Happy birthday, Germany!

It’s almost impossible to imagine now, but it was only 26 years ago that the two Germanys became one again. And let’s face it: it was about time. After 45 years of regarding each other as ‘the other Germany’ or even ‘the enemy’, the two Berlins and the two Germanys were united once more. It’s therefore no surprise that Germany likes to commemorate October 3rd, the day of formal reunification or Tag der Deutschen Einheit – a party you definitely want to join. But did you know that the GDR also had its National Day in the first week of October? It involved a lot of tanks and bike soccer.

On October 7th 1949, the German Democratic Republic was officially founded on the territory of the Soviet Occupation Zone. New countries especially need their National Days, since they provide an excellent occasion to remind your people that they belong to a lovely piece of land. In the case of the GDR it also meant reminding the people that they’d be willing to fight for their country, if necessary. Or join a cycling race.

Let’s show the people some soldiers

Alexanderplatz and Karl-Marx-Allee were for the birthday of the GDR, the Tag der Republik, what Brandenburger Tor and Straße des 17. Juni are for the Tag der Deutschen Einheit. Small difference: East Berlin was the stage of a big military show in GDR times. A big parade with tanks, red flags and armed soldiers would march through Karl-Marx-Allee, to salute the grey-suited leaders of their country at the official grandstand. One thing is for sure: the incredibly wide street was designed for parades like these. It is even said that the buildings on Karl-Marx-Allee have balconies facing the street to give the people a viewing platform during events.

The wonderful game of cycle ball

The Tag der Republik is mostly remembered for these parades, but the truth is that the GDR had more to show for itself than just military displays on its National Day. As the daily newspaper Neues Deutschland wrote on October 8th, 1966: “The very summery autumn drew thousands of Berliner to the festival street, which was decorated with the flags of the Republic and the workers’ class. In the morning the Karl-Marx-Allee belonged to the youth. There were cycling races and also competitions in cycle ball (yes, that’s soccer on a bike, DD), boxing and judo. On the big roundabout at Strausberger Platz, children made dolls at crafts tables.”

A double birthday party

The party was celebrated all over the country, according to the newspaper. Many of the events were centred around governmental workers’ committees or official youth groups like the FDJ and Junge Pioniere. Neues Deutschland, the official party newspaper of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) reports: “In Dresden thousands cheered a Junge Pioniere parade. Bitterfeld held a car parade for pensioners. In one of the 500 cars was Wilhelmine Krüger, with 102 years the eldest citizen of her district. In Leipzig Beate Karstadt, a student of VEB Montan, celebrated a double birthday party: she turned exactly the same age as the Republic.”

Actually just Kingsday without the king 

After 1970, the Tag der Republik became even more of a ‘Volksfest’, a public festival. Sunshine, fairs, harvest fests and sports events made up the main activities during the National Day – at least according to the official newspaper.

The programme for this year’s “Tag der Deutschen Einheit” doesn’t even look that much different.  Even though it’s another country and another date in October, the message is the same: we are all happy to live in this wonderful country that we built together. Or, as the Dutch would put it: Kingsday for a country without a king.

More about the festivities at Brandenburger Tor this weekend? Click here.

For the real fans: a complete GDR report of the Tag der Republik in 1989.

And here for more information about More about German unity.

Tag der deutschen Einheit in 2015: Brandenburger Tor. Image courtesy of zuendwerk