Why is the third of October a public holiday?

This is the day on which Germany celebrates its reunification. Find out how this came to pass, and what happened 30 years ago.

The European flag flies in front of Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag.
The European flag flies in front of Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag. picture alliance/dpa

What is the “Day of German Unity”?

The Accession Treaty was signed in Berlin on 3 October 1990. In it, the former German Democratic Republic relinquished its state sovereignty and acceded to the Federal Republic of Germany. This step marked the successful conclusion of German reunification, a process that had begun with the Monday Demonstrations in the East German city of Leipzig on 4 September 1989 and came to its symbolic climax when the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November.

What divided Germany prior to 1990?

Europe was divided into West and East, the border running right through Germany: two German states were created in 1949 – the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The division of the country until 1990 was a consequence of the Second World War and of the Cold War between East and West. People in the Eastern Bloc were unable to vote in free elections or – apart from a few exceptions – travel to the West. Because many families had relatives in the “other Germany”, this was felt to be a constant limitation in the divided country.

What was the Berlin Wall?

After more and more people escaped to the free West, the GDR built a wall through Berlin in 1961 and a fortified “death strip” along the inner-German border. It is estimated that at least 1,000 people were killed, or died as a result of accidents or suicide, while attempting to escape from East Germany.

See what Germany looked like when the Wall was still standing, and how it looks today without it:

What is meant by the “Wende”?

The “Wende” or “Wendezeit” means “turning point” or “the time of the turning point”. The terms are commonly used in Germany these days to describe the time between May 1989 and October 1990, when the GDR transitioned from authoritarian regime to democracy in a peaceful societal process.

Did a national holiday exist before 1990?

In West Germany, the “Day of German Unity” used to be celebrated on 17 June. It commemorated the uprisings in East Germany that were violently quashed by the police and the Soviet army in 1953. The GDR celebrated the day of its founding on 7 October 1949, known as the “Day of the Republic”.

And today?

30 years after reunification, the East and the West have grown together in many respects, though some traces of the division can still be felt. The reunited Germany is committed to peace and security, to the realisation of the European idea, and in the global community to human rights, freedom and democracy.

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