Germany’s unlikely holiday

The day of German unification (Tag der Einheit) is considered to be the national festivity of Germany. It is one of the few celebrations that commemorates a non-religious event. Interestingly enough, it is a rather despised date by the youth, that does not seem excited to exalt national unity. 3 October is seen as the day that legally bound the two sides of Germany at the end of the Cold War, which allowed –almost one month later- the fall of the wall, and the end of the real-socialist experience in Western Europe.

When I prompted my flatmates with questions about the way they celebrate the occasion, they were very direct in establishing that there was nothing to do. I was warned to do my shopping the day before, as all stores and services would come to a halt. I followed suit, notwithstanding a strange feeling about their response. Is it really a non-celebration? Would it be that political sensibilities still run across the losing side? Or is it more an expression of Germany’s insecurity with its national identity?

My suspicions were resolved by one of our German speaking colleagues, who shared the schedule of a commemoration act that would take place at the city centre. We organised a small group to attend. On arrival at Marktplatz we saw the big stage, right between the most emblematic structures of Halle: Marktkirche and the Rote Turm. Several food carts were offering local delicacies and drinks, which I manage to sort through with the help of my German colleagues.

The crowd was massive, and growing by the hour. Most of the audience was composed of kids and seniors, which may be due to the power of memory.

The concert started at 3PM, and run until 9PM. I was explained that the closing band, Max Gesinger, is quite popular in the country. I would not put that into question, as the square was suddenly flooded by people. It seemed as if the whole town got together into the celebrations. However, amidst this sea of people, the only German symbols available to the eye were the boiling Bratwurst in the frying pans, and the exquisite amber of the local beer.

I think that my German friends may have undervalued the relevance of this day. Or maybe, they sincerely dislike any portrayal of national pride. In any case, the date is not a call for nostalgia, not a ritualistic celebration of folk culture. It merely represents the day the sealed the destiny of the country until now. A present that may result quite challenging for the locals in a city with a lack of jobs, low salaries, and many uncertainties. Put in that way, I guess, there are no reasons to celebrate.

Originally published at pampuero.wordpress.com on October 4, 2017.

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Photographer and Social Anthropologist, working at the Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) of the University of Amsterdam. https://ampueroruiz.info

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Pablo Ampuero-Ruiz

Photographer and Social Anthropologist, working at the Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) of the University of Amsterdam. https://ampueroruiz.info