Today, 3rd October, Germany celebrates Unity Day - the national holiday that commemorates the unification of Germany in 1990.
The day will be celebrated across the country, not least in the nation’s capital, Berlin, a city once divided by an imposing wall that now exists only in fragments, as monuments and mementoes of the struggle of a people to put their country back together after the ravages of wars and regimes, fascism and communism. Some of the events include a street festival at the Brandenburg Gate, a traditional concert at the city’s cathedral and horse-racing at the Hoppegarten.
That German Unity Day is the only public holiday celebrated at a national level (all other public holidays are decided by each state) demonstrates the importance of the day.
The reunification of Germany was set in motion by the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the Soviet Union. Not only did these cause friction with the leader of the German Democratic Republic, Erick Honecker, but they also paved the way for Hungary to open up its border with Austria, creating a chink in the so-called Iron Curtain. Many thousands of East German refugees used this route to reach the West, with many others seeking asylum in the West German embassies of Prague and Warsaw.
With increasing pressure from the people for reform, the GDR government forced Honecker to resign and set about trying to change its image in the eyes of the people, and end the haemorrhaging of refugees that threatened to cripple it. On 9th November, 1989, Günter Schabowski, who was acting as the regime’s spokesperson, gave a now famous press conference. He had been handed a note just prior to the press conference to say that East German’s would be permitted to cross the border with proper permission. This was all the information given to him and so, when asked when the new regulations were to be put in place, he answered that they would be effective immediately.
This gave many in East Germany hope and so, that evening, thousands flocked to the crossing points along the Berlin Wall. The sheer numbers and lack of information provided to the border guards meant that they finally opened gates and allowed them through. The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the beginning of the end for the German Democratic Republic and the German Unification Treaty (known as Einigungsvertrag in Germany) was ratified by both the Bundestag and the Volkskammer in September, coming into effect on 3rd October 1990. At midnight that day, in a ceremony at the Brandenburg Gate, the German flag was hoisted to mark the moment that Germany officially reunified.
If your pupils are learning about the aftermath of WW2 in Germany, or the Cold War, one of our school history tours to Berlin will allow them to gain a greater understanding of the impact that these events had on the German capital. They will have the opportunity to visit the remnants of the wall which split the city in two, before a visit to the DDR Museum, which is fascinating and offers plenty of hands-on exhibits showing what life was like in East Germany under communist rule. A trip to the Hohenschönhausen Stasi Memorial, a prison which housed thousands of political prisoners, will also allow your pupils to learn about political persecution in the GDR.
We can also arrange school tours to Berlin for a number of other subjects, including German language (with the option to add lessons at a dedicated German language school), science, art, business studies, music and politics. You could even enjoy a trip to the magical Christmas markets!