Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Day of Unity

Today is a rather odd holiday in Germany: German Unity Day. Every Oct. 3, Germany celebrates the anniversary of German reunification in 1990. The Berlin Wall actually came down on November 9, 1989. However, November 9 is also anniversary of the Kristallnacht of 1938 (the first large scale Nazi pogrom against Jews in Germany). Thus, you can understand why they choose a different date.

I call the holiday odd, because most Germans do not know what to DO on German Unity Day. There are no big barbecues, no fireworks, and few German flags. It seems that "German-ness" and German nationalism makes Germans very uncomfortable. I saw on a television show the other night that only 11% of Germans said that they would hang their flag on Unity Day. (In case you are wondering, we are not hanging a flag. We do not even have one.)

Patriotism and nationalism are rather distressing words here. If you ask most Germans what it means to be German, you would not get an answer. For the longest time it was "bad" to be German. These taboos from the 1950s and 1960s seem to remain lingering in the German sub-conscious.

Only the World Cup this past summer seemed to change that. For the first time, in a long time, it was okay to be German. Germans are not Nazis. They are friendly, warm hosts who know a thing a two about beer, soccer, and building machines.

Nationalism is a double edge sword. On the one hand, I think that a certain amount of self-confidence is necessary, both in life, business and politics. Germans need to stop thinking that every thing is terrible here. They need to take a look around and be proud of what they have. (Seriously, other than terrible customer service, Germans have it pretty good.)

Unfortunately, nationalism creates a sense of "us," which can be abused by politicians. By creating an "us," you also imply a "them" that is diametrically opposed to who you are. "We" are better than "they" are. Through this "us" verses "them" mentality politicians have wagged wars and committed atrocities (Germans and, yes, Americans, too). So maybe, nationalism is not so good?

Perhaps, self-confidence and pride (both in the correct dose) are better words. Germans can be proud of the clean and functioning society that they have created. This country was brought to its knees in 1949. But it carried on (with some help from some friends). Against tough odds, it brought two countries back together into one. There are still large differences between East and West (such as high unemployment in the East). Today, Germany is the world's largest exporter of large machines. Even though it has higher unemployment than the U.S., it has a lower crime rate and lower poverty rate. See, not so bad?

What was I talking about? Oh, yes, German Unity Day. So, there is not much that we will do on German Unity Day. The German and my father-in-law are already working in the new house and I have papers to grade. Perhaps it is not the same as the 4th of July or Thanksgiving, but it is a day off from work (yeah!), and a moment to reflect on the thought, that hey, Germany Doesn't Suck. And they are showing Pretty Woman on TV tonight, so it cannot be all bad.


Dixie said...

We had a festival in Magdeburg for Unity Day. Fireworks and boring Schlager singers and everything!

Haddock said...

We did nothing.....and I had to work. We have 1 German, and 2 England flags at home and only fly them during football matches.

I think generally in Europe we fly flags a lot less than say in the USA. I believe people are just as proud of their countries, they just do not put flags up as much. But I do agree though that Germany is a special case :)

Anonymous said...

It's funny, I always looked on patriots as people who love their country for its virtues, and nationalists as people who dislike other countries for their shortcomings....strange how you develop these ideas for no other reason than a feeling you get when you read the word!
Anyways, looked at the house blog, it looks great - best of luck with it!
Cheers, Brendan

Carol said...

What a wonderful post, Claire!! My dad, a German Jew, was hoping that my twins wouldn't be born on 11/9 (they were due on the 20th, but twins tend to come early) because of the Kristallnacht anniversary... but they DID come on 11/9, 1989 -- AS the wall was coming down, in fact! What a party we had in the delivery room! And now these grandchildren of a man for whom 11/9 held such horrible memories could remind their grandfather each year of a much happier memory!

And I'm glad Germans have finally been able to feel a bit of nationalism. As I was growing up, my parents certainly had no American pride... but they also had no German pride. ANY national pride, it seemed, was taboo -- and I still deal with that today. I would never fly an American flag -- these days, because I think our behavior is atrocious -- but ANY time because nationism is something I was raised to regard as BAD.


Mike B said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike B said...

I was riding around on material deliveries with a couple of immigrant truck drivers from Kazakhstan the past couple of days as part of orientation with my new company, and that impressed me the most was to hear them talk about how bad things are in Germany, but then almost immediately follow up with the fact that things are worse where they come from. The next question from them, however, was "So why are you here? Are things so bad in America?"

Debbie said...

LOL, we watched 'Pretty Woman' that night too. Sigh. Not the same in German...
I first moved here with my German on June 1st, so right as the World Cup mania was heating up. I thought it was nice to see folks with flags everywhere, after all I'd read & heard about the lack of German pride in being German. I hoped maybe it would stick a bit. I have actually seen just a few little flags still up in windows around Duisburg. I think some fireworks on Oct 3rd would do them good. Does having an "us" have to be bad? What if it's just an "us" that wants to invite the world for a beer? At least it's a bit of "us" then, and a reason for barbeque & firworks =;-)

Milkman said...

Just wanted to say that I love German Unity day as it is brilliant and I have written about it on my Berlin vaction blog.