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