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Tag der Deutschen Einheit (German Reunification Day)

History of "National Holiday" in Germany

Before 1919

Before 1871, in the area where the single state of Germany now exists, different kingdoms and prinicipalities existed. After the unification of Germany, in the Empire Unification of 1870 (Letter of the Emperor) and the Founding of the Empire 1871, there was still no common national holiday. The Sedantag was, however, celebrated every year on September 2, recalling the decisive victory in the German-French War on September 2, 1870.

After the founding of the Empire in 1871, there were calls for a national holiday, and there were three suggestions. No decision was made. Until 1873, the Sedantag was moved to January 18 or or the day of the Frankfurt Treaty (May 10, 1871). The Sedantag would soon also be celebrated at the universities and in many German cities. It never occurred to them to think about "Empire Parade" or "Emperor's Birthday". Some Culture Ministers of the states, especially in Prussia, decided that the Sedantag would be an official festival in schools. Upon many suggestions, the date of the Emperor's proclamation on January 18th would be established as day of remembrance. Emperor Wilhelm I declined this: "This was also the day of the first Prussian coronation of the king, which should not fall into the shadow of a united German holiday."

The Rhineland- Westphalian state began a "typical German" festival, and started the tradition on the eve of September 2 with the ringing of bells, fireworks and patriotic songs for a peace festival.

Weimar Republic

On July 31, 1919, the Weimar Constitution would be accepted in its form by the Weimar National Congress. In memorial of this "Hour of birth of democracy", the 11th August was created as Constitution Day, because the President of the Empire, Friedrich Ebert, signed the constitution on this day.

National Socialism

Shortly after the Nazis took power in 1933 (the so-called Machtergreifung), May Day (May 1) was established as a national holiday in the German Reich. It was already celebrated as a "Day of the Labor Movement" .since 1890, and also was part of the tradition for the May dance commemorating the Walpurgis Night. Immediately after the establishment of the holiday in 1933, the Nazis banned trade unions on May 2, 1933 and occupied their buildings as offices for the Nazi Movement. On March 1, 1939, Hitler declared November 9 as the "Memorial Day for the movement" as the national holiday.

Federal Republic of Germany

From 1954 to 1990, the 17th of June was an official holiday in West Germany to commemorate the Uprising of 1953 in East Germany, even with the name "Day of the German Unity". Since 1963, it was proclaimed by the President of the Federal Republic as "National Day of Memorial of the German People." Therefore, in the year 1990, the "Day of German Unity" was celebrated twice.

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German Democratic Republic

In East Germany, the Founding Day in 1949 would be celebrated on 7 October as Day of the Republic, until the 40th anniversary in 1989.

Decision for GDR's unity with the Federal Republic

The motive for setting the date of 3 October as the possible Day of Unity was decided by the Volkskammer (GDR Congress) on the impending economical and political collapse of the GDR. The Helsinki Conference was set for October 2, at which the foreign ministers would be informed of the results in the Two-plus-Four Talk.

At the beginning of July, the governments of both German states decided on the schedule: elections in the GDR would be held on October 14, and a common election for the entire country on 2 December.

The decision on the date was finally made on 22 August by the GDR's Minister-President, de Maiziere, at a special session of the Volkskammer, which began at 9 pm. After a heated debate, the President of the Volkskammer, Sabine Bergmann-Pohl, announced the results at 2:30 am on 23 August:

"The Volkskammer decides on the accession of the GDR to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany according to Article 23 of the Basic Laws effective as of October 3, 1990. In the matter Nr. 201 there have been 363 votes. There were no invalid votes. 294 deputies have voted 'yes.' (Strong applause from CDU/DA, DSU, FDP, partly SPD and the deputies standing up in their seats.)

"62 deputies have voted 'no,' and 7 people abstained. This is a historic event. Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe that we have not made an easy decision, but today we have acted within our responsibilities of the voting rights of the citizens of the GDR. I thank everybody that this result was made possible by a consensus across party lines.

The SED-PDS Chairman Gregor Gysi made a sad declaration: "The Parliament has more or less decided on the downfall of the German Democratic Republic on 3 October 1990." (Jubilant cheers from the CDU/DA, DSU and SPD.)

Attempt to change the date of national holiday

On November 3, 2004, the Federal Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, suggested that the "Day of the German Unity" be celebrated on a Sunday, for economic reasons. Instead of October 3, the National Reunification should be celebrated on the first Sunday of October. This suggestion received a lot of criticism from many sides, amongst them from Federal President Horst Kohler as well as the President of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Thierse. The demand worried a part of the population because of discontent for an increased working hours would be seen as a provocation and devaluing the national holiday. In addition, fixing the Unity Day on the first Sunday of October would have meant that it would sometimes fall on 7 October, which happens to have been the national day of East Germany; this date would thus have been seen as commemorating the division of Germany rather than the reunification. The idea was dropped after a short, but heavy debate.

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