When East and West Germany came together as one nation on October 3, 1990, it ushered in a new era of peace in a country so divided, and Germans across the world continue to celebrate the achievements of the historic moment every year as German Unity Day. The country’s top leaders turned out to share their thoughts on the historic moment and its continuing effects Tuesday, but unlike years past, a growing fear of new divisions became a central theme of the day.
With the dust still settling from the results of a heated election, there are concerns over the direction the country is heading after the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) party won nearly 13-percent of the vote, making it the first time that a party of such extremism has landed a prominent position in the German government since the end of WWII.
“Other walls have gone up”
German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier addressed this concern in his Unity Day speech in Mainz on Tuesday, and while he avoided calling out the AfD by name, he went on to address the overall movement of division in his country. Division over social status, race and age. Division experienced both in the physical world and online.
“It is right that we celebrate this day, like every year, but something is different this year … we must not go on as if nothing has happened,” Steinmeier said in his speech. “Other walls have gone up, less visible and without barbed wire and death strips, but still walls that stand in the way of our collective ‘we.'”
“We cannot disconnect from what’s going on in the world”
German chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in what was once the communist ruled East Germany, also focused on this divide in her own address on Tuesday, but did so with a more hopeful outlook for the future.
“We can look back and say: much about Germany’s unity has worked out well and that should give us the strength to solve the remaining problems,” Merkel told the crowds in Mainz. “We know we cannot disconnect from what’s going on in the world. Rather, we must take care that globalization is constructed humanely.”
Regardless of the growing divide, German’s around the world will continue to celebrate the day as a moment of joy, and whether we are Germans, Americans, or any melting pot of a culture, we can all look back at history to learn about the failures and successes that have led many to celebrate this day as German Unity Day.