People walk through the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. The gate was used as a border crossing between East and West Berlin, and was reopened for travel from Dec. 22, 1989 until border controls were abolished in 1990. (U.S. Army Photo by Jessica Abbas, USAG Benelux Public Affairs)

Bits of the Benelux: Germany celebrates reunification during Tag der Deutschen Einheit

By Jessica Abbas, USAG Benelux Public Affairs

[Editor’s Note: The following story is the fourth in the series Bits of the Benelux. This series takes a deep dive into the stories, cultures and traditions found throughout Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany]

USAG BENELUX – DÜLMEN TOWER BARRACKS, Germany – German Unity Day, or as they say in Deutschland “Tag der Deutschen Einheit,” is held annually on Oct. 3.

Created to celebrate the reunification of Germany into one country in 1990, it is the country's only national holiday.

Most holiday observances in Germany are determined at the Bundesländer (state) level. Although some of those holidays may be celebrated throughout the country, German Unity Day is the only holiday mandated by federal law.

The Berlin Wall Memorial in Berlin. (U.S. Army Photo by Jessica Abbas, USAG Benelux Public Affairs)

Historical Milestones

Following World War II, to address the occupation and reconstruction of Germany, the Potsdam Agreement separated the country into four parts.

The sections were overseen by the U.S., the United Kingdom and France in the western portion of the country, and the Soviet Union in the east.

By 1949, these occupation sections formed into two different countries - the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany, FRG) and the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic, GDR), commonly known as West Germany and East Germany. The former capital city of Berlin was also split into West and East Berlin.

While the FRG and GDR were split between democratic Western Europe and the Communist Soviet Union, the border dividing the two countries could still be crossed in most places up until 1952.

Early in the 1950s, the posture of controlling national movement and restricting emigration spread throughout the East Bloc, including the GDR.

By 1956, nearly all travel between the GDR and FRG was restricted. Berlin remained an exception, with travel there more accessible due to all four occupying powers existing in the city.

On Aug. 12, 1961, leaders of the GDR signed an order to fully close the border and erect a wall. The next day the border with West Berlin closed.

The first elements of the Berlin Wall were placed on Aug. 17, 1961, as a physical manifestation of separation, which divided not only the two countries but also loved ones and friends.

On Nov. 9, 1989, a government official of the GDR made an erroneous announcement and stated the GDR had opened its borders.

In response, East Berliners flocked to the border crossings along the wall where confused guards eventually opened the gates. They were met by West Berliners with flowers, champagne and joyous celebration.

Using various tools, Berliners began to tear down the wall that very evening.

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin officially opened on Dec. 22, 1989, and West Germans and West Berliners were allowed visa-free travel to East Berlin and the GDR beginning on Dec. 23.

By June 30, 1990, East German troops began officially dismantling the wall. The “Mauerfall” (fall of the wall) paved the way for German reunification.

The Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, also known as the Two Plus Four Agreement, was signed Sept. 12, 1990, and on Oct. 3, 1990, the GDR dissolved, its territory becoming part of the FRG.

The treaty also designated Oct. 3 as a holiday, and Germany Unity Day was born.

Crowd in front of the Reichstag building in Berlin, Oct. 3, 1990. (Photo courtesy of the German Embassy in Washington, D.C.)

Present Day Celebrations

Each year the state presiding over the Bundesrat (the German legislature’s Upper House) hosts the official ceremonies and Bürgerfest (Citizen’s Festival) for German Unity Day.

This year’s celebrations are in Erfurt, the state capital of Thuringia, in central Germany.

Locally, the City of Dülmen will host a celebration on Oct. 3 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a variety of local clubs, associations and groups setting up stands and hosting activities at the market square, town hall and Königsplatz.

Additionally, local first responder organizations will host a “ Blaulichtmeile” (blue light mile) showcasing vehicles, technical equipment and rescue demonstrations.

Unlike Fourth of July celebrations in the U.S., while you may see German flags flying on both public and private locations, public fireworks are not a big part of German Unity Day celebrations.

In fact, many Germans choose to celebrate the holiday quietly, by spending time with loved ones and friends.

This series, Bits of the Benelux, will continue to explore the many cultural traditions in and around the Benelux. Further stories like this on the local traditions, festivals, and events are scheduled to be published monthly, as they occur.

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Be advised the day’s events may attract large crowds. Remember to remain vigilant and maintain situational awareness at all times.