides of Wall. November 9th is an overwhelmingly important day to them - their emotions overflowed when the Wall was breached at the Bornholmer Strasse border crossing as well as 25 years later with the Lichtgrenze celebrations.
There is a huge difference in emotions between those who were living in Berlin for those 28 years, and those living in the luxury of freedom in the American Zone, over that same period of time.
To call it a day of celebration without acknowledging that it is also a day of horror is simply very surprising from my particular German standpoint.
As Angela Merkel said on November 9, 1989:
"Merkel noted that Nov. 9 is a significant date in Germany history also ... That was the opening note for the murder of millions," said Merkel, adding that on Nov. 9 each year "I feel not just joy, but the responsibility that German history burdens us with."
What happened on 9 Nov. 1938 is called in English, "The Night of Broken Glass" Because of that horrific event on 9 Nov. 1938, fall of the Wall is not celebrated on 9 Nov., rather the national holiday to be celebrated is 3 Oct. (Tag der Einheit)
Aside from the events in German history on 9 Nov, be it 1923, 1938, 1989, one more momentous event on that fateful date, 1918... the abdication of the Kaiser, die Abdankung des Kaisers, the end the Hohenzollern Monarchy in Prussian-German history.
Periscope: If you look at my first Nov. 9th post, I say specifically that people don’t find it easy to celebrate on that day, which is precisely what Angela Merkel‘s statement says. Maybe my English is causing confusion here, but I wanted to make clear that it is not just a day of celebration, and not an easy day to celebrate on, which is what I was reading from your post.
I wasn't in Berlin in 1989 BUT I was there on November 9th, 2014 - Berliners were celebrating.
Periscope, I am not trying to get in fights with people randomly online, and nor do I have any way of knowing what your familiarity with German history, nor that of any others who read here without commenting, is.
To me, as a person raised within the historical culture of Germany, your first comment about the real celebration being the 9th of November struck me very, very discordant. I mean, that I had a bit of a physical recoil when I read it, and all I could think was "How could anyone say the holiday is on the 9th? There is a reason why it is not on the 9th. He or she must not know that."
I am not saying that some people living here, like your friends and family in Berlin, have not found a way around that recoil, and it is precisely that which Angela Merkel alludes to in her statement--knowing the good and the bad together. But I will entirely stand by my decision to add contextual framing about why this day is not the official holiday. It is important to remember our history, and not just the bits that make us feel good.
(Also, if you read my above context, you will see that I discuss my own Eastern European Migrationshintergrund. I, too, grew up with family on the other side of the Iron Curtain).
Germany marks 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall
Berlin was the scene of daylong celebrations to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the wall that divided the city. Angela Merkel vowed during a memorial "that no wall will separate people ever again."
I am not particularly aware of how this day is presented to non-Germans, and I also find it extremely problematic when this day is presented just positively in German media. In that, I am not alone (for non-German speakers, this is an article critical of the desire to quasi "forget" the earlier November 9ths, and think only on the happy one).
Anyway, on the topic of "celebration": Here is how the Bundespräsident Frank-Walter Steinmeier talked about the 9th of November last year in 2021 at an official event. (German from the official transcript, English from DeepL):
So what is this day, this November 9, to us Germans? What can, what
should it mean to us?
November 9 is certainly not a day of celebration, not a day for
fireworks and military parades, like our friends in America celebrate
their country on July 4 or our neighbors in France on July 14. Nor is
it a day of remembrance in the sense that we gather together with
serious faces for a rehearsed and sometimes somewhat rigid ritual.
November 9 is an ambivalent day, a bright and a dark day. It makes our
hearts pound and brings tears to our eyes. It makes us hope for the
good that is in our country, and it makes us despair in the face of
its abysses. Perhaps that is why November 9 is a very German day; a
day that provides information about our country like hardly any other.
In my eyes, November 9 is the German day par excellence.
Was also ist uns Deutschen dieser Tag, dieser 9. November? Was kann,
was soll er uns bedeuten?
Der 9. November ist gewiss kein Feier-Tag, kein Tag für Feuerwerke und
Militärparaden, so wie unsere Freunde in Amerika am 4. Juli oder
unsere Nachbarn in Frankreich am 14. Juli ihr Land feiern. Er ist auch
nicht ein Gedenk-Tag in dem Sinne, dass wir uns mit ernster Miene
zusammenfinden zu einem eingeübten und manchmal etwas starren Ritual.
Der 9. November ist ein ambivalenter Tag, ein heller und ein dunkler
Tag. Er macht uns Herzklopfen und treibt uns Tränen in die Augen. Er
lässt uns hoffen auf das Gute, das in unserem Land steckt, und er
lässt uns verzweifeln im Angesicht seiner Abgründe. Vielleicht ist der
9. November gerade deshalb ein sehr deutscher Tag; ein Tag, der wie kaum ein anderer Auskunft gibt über unser Land. In meinen Augen ist
der 9. November der deutsche Tag schlechthin.
I really genuinely don't know what else to say on this topic.
Obviously, one wants to forget the 9 Nov. event happening in 1923 at the Feldherrnhalle and 1938. !989 shows the "Abriß der Mauer. "
9th of November for me personally is not at all a day to celebrate because of the 'night of the broken glas'. For me ( again this is what I'm doing) a day to sit down and think about what has happened and why.
One can assert that 9 Nov is a very German Day both emotionally and historically , since historically several decisive events in modern German history took place on that specific date and, as such, are associated with that date and can be viewed as a day of remembrance (Gedenktag).
Aside from those events mentioned above, ie, 1918, 1923, 1938 and 1989, I forgot one...also taking place in Berlin in 1918, that of Scheidemann (on his own initiative) of the Social Democrats proclaiming the republic, (Aufruf der Republik), regardless if such a move was wise, legal, accurate or not.
Germans had won the great prize that had eluded them since 1945: unity and sovereignty. East Germans now experienced freedom, something they had not enjoyed since Hitler came to power in 1933. The new Germany faced many problems. The cost of unification was immense, perhaps 1 trillion deutsche marks, saddling the German government with budget deficits and higher taxes for most of the 1990s. The government established a privatization agency, the Treuhandanstalt, to sell off the massive state monopolies of the GDR (DDR). But in the process it closed down thousands of inefficient businesses and firms, throwing millions of East Germans into unemployment. The GDR had to be completely rebuilt with Western technology; the workforce had to be retrained; the social welfare packages that cost so much now had to be extended to 16 million new citizens. And of course, these two foreign cultures, one shaped by forty years of extraordinary prosperity, the other by forty years of repression, had to rediscover each other. They were like twins separated at birth and reunited as adults: they looked alike, spoke the same language, and sensed an intuitive bond, but they still had to learn to live together. Unlike unification, that would take time. [1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe, Sarotte]
I admit to being unsure what to do with that quotation, which in general I find reasonable, but which I nevertheless feel is supposed to somehow contradict something I have said in this thread (but perhaps I misunderstand). All that I have tried to do here is provide foreigners with some insights into why at least some Germans might feel the way that at least some of us do about these big historical events, and I have made reference to politicians in order to show how these issues are treated from an internal German perspective, in speeches and other forms of communication by Germans and aimed at other Germans.
I, too, can find academic quotes to support one position or another, but lobbing citations at one another does not seem like particularly personal or friendly form of communication. If you would like to continue a personal conversation about these issues, I would be entirely 100% open. But if not, I feel that an exchange of quotes from academics is not particularly useful, so I will end my participation at this point.
There is nothing more to belabour, your President said it all - for better and for worse :
"In my eyes November 9th is the German day par excellence."
On a side note, the German President has been and will be busy - Berlin and Erfurt on Unity weekend, likely in Leipzig tomorrow night, and in Berlin on November 9th.
In 2009 , twenty years after the Wall, I had a long conversation with this man in his mid-80s living in Potsdam-Babelsberg, who told me after these two decades how people in the former halves of Germany still viewed each other. He said (in the original), "Wir sind nicht geeinigt." If so, I told him viewing that comment historically I find the observation and belief sad. There were caricatures appearing in newspapers saying the Wall did come down but it still exists in one's head (die Mauer im Kopf).
I was in Berlin for about a week for the 30th anniversary of „the fall“ of the Berlin Wall. My Berlin friends (both former West Germans and East Germans) were fairly indifferent toward the events marking the anniversary. One told me the events were more for outsiders, whom she felt had far more interest than most Germans. She said the anniversary was not very meaningful for the young because they did not experience the history; for older people, the opening of the wall was „old news.“
As I entered the Wittenberplatz U station on the night of Nov 9, I encountered a group of Germans singing reverently and passing out flyers that contained a one-page history of the events of Nov 9, 1938.
I have been to Wittenbergplatz U-Bahn station, once in Aug. 1989, explored the site, no real reason at all, except for coming upon it and its curious architecture. I wonder if those gathered there singing about the event of Nov. 1938 was a memorial to what historically happened at that spot in 1938...not familiar with the history in Berlin in that detail.
I don't know the history of that area with respect to Jewish history either, but there is a an odd little memorial just outside the west entrance to the Wittenbergplatz U station. It's a memorial that lists the concentration camps under the heading "Orte des Schreckens, die wir niemals vergessen dürfen". It was in front of that memorial/sign that the group was singing.
@ Dave.... I was mistaken. This sign listing the various places and types of horror I saw in July of 1971, having remembered that sentence from my first time in Berlin and then again in 1989 when I saw the station the second time, by accident too as was the first time. I didn't connect the sign with its location at Wittenbergplatz U-Bahn station.
Azra and Mignon – Thank you for your posts. What I love most about travel is the opportunity to learn to see the world in a different way, through other people’s eyes and experiences. Events in another part of the world are always more complex and nuanced than we realize. Thank you for showing us some of that complexity and nuance.