October 3 - Day of German Unity

Menschenmenge vor dem Brandenburger Tor Enlarge image (© picture-alliance/ dpa)

3rd of October: Day of German Unity

October 3rd is a national holiday in Germany and marks the day when the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) were reunited. It is one of the major turning points in German history. After being separated for more than 40 years, finally East and West Germany became one nation again.


Post World War II Germany

Against the background of two world wars, just shortly after the end of World War II in 1945, Germany and its inhabitants were, once again, facing severe turbulences and rupture. After the Nazis were defeated by the allied troops in 1945, the German territory was occupied by the four victorious nations. In accordance to a decision made at the Conference of Yalta, France, Britain and the United States split Western Germany among each other, while Eastern Germany fell into the hands of the Soviet Union.

Soon it became clear that, with the political differences between the United States and the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) widening, the so-called “German Question” was not going to be solved within a foreseeable period of time. No one, however, could have predicted what was about to follow and what would shape the German national consciousness until today, more than twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall.


Two States

In 1952 the Moscow elite decided to put an end to the continuous flow of refugees seeking to leave the Soviet-occupied sector, by installing heavily armed security posts along the entire border of East and West Germany. This policy culminated in the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, arbitrarily dividing the capital into east and west, separating friends and families and, in many cases, causing great sorrow and despair.

Construction of the Berlin Wall Enlarge image Construction of the Berlin Wall (© picture alliance / dpa)

Still, even facing death or yearlong imprisonment, Germans from both sides of the border never hesitated to continue in their efforts to fight for a united Germany under one flag. One vivid and truly graphic example of this struggle for unification is the German “Basic Law”. Unlike most other countries, democratic Western Germany refrained from giving itself a Constitution, trying to avoid the permanent character a document, named like that, would have had. Instead, by calling it “Basic Law” the so-called “mothers and fathers of the Basic Law”, came up with a solution, which would provide Western Germany with a fully sufficient treaty, but still leaving a loophole for the people of the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik or English ‘German Democratic Republic’) to join in one day.

During more than forty years of separation, the two Germanys had lived, even though, right next to each other, utterly different lives. The DDR, proceeded to become a one-party state without any real democratic legitimisation. Nourished by Moscow the SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany), under its first leader Walter Ulbricht, developed into the main hatchery of the political elite.

Western Germany, on the other side, was run capitalistic and upheld strong ties with the United States. Later, the first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, helped to secure Western Germany’s stands in the non-socialist world by negotiating her admission into the NATO in 1955, shortly followed by the creation of the Warsaw Pact with Eastern Germany as one of its founding members.


  October 10, 1989 "Freedom" Enlarge image October 10, 1989 the peaceful Monday demonstrations in Leipzig demand freedom (© dpa - Bildarchiv)

The Reunification

The turning point on the path of reunification marks the implementation of Michail Gorbachev as head of the Soviet Politburo. Due to his less suppressive policy of “Glasnost” (policy of open discussion) and “Perestroika” (economic restructuring), the Satellite States were granted more individual freedoms and independence from Russia. Due to this, as well as to severe economical instability, many countries behind the “iron curtain” saw their chance to escape their socialist regimes. Eastern Germany played a major leading role in this struggle for independence. Remarkably peaceful, people from all over the DDR demonstrated against their government and for reunification with their western brothers and sisters. In the so-called “Montagsdemonstrationen” (Monday demonstrations) in cities like Leipzig and Dresden, thousands of people peacefully walked the streets, holding candles and fighting for a better tomorrow. At first they were chanting: “We are the people”, but it would soon be replaced by: “We are one people” and thereby including their western brothers and sisters in their prayers for, not only a free, but also a unified Germany.

November 9, 1989 the wall is opened Enlarge image Standing packed on the wall near Brandenburg Gate (© dpa - Bildarchiv)

Eventually, on the 9th of November in 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and Germans all over the country celebrated the beginning of a new era. Finally, on the 3rd of October in 1990 the reunification treaty was signed, making the Germans one nation again.

In 2009, during the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Horst Köhler, President of the Federal Republic of Germany, was holding a speech in front of the people of Leipzig. During that speech, he reminded his listeners that an important task following the Peaceful Revolution remains:  the task of keeping the memory of the SED dictatorship and the resistance against it alive. “Knowledge is a safeguard against idealizing romanticisation [because] democracy is not something one wins at once. It has to be continuously lived and experienced.”


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