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German Unification Day : October 3rd was chosen by chance

German Unification Day : October 3rd was chosen by chance

At the end of August 1990, the GDR Volkskammer determined the date of accession. However, Chancellor Kohl only later pushed for the idea of making this day a national holiday.

The initially planned date of November 9 did not fit, nor did October 7, nor was June 17 a suitable date. More by chance, reunification fell on October 3. But how did this come about? Here is a retrospective look at the reasons behind choosing October 3.

Stephan Eisel was Deputy Head of the Chancellor's Office during the turbulent period of reunification and worked closely with Helmut Kohl at the time. "In the Federal Chancellery, the question of when accession should take place was a constant topic of conversation," the Bonn native recalls. Precisely because the flow of GDR citizens who moved to West Germany did not stop during 1990, the Volkskammer wanted to join the Federal Republic as quickly as possible.

The suggested dates ranged from September 13 to October 14

"However, the Federal Government thought that it should allow itself a little more time, so that, for example, all the legal adjustments could be prepared and the 2+4 negotiations would not be disturbed," Eisel said. The talks between the two German states and the four victorious powers of World War II (the United States, the Soviet Union, France and Great Britain) on the foreign policy conditions for a united Germany began in May and were to end in September 1990.

When the Volkskammer discussed the date of accession in the night from August 22 to 23, 1990, numerous suggestions were put forward, ranging from September 13 to October 14, as Eisel recalls. For example, the SPD had wished for an early date. Some had suggested October 9, the first anniversary of the largest Monday demonstration in Leipzig. Prime Minister Lothar de Maizière (CDU), on the other hand, favoured October 14, because that was the day of the state elections in the new states.

Debate burdened the ongoing process of unity

Even Sabine Bergmann-Pohl (CDU), President of the Volkskammer, was surprised that the debate would take place on that night: "I thought we could solve this amicably behind the scenes," she recently told the "Süddeutsche Zeitung". But when de Maizière requested an immediate special session on the date of German unification in the early evening of August 22, this idea became obsolete. An end to the debate was overdue, de Maizière felt. After all, the debate over the date was increasingly weighing on the process of unification. The unification treaty was virtually ready to be signed, and the GDR was on the verge of economic collapse.

In the Volkskammer, a rather confusing debate developed in which, according to Bergmann-Pohl, the argument arose at some point that the 41st anniversary of the GDR on October 7, which was also the national holiday of the former socialist state, was no longer an option. Therefore, the October 9 suggestion was out of the race.

October 3 came up as an alternative when the members of the Volkskammer realised that accession could not be completed before the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). This was scheduled for October 2 in New York, where the victorious powers of the Second World War were to be officially informed of the outcome of the 2+4 negotiations. Finally, the Volkskammer voted by a large majority for 3 October: 294 deputies were in favour, only 62 against and 6 abstained.

Kohl was against 9 November as a national holiday

The date of accession was now fixed, but not yet the date of the national holiday. Here, Helmut Kohl came to the fore again. Stephan Eisel knows that the Chancellor did not approve of adopting the day the Wall fell because it was "not suitable for celebrating". Kohl's opinion was: 'We cannot celebrate German unity on November 9 when the Night of Broken Glass is commemorated on the same day'. The retention of June 17 for the day had also never been an issue. "He wanted a day of celebration and not a day of commemoration. The anniversary of the suppression of the 1953 popular uprising did not fit the celebration," Eisel said.

Therefore, a few days after the Volkskammer had set October 3 as the date of accession, Kohl had taken the initiative in a discussion with the Prime Ministers "to keep the previous Day of German Unity on June 17 as a day of remembrance, but to make October 3 a new holiday. A few days later, this proposal was also made in the Volkskammer. Eisel said it had come from the Liberals. Kohl also found October 3 suitable for another reason. "I had a national holiday in mind at the beginning of October, because at that time the weather is usually still good and people can celebrate outdoors," the authors Kai Diekmann and Ralf Georg Reuth quoted the Chancellor in the 1996 book "Ich wollte Deutschlands Einheit" ("I wanted German unity"). "I had always liked the fact that the national holiday for the French, on July 14, is not only an occasion for impassioned speeches, but is celebrated cheerfully throughout the country," Kohl continued.

The form of the unification celebrations is "a legacy of Helmut Kohl”

According to Eisel, the Chancellor was then also "very involved" in the idea of rotating the celebrations through the federal states each year. "Kohl, who was a convinced federalist and former Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, had always been keen that the question of German reunification, should not only be associated with Berlin, but that it should be an inclusively German matter. We were able to express this well with celebrations taking place alternately in the federal states", says Eisel.

In the years that followed, he always wanted to know exactly what the celebrations in the individual federal states would look like and discussed them with the responsible state premiers. In this respect, Eisel said that the way in which German unity is celebrated in a different federal state each year should be regarded as "a legacy of Helmut Kohl".

(Original text, Bernd Eyermann; translation, John Chandler)