Tag der Deutschen Ein­heit : A glimpse at the his­tory of an eco­nomic gi­ant

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - COMMENT - By Satharathi­laka Banda Atu­goda

Ger­man Unity Day or the Na­tional Day of Ger­many falls on Oc­to­ber 3. It sig­ni­fies the uni­fi­ca­tion of the for­mer Ger­man Demo­cratic Repub­lic and the Fed­eral Repub­lic of Ger­many on Oc­to­ber 3, 1990 which was the cul­mi­na­tion of a se­ries of his­tor­i­cal events that erased the hall­marks of the cold war era, and more promi­nently sym­bols cre­ated af­ter the two world wars.

It is an in­ter­est­ing story go­ing back to the very for­ma­tions of Ger­manic peo­ple set­tling on the present borders, and more re­cently in the 19th cen­tury when Ger­many was uni­fied in 1871. In fact ‘Ger­man Uni­fi­ca­tion in 1871 un­der Otto Von Bis­marck’ was in the cur­ricu­lum of stud­ies in his­tory at Sri Lankan schools.

The ideal of ‘unity’ in modern times orig­i­nated in the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tury among Ger­man peo­ple but due to two world wars Ger­many was di­vided into parts, mainly af­ter the sec­ond world war, to two States, the Fed­eral Repub­lic of Ger­many and the Ger­man Demo­cratic Repub­lic. But the Ger­mans who are op­ti­mistic and re­silient never gave up on unit­ing their much-loved na­tion. Their hope was ful­filled, this time in 1990, with the fall of the Ber­lin Wall on Novem­ber 9, 1989.

As the his­tory of this great land was closely linked with the Euro­pean wars­fought to ac­quire ter­ri­tory the peo­ple cel­e­brated dif­fer­ent na­tional days. In fact what was more im­por­tant for the coun­try was not so much the na­tional day but the process of na­tion-build­ing in the face of ex­ter­nal threats.

With the fall of the wall, Ger­many uni­fied the western and eastern seg­ments and some wanted that par­tic­u­lar day as the na­tional day, which is Novem­ber 9. It was re­alised that Novem­ber 9 co­in­cided with the an­nounce­ment of the procla­ma­tion of the Ger­man Demo­cratic Repub­lic in 1948, and also the de­feat of Adolf Hitler’s first coup to usurp power in 1923.

The Ger­mans want to for­get th­ese events linked with Hitler in modern times, so they do not give pride of place to even the time lines con­nected with him. The pogroms against the Jews in Ger­many started with the burn­ing of Jewish Sy­n­a­gogues on Kristall­nacht also known as the crys­tal night when hun­dreds of Jewish busi­nesses were at­tacked on Novem­ber 9, 1938 by the Nazis, leav­ing the streets strewn with bro­ken win­dow panes. How­ever, the coun­try had dif­fer­ent days of na­tional cel­e­bra­tion in that era.

Ger­man his­tory to­wards unity can broadly be cat­e­gorised as fol­lows:

The world of small prin­ci­pal­i­ties was how his­to­ri­ans have iden­ti­fied the early pe­riod, be­fore the 18th cen­tury. But the Ger­manic tribes crossed over via the Rhine into France and north­ern Europe as far back as 58 B.C. when Julius Cae­sar was ex­pand­ing ter­ri­tory.

It is in­ter­est­ing that the Euro­peans, the French, the English and Ger­mans were fight­ing against the Ro­mans, to save their ter­ri­tory. There were the An­gles and the Sax­ons who con­quered Eng­land, the Franks set­tled in France, and founded the French na­tion. The Sax­ons and Frisians set­tled in the present north­ern Ger­many, and Franks in the west, the Thuringians in the cen­tre, and the Swabi­ans or Ale­manni and Bavar­i­ans in the south. Th­ese tribes had moved from their civ­i­liza­tional roots in South­ern Eura­sia, called the AraloCaspian De­pres­sion.

They moved north to Europe and formed set­tle­ments. Of course, there were con­flicts among them and also wars against ex­ter­nal pow­ers like the Ro­mans.Ger­man his­to­ri­ans like to call the tran­si­tion to na­tion­hood in the early era as be­ing ‘From the world of es­tates to the world of the bour­geoisie’.(from a book on Ger­man his­tory). The set­tlers in Europe were con­verted to Chris­tian­ity, and were brought un­der the Holy Ro­man Em­pire of the Ger­man na­tion, and it had a sense of co­he­sion. The Ger­man tribal groups were ruled in the 8th cen­tury by Charle­magne who was crowned by the Pope in 800 A.D. His court was in Aachen and the do­main in­cluded all France, Western Ger­many, North­ern Italy and Aus­tria.

He ex­tended the em­pire to the east, but on his death the em­pire was split up among his sons. Dur­ing this pe­riod France and Ger­many got di­vided, and the Ger­man princes chose the suc­ceed­ing em­per­ors, who were given the ti­tle ‘Elec­tors,’ but they could not cre­ate a strong Ger­man king­dom, un­der the Holy Ro­man Em­pire.

They quar­relled with the Popes on pol­icy is­sues, and fought among the prin­ci­pal­i­ties, for supremacy. His­to­ri­ans men­tion Fred­er­ick Bar­barossa (1152-1190) as one ruler who brought some unity among the prin­ci­pal­i­ties but his suc­ces­sors were un­able to keep up the mo­men­tum; only his grand­son Fred­er­ick 11 (1212-1250), was able to bring in artists, po­ets and schol­ars around the court and cre­ated colour in the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Ru­dolf of Haps­burg in 1273, af­ter his crown­ing cre­ated the Hab­s­burg rule in Ger­many till 1806. This was con­sid­ered a pe­riod of unity in Ger­many. Frank­furt, Mainz, and Cologne, be­came im­por­tant trad­ing cen­tres, Ham­burg, Bre­men, and Lübeck rose as flour­ish­ing ports. Ger­man arts and ar­chi­tec­ture de­vel­oped and the for­ma­tion of the Hanseatic League, with th­ese cen­tres was a sig­nif­i­cant event. Fa­mous cathe­drals, Cologne, Stras­bourg, Worms and Ulm be­came im­por­tant ar­chi­tec­tural mon­u­ments.

How­ever there was un­rest among Catholic re­li­gion­ists on the non-re­li­gious fac­tions of the church in Europe and John Huss in Prague started preach­ing that there should be re­forms in the church but he was burnt as a heretic; this move­ment spread to Ger­many and a monk from Wit­ten­berg, Martin Luther wrote his fa­mous no­tice against the church and pasted it on the uni­ver­sity church door in 1517, giv­ing mo­men­tum to the re­for­ma­tion move­ment but he was ex­pelled from the church; it re­sulted in the emer­gence of the Protes­tant church and there were quar­rels be­tween the two reli­gions in Ger­many and also in the whole of Europe. It en­gulfed Europe in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). It was both a re­li­gious war as well as a war for re­gain­ing power from the church of Rome. The Swedes un­der Gustavus Adol­phus took the lead and the French, oc­cu­pied Al­sace as one of their ter­ri­to­ries. Ger­many was dev­as­tated in this war, and they lost lands and also au­thor­ity.

Then came the rise of Prus­sia af­ter the thirty year war with the Treaty of West­phalia, in 1648. The em­per­ors be­longed to the Haps­burg fam­ily with their cap­i­tal in Vi­enna. For the next 200 years there were con­flicts be­tween the Ho­hen­zollern fam­ily of Bran­den­burg of Prus­sia and the Haps­burg fam­ily of Vi­enna in Aus­tria for lead­er­ship of the em­pire based partly on re­li­gion, Hab­s­burg­elec­tors be­ing Catholic and Ho­hen­zollern be­ing Protes­tant. In 1701, Prus­sia be­came a king­dom; un­der Fred­er­ick the Great ( 17401786) a strong army and ad­min­is­tra­tion was formed and he won ter­ri­tory in Poland and Sile­sia. With the French Rev­o­lu­tion in 1789, Napoleon de­feated Prus­sia heav­ily at Jena, in 1806, and con­quered Ger­many.

How­ever, Prus­sia re-emerged un­der Mar­shal Geb­hard von Blucher and with the help of the Bri­tish un­der Welling­ton, de­feated Napoleon at the fa­mous bat­tle of Water­loo. (This mon­u­ment can be seen in the out­skirts of Bel­gium ). The Ger­mans like the French at the time wanted more self rule for the peo­ple, and a na­tional assem­bly met in Frank­furt in 1848 but the army of Prus­sia, was crushed un­der or­ders of the King of Per­sia. It was dur­ing King Wil­liam 1’s reign (1861-1888) in 1866, that Aus­tria was de­feated at Sad­owa and a North Ger­man League was formed un­der Otto von Bis­marck.

France was de­feated and Al­sace was taken; Ger­many un­der a Prus­sian king was be­com­ing a mil­i­tary and a united coun­try. In 1871, Iron Chan­cel­lor Bis­marck be­came em­peror of uni­fied Ger­many.

This irked the neigh­bours, un­der Wil­liam 11 Ger­many fur­ther con­sol­i­dated with a pow­er­ful army and navy, in 1914 they at­tacked France and Bel­gium; Bri­tain joined Bel­gium and the al­lies. The im­me­di­ate cause was the mur­der of the prince, heir to the throne of Aus­tria on June 28 at Sara­jevo, in Bos­nia, which was an an­nexed re­gion of Aus­tria, and the lat­ter at­tacked Ser­bia. When Rus­sia aided Bos­nia, Ger­many re­tal­i­ated but France sup­ported Rus­sia un­der their ‘dual al­liance’ signed in 1892. Un­der an agree­ment Bel­gium had signed with Great Bri­tain in 1839, Bri­tain de­clared war on Ger­many. This caused a con­fused Europe to join dif­fer­ent al­lies. Bri­tain, France, Bel­gium, Rus­sia, Ser­bia and later Ja­pan, be­came al­lies later sup­ported by Italy, Ru­ma­nia and Greece. Strangely the other side called ‘Cen­tral Pow­ers’ were Aus­tria-Hun­gary, and Bul­garia. The lat­ter wanted more ter­ri­tory to carry on trade and peo­ple to set­tle from Ger­many.

This be­came the First World War­which ended with Ger­many dev­as­tated once again. The em­peror fled to Hol­land and died in 1941. In Novem­ber 1918 Ger­many, be­came a repub­lic, and its cap­i­tal was Weimar. When peace was signed in Ver­sailles in 1919 Ger­many had lost ter­ri­tory in Poland, Sile­sia in France, and the army was re­duced to 100,000 men.

All ter­ri­tory west of Rhine was oc­cu­pied by al­lied forces and Ger­many was forced to pay huge sums as war com­pen­sa­tion. When Ger­many could not pay, Ruhr In­dus­trial re­gion was seized by France. But Ger­many raised funds from Lon­don and New York, but some seg­ments of the pop­u­lace now pre­ferred mil­i­tary rule to a repub­li­can civil rule which made Mar­shal von Hin­den­burg usurp power.

It was at this time that Adolf Hitler founded the Na­tional So­cial­ist move­ments in 1923, tried to start a rev­o­lu­tion and was tried and sent to prison for two years but the move­ment sub­sisted with armed groups, so­cial­ists, and com­mu­nists join­ing and be­ing called Nazis. Their vote base in­creased from 810,000 in 1928, to 6,406,000 in 1930. In 1933, Hitler was made the chan­cel­lor, or prime min­is­ter by Pres­i­dent Von Hi­den­burg. It was this phe­nom­e­non which en­gulfed the world in World War 11.

It ended with Ger­many dev­as­tated and de­stroyed while the western pow­ers oc­cu­pied the western por­tion and the com­mu­nist pow­ers the east. It re­sulted in two states: The Fed­eral Repub­lic of Ger­manyand the Ger­man Demo­cratic Repub­lic by 1945. East Ger­many was sep­a­rated and the cap­i­tal was East Ber­lin while West Ber­lin came un­der western pow­ers. A wall was built across the city and since 1948 all com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the western part were cut off by the east.

Food had to be air­lifted to West Ber­lin. How­ever western pow­ers, US, Bri­tain, and France gave more free­dom to the Fed­eral Repub­lic of Ger­many. Kon­rad Ade­nauer be­came the chan­cel­lor and their cap­i­tal was Bonn, the home­town of the chan­cel­lor. The re­silient Ger­mans did not give up on uni­fi­ca­tion and the coun­try de­vel­oped in all facets and be­came a world power. We Sri Lankans started diplo­matic re­la­tions with Ger­many and were lo­cated in Bonn from 1954.

The Ger­man Demo­cratic Repub­lic too was given in­de­pen­dence by the USSR, but the East Ger­mans were all not con­tent and when geopol­i­tics trans­formed be­tween 1980-1990s, the Ber­lin Wall was bro­ken down and the east which was un­der Erich Ho­necker, was uni­fied in 1990 un­der chan­cel­lor Hel­mut Kohl. Of course there were other lead­ers who helped like Soviet leader Mikhail Gor­bachev, un­der his ‘glas­nost and per­e­stroika’ pol­icy of open­ness. The other coun­tries of eastern Europe and western Europe too wel­comed the new turn of his­tory which cul­mi­nated with the end of cold war pe­riod.

It is this event that Ger­many to­day cel­e­brates as the Day of Na­tional Unity. An­other sig­nif­i­cant event was the elec­tion of An­gela Merkel as the Chan­cel­lor for the fourth term last week. Ger­many is to­day the strong­est econ­omy in Europe and may be the fourth largest econ­omy in the world. Sri Lanka and Ger­many en­joy ex­cel­lent re­la­tions and we in Sri Lanka wish our re­la­tions with Ger­many will grow from strength to strength, in depth and mean­ing. (The writer was a For­eign Ser­vice

Am­bas­sador in Ger­many.)

It is an in­ter­est­ing story go­ing back to the very for­ma­tions of Ger­manic peo­ple set­tling on the present borders, and more re­cently in the 19th cen­tury when Ger­many was uni­fied in 1871.

The Ber­lin Wall was taken down in Novem­ber 9, 1989. Pic Deutsche Welle

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