Sunday, July 3, 2011

National Holidays

That the US community in Freiburg celebrated their 4th of July holiday this year already on the 2nd certainly had to do with the fact that a sunny Saturday afternoon is better suited than an even sunnier Monday. Nevertheless, a festivity being moved forward disturbs me somewhat, although it is customary in Germany to celebrate birthdays conveniently following the due date.

The ongoing "crazy hazy days of summer full of pretzels and beer" (Brezel und Bier) remind me that the past German national holidays never were sunny.

As you may recall, Germany became a rather late nation by creating the 2nd Reich in 1871 but with no national holiday. Eventually, on September 2, the Sedantag was accepted as the day of the decisive victory over Germany's Erbfeind France. However, the Freiburg people preferred the date of February 18 when in 1871, the fortress of Belfort eventually had surrendered to the German coalition army. Belfort is nearer to Freiburg than Sedan concerning distance and being closer to their hearts.

Philipp Scheidemann standing in a window of the Reichstag
 on November 9, 1918, proclaiming a German republic
When on November 9, 1918, Germany had lost the First World War, Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed a German republic. This was a date many country fellows considered appropriate as the day on which Robert Blum, deputy of the Frankfurt National Assembly and a strong advocate of a German Republic, had died in front of a firing squad in Vienna in the aftermath of the 1848/49 revolutionary uprisings.

The Nazis, however, always regarded November 9 as the date of surrender and national shame. They attempted a Putsch in Munich on this same date in 1923 that broke down in the machinegun fire of troops loyal to the republic. However, when Hitler came to power in 1933, November 9 didn't change as the national holiday since it became the day of the martyrs who had died in Munich for the Nazi cause. 

It became a day of bad emotion and infamous in 1938 when in the so-called Reichskristallnacht - the night from November 8 to 9 - not only the windows of Jewish shops were smashed, but most of the synagogues were burned to the ground.

The war and the nightmare over, the Federal Republic of Germany, after defining the day of the passing of our constitution (Grundgesetz) as the new national holiday, spontaneously switched to June 17, in 1953. 

On that date, a general strike in East Germany against the communist regime - they hadn't been as lucky as we in the West with a teacher telling us how a federal state should work - was brutally crushed in the fire of Russian tanks. For years West Germans used the June date as a day of recreation than commemoration, for it had the advantage of the summer season compared to November.

But November 9 remained the day of German fate when in 1989, after twenty-eight years of separation, the wall between the East and the West came down. Germany became unified again. In my and many other people's opinion, it would have been most appropriate to switch back to November 9 again, a date illustrating the highs and the lows of German history.

When on October 3, 1990, the first freely elected parliament of the GDR voted that East Germany shall adhere to the Federal Republic of Germany, the then Kohl administration decided to make that date our national holiday. This was a wise, politically, and seasonally correct decision giving to this last democratic vote of the East German parliament the importance that it deserves. To the people, the chance to visit a chestnut shaded beer garden during a day of the Golden October (Germany's Indian summer).

Wikipedia tells me the remaining country still celebrating November 9 as a national holiday is Cambodia but in a much warmer climate than Europe.
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