Saturday, October 3, 2009

Day of German Unity

I was there. 3 October 1990. It was a great experience. But what experience?

First we did have the end of the Cold War (1947(?) - 1990), and what some of us called the Humint "Gold Rush" which followed, which is kinda best described as finding a Soviet Field Marshall dead in a open field with all his kit . . . documents, papers, fancy lazer range finder, new-fangled artillery sound ranging gear, high-tech binos, all sorts of plans for various odd Sov technologies which have yet to hit open air . . . but I digress.

The Reunification of Germany was an event. And yes, the view was at the time that it had happened perhaps a bit too fast. Now we know of course that both Britain and France were not too keen on the idea of German Unification and worried about a redrawing of Germany's eastern borders. Like the French and Brits saw the German Army as going to march into Breslau and reclaim it as "German" . . . at the expense of Poland.

The reality of course was far from that, the peoples of Eastern Europe were simply happy to be free: to be able to travel and move about as they pleased. It was the greatest triumph of positive human will ever, at least in the West, imo, which of course is why various powers were/are so interested in distorting it . . . The guys (and Mrs Thatcher) at the top didn't have a clue, whereas the those in the "trenches" had a much better view, which is a lesson in itself . . .

Military power had very little to do with what happend in 1989-90. It was about people going out in the streets (as in the regular Monday demonstrations in Leipzig) and taking the power of the state in their own hands. I have a fancy East German Communist Party flag which I found "lying in the street" hanging on my office wall . . . an example of a transfer of power.

While we may argue with how the Reunification was carried out, we should be able to agree that the event itself was a triumph not only for Germany but for Europe and the world.

So, why the sad faces Germany?!

Rather celebrate what was a great victory of the human spirit and something that has left a lasting impression on not only this American . . . This is YOUR DAY, remember it!


  1. I remember the West German grocery stores on the news filled with East German people just staring agape at all the food that was available...and the one lady the interviewer asked her what her impression was, "there is so much food much food..."
    I was later told by one of the guys in the program I was in that he wasn't surprised at all. In E. Germany they were constantly told that the West Germans were starving and that the failures of capitalism were driving people to crime.
    I think that moment is when the thirty five years of lies were no longer enslaving the minds of the people of East Germany. Sure, there are the hurtles of incorporating two people into one, but the residues of "well, perhaps the old ways still were good" just don't hold sway.
    Either way, it was an exciting least for me...yeah.

  2. sheer-

    I remember people being amazed at the selection of toothpaste, "Ossies" had only been able to get one kind, occasionally, which was of poor quality and in the West there whole aisles of toothpaste.

  3. I wonder if the sad faces might have something to do with the way the whole partition and unification took place?

    1. Partition happened as the result of a war with most of Europe and Russia blamed Germany for. It was seen, at the time and later, as something that was the result of German villany and Soviet treachery. France made a crusade out of revenge for lost Alsace between 1870 and 1914, but Germany couldn't really make a cause out of the "lost Ostmark"; it would have smacked too much of whining about the outcome of WW2. I never got the sense that there was a substantial "Reunite Germany" movement before 1990.

    2. When the nation WAS reunited it seemed like a week of celebration and a decade of grousing. The West seemed shocked and infuriated that the East was so poor, so dirty, the Ossies so shiftless and ignorant. It was like being reunited with a long lost brother who turns out to be a skanky, unemployed layabout.

    Maybe the long faces are because now that Germany is united again the times are so perilous and its position is so ambiguous. Its not a superpower, it's not Ghana...where is it going? What will it look like in 10, 20, 30 years?

    Tough times make for dour Germans, perhaps?

  4. FDChief-

    A lot of truth in what you say.

    I never have really understood the long faces and the whining. To me it was obviously something to be proud of, when the situation was such that the West and East were facing each other down with hundreds of thousands of troops on each side, not to mention the nukes . . . and it all was resolved essentially without firing a shot? A mass outpouring of positive human will . . .

    I agree there wasn't much talk of German reunification prior to 1989 that simply because nobody thought it possible without a war.

    Also always got on well with the Ossies, and not as well with the Wessies, although I have some as kin. At the same time the "Ostalgia" or "the GDR really wasn't soooo bad" is a case of selective memory. They all complained about it ceasely at the time, only in retrospect . . .

    I guess wars do take their toll. Two million dead in the First, and four+ in the Second, plus the countless millions who left after 1945 . . . who were the same people they needed to rebuild the country after 1990. All gone to greener pastures where a future without the problems of the past beckoned . . .

    I know a woman, a friend of mine in the German Foreign Ministry, originally from Karl Marx Stadt (now Chemnitz) who I asked to come in and talk to my students about the GDR. This servant of the German State felt it her priority to tell her audience about how the good ole GDR wasn't soooo bad after all and said absolutely nothing about "the new Germany". This a former Ossie who is now a full-fledged "Beamte" in the German State with all the perks . . . go figure.

  5. The Huns. The unhappiest people of all. They're never satisfied and they're never to be trusted.

    I speak their language and blond-haired, blue-eyed Scots-Irish German mix that I am, I am the Aryan dream. There was a time when I actually could and did pass as a German. I spent a couple of years as the chief of military intelligence in Upper Franconia, the Bavarian district that bordered on Czechoslovakia and (then) East Germany. My office was in Bayreuth, the land of Wagner, the place where they have the annual rites. If you want to know about the Hun, it wouldn't hurt to check out Wagner. Sit through the Ring. Read their literature. Learn about Druids. And Gotterdamerung.

    I also spent time in Berlin and Muenchen. Germans don't like Americans. Germans don't like anyone other than other Germans. They believe they're superior to everyone else. They didn't like it much when I, exasperated at their bull shit, would point out that I was there in their country, and they weren't in my country. They never liked having us in their country and they resented the fact that we were in charge. Guess we can't blame them for that, but, as I used to tell them, they asked for it. They were the most destructive people on the planet for some time.

    Which leads us to the Holocaust. One of the most off-putting things about old Europe—to include England, France, etc.—was the treatment of the Jews. The Germans, great organizers that they are, managed to go well beyond the discrimination and the pogroms of the past by coming up with a "final solution." This stains them forever.

    Churchill was right: either at your throat or at your heels. Furthermore, as the wages of the Holocaust, I don't know that Germans can ever be happy. They're haunted by it, which, from where I sit, is only fair.

  6. Publius: Whew! Tells us how you REALLY feel..!

    My personal feeling is that the Germans as a people are probably no better or worse than any "people". They did do one thing spectacularly wrong, and that was that very Germanic orderly murder of Jews (gypsies, Poles, Russians and pretty much anyone else who fell into their murder holes...) I have to say, though, that I am young enough not to hold this generation of Germans personally responsible. But hopefully they use the understanding of the parents and parents' parents guilt to keep on the narrow path from here on out. I agree with you that the spectre of the Holocaust and the general guilt for the war does haunt Germany, and may for some years hence.

    Eventually, tho, they will have to come to terms with themselves as they are now; not "Deutschland uber alles", not the beaten Huns of 1945...they will have to decide what the Germany of 2040 is going to be and do. Right now, I think they're conflicted, and uncertain, and it shows.

  7. Publius,
    I have met those kinds of Germans here at my job, and I have met the other kind, too.
    The "other" kind are the ones who are quite thoughtful, very quiet in their opinions, and when given the opportunity to rip someone a new one up one side and down the other they, instead, politely point out a solution, or a calming word.
    Reminds me of my grandmother, and grandfather...however, again, I'm pretty much of German ancestory, and Wisconsin is full of German communities who still have vestiges of the old ways.

    As for now, from what I can gather from the Germans here at work...the whole holocaust is a national embarrassment, and they are quite embarrassed even speaking about it. The other thing is that they have a healthy distrust and disrespect for government be it theirs or ours.

    As for the dour faces...bah, whiners, they come in all shapes, forms, and colors. In fact if we took a good look at ourselves we'd see that we're a pack of whiners, too.

    But it just occurred to me that we do have something in common with the Germans...we have a healthy distrust and disrespect for our government as well as theirs.
    It's a start.

  8. Well, that's more like it! A bit of discussion . . . thank you gentlemen.

    My experience as an Army Intel officer in Germany is quite different than Publius's. For one I was in Berlin. Americans were fairly popular there, except perhaps among the more "Alternativ" leftist youngsters, but among the older Berliners we were more than welcome, "Would rather see a battalion of American tanks than one Russian on a bicycle" was one of the more memorable comments I recall.

    As with Publius I worked closely with Allied (as in Berlin occupation) and German intel, but had good relations with the BND which might have to do with being overt Strategic Humint rather than CI. Did experience some rare instances of what Publius mentioned, but was able to maintain good repore, which is part of being an interrogator/ops officer, rather than being an intelligence manager . . . That is not to say that some of my colleagues at the time would not have agreed wholeheartedly with Publius's honest comments. Personally, I always believed that we were all working for the same goal, which is probably why I was out by the mid 1990s . . .

    Share the same ethnic connections as sheer on my mother's side, Prussian Catholic, but raised in the South . . . felt pretty much at home in Germany from the first day, found the people friendly and warm.

    My kids are tri-lingual and spoke German among themselves as small children. German is my second language and the language I associate with my kids, not to mention numerous nieces and nephews (blood kin), so how could I dislike the language, or the culture, or the country?

    I follow Hannah Arendt's interpretation of what happened between 1933-45 in Germany as laid out in her "The Origins of Totalitarianism" which lets Germany "off the hook" in a way, but says much more about the fragility of modern societies, which perhaps is the much more disturbing, and important message that history has to teach us . . .

  9. Btw, does anyone know why 3 October is German Unity Day? My guess is that is has something to do with the fact that 7 October was the GDR's national holiday . . . Kohl wanted to avoid having one last anniversary for the GDR to celebrate (might get people second guessing), so they needed to wrap up the whole reunification deal before that particular date came around again, thus 3 October 1990 . . . imo 9 November would have been a much better date, but there are arguments against that of course . . .

  10. Cuz it's the day of unity. Literally.
    October 3rd 1990.

  11. Sven-

    I think that counts as a tautology.

    Third of October 1990 was a Wednesday. If you were going to make a new holiday and you had to place it before 7 October which was a Sunday that year, where would you put it? I would choose Wednesday, for simple reasons: It's hump day and you have two full work days to prepare for it, afterwards a lot of people have the weekend so it gives you some breathing room.

    Ask yourself, prior to 1990, what was the significance of 3 October in German history?

    For this particular day, why not 17 June?

  12. Wiki notes that November 9 was the day the original Republic was proclaimed in 1918. That would have made a nice symmetry. But it also identifies the day as having been the beginning of the pogroms in 1938. But the inking of the deal was 10/3, so Unity Day it is.

    I like that part of the Unity Day celebration this year (in Saarbrucken) featured dragon boat races. I love it, but...WTF?


    "German reunification (German: Deutsche Wiedervereinigung) took place twice after 1945: first in 1957, the Saarland was permitted to join the Federal Republic of Germany, and again on 3 October 1990, when the five re-established states of the German Democratic Republic (GDR / East Germany) joined the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG / West Germany), and Berlin was united into a single city-state. The start of the latter unification process is by former citizens of the GDR commonly referred to as die Wende (The Turning Point.). The end of the unification process is officially referred to as the German unity (German: Deutsche Einheit) with German Unity Day being celebrated on October 3."

    The corporation lobby likes the fixation on 10-03 instead of on a specific day of the week; they have a 2/7 chance of not losing a productive day.
    (Wikipedia is actually wrong. "Die Wende" includes events from November '89 till the reunification).

    The German state identifies itself only marginally with what existed before 1945 - as if only negative things were inherited. There's no way how we could actually officially celebrate something that pre-dates '45 except religious stuff.

  14. Sven-
    Yes, but I don't think the return of the Saarland is celebrated nationally. The cincher was that new holiday had to be before 7 October . . . Question: Were you even aware of the "Nationalfeiertag der DDR" being 7 October?

    Agree as to your definition of "Die Wende" since I lived through it . . .

    Why not 9 November which would have been the first anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which obviously came after 1945 . . . ? Because you would have had the 40th Anniversary of the GDR before that date . . . which Helmut wished to avoid at all costs . . .

  15. FDChief-
    The dragon boat races reflect the superficiality of the date . . . it is without meaning for most Germans: a prime example of an improvised holiday. Nine November would have been a much better choice imo, reflecting all the "ambiguities" of German 20th Century history, but was not possible due to the political realities of 1990.

    But then of course I am a Clausewitzian.

  16. In the end, the date has a very simple and irresistible reason:

    Germany became fully sovereign in 1990 again and the German parliament chose the date. There's nothing that any foreigner could do about it. We like it as it is.

  17. Sven-

    You still haven't come up with any explanation as to why that particular date. That something "is" does not answer "why". This question isn't that interesting for me since I find the answer obvious. It was simply something I tacked on at the end of this thread.

    In my view the day had to come before 7 October due to domestic political considerations. This was a common view at the time btw, and not just among foreigners living in Germany . . .