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 with the creation of the 2nd Reich in 1871 but with no national holiday. Eventually, on the 2nd of September, the Sedantag was tolerated as the day of the decisive victory over Germany’s Erbfeind France. However, the Freiburg people preferred the date of 18 February when in 1871, the fortress of Belfort eventually had surrendered to the German coalition army; Belfort a place nearer to Freiburg than Sedan with respect to distance and closer to their hearts.

Philipp Scheidemann standing in a window of the Reichstag
 on November 9, 1918, proclaiming a German republic
When on the 9th of November 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 the 9th of November as the date of surrender and national shame. They attempted a Putsch in Munich on this very date in 1923 that broke down in the machinegun fire of troops loyal to the republic. However, when Hitler came to power in 1933, the 9th of November as a national holiday didn't change since it now became the day of the martyrs who had died in Munich for the Nazi cause. It was a day of bad emotion and became infamous in 1938 when in the so-called Reichskristallnacht - the night from the 8th to the 9th of November - not only the windows of Jewish shops were smashed, but most of the synagogues were burned to the ground.

With 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 in 1953 to the 17th of June. 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 rather as a day of recreation than commemoration, for it had the advantage of the summer season compared to November.

But the 9th of November 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 the 9th of November again, a date illustrating the highs and the lows of German history.

When on the 3rd of October 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 a seasonally correct decision giving to this last democratic vote of the East German parliament the importance that it deserves and 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 the 9th of November as a national holiday is Cambodia but that in a much warmer climate than Europe.

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