German Unity Day is a national holiday in Germany, celebrated October 3rd, to commemorate the nation’s unification, when the Federal Republic of Germany and the Democratic Republic of Germany united to create one single federal Germany in 1990.
German reunification (Deutsche Wiedervereinigung) took place twice after 1945: first in 1957, when the Saarland was permitted to join the Federal Republic of Germany and again on October 3, 1990, when the five re-established states of the German Democratic Republic (GDR / East Germany) joined the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG / West Germany). Berlin was also united into a single city-state. It was at this point that the unification process was commonly referred to as die Wende (The Turning Point) by citizens of the GDR. Die Wende marks the change from socialism to democracy and capitalism in East Germany around the years 1989 and 1990. The end of the unification process is officially referred to as German Unity (Deutsche Einheit). There is some debate as to whether the events of 1990 should be properly referred to as a “reunification” or a “unification”.
Many say that the initial unification of Germany occurred on January 18, 1871 at the Versailles Palace’s Hall of Mirrors. Princes of the German states gathered there to proclaim Wilhelm of Prussia as Emperor of the German Empire. Others feel that “reunification” is deeply affected by the November 9, 1989 opening of the Berlin Wall, when the checkpoints between the two countries were opened and people were allowed to travel freely. This date marked the “fall” of the Berlin wall and the physical reunification of the city of Berlin which had been divided since 1945. Others, however, argue that 1990 represented a “unification” of two German states into a larger entity.
For political and diplomatic reasons, West German politicians use the term “Deutsche Einheit” (German unity) carefully avoided the term “reunification”. German unity is the term that Hans-Dietrich Genscher used in front of international journalists to correct them when they asked him about “reunification” in 1990.
On August 23rd, 1990, the new parliament of East Germany voted to approve accession with West Germany and the “Treaty of Unification” was signed by both countries’ leaders. Germany was officially united on October 3, 1990. West Germany consisted of ten states, now referred to as the Old Länder, (Alte Bundesländer) plus West Berlin. The five New Länder states, re-established federal states of East Germany – Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, which had been abolished by East Germany in 1952 – formally joined the Federal Republic of Germany. The Land Berlin is not considered one of the New Länder, since West Berlin expanded throughout the whole city resulting in the dissolution of East Berlin.
The Berlin wall and the Brandenburg Gate were two important symbols of Germany’s division following World War II and their unification in 1990. Images of the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin wall’s destruction are often displayed on German Unity Day.
October 3rd is the official German national holiday, the Day of German Unity (Tag der Deutschen Einheit), commemorating the day that marks the unification of the former East and West Germany in 1990. Unity Day celebrations are hosted each year by whichever of Germany’s 16 regional states holds the presidency in the upper house of parliament.
Photo by Peer Grimm via German Federal Archives