Germany is celebrating 25 years since its national reunification. President Joachim Gauck has used the occasion to call for unity in handling the current refugee crisis.
German President Joachim Gauck said in a ceremony Saturday that there were parallels between German unification 25 years ago and current efforts to deal with a record influx of refugees.
"In 1990 there was also the legitimate question: 'Are we up to this challenge?' Then too, there was no example from history to follow," Gauck said in a keynote speech, part of three days of festivities to mark the silver anniversary of reunification. "But unlike then, those which previously didn't belong together will now grow together."
The capitalist West Germany and the communist East reunited on October 3, 1990, finalizing a process that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall nearly a year earlier. Around 1,300 guests attended Saturday's celebrations in Frankfurt's Opera House, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong Pyo. Also present were around 50 rights activists from the former East Germany and 30 refugees.
"Today we celebrate the courage and self-confidence of that time," Gauck said. "Let us use this memory as a bridge."
'No tolerance for intolerance'
Germany, Europe's biggest economy, is expecting to receive up to 1 million refugees this year - more than any other European country. Gauck urged for patience with the integration of migrants, saying it would take time for new arrivals to adjust to a different social order, "which is not infrequently in conflict with their own traditional norms."
He praised the warm welcome refugees had received in Germany so far, and thanked volunteers and government employees helping them to integrate. He also stressed that Germany's values were "not negotiable," condemning anti-Semitism and discrimination against women and homosexuals.
"Tolerance for intolerance is not acceptable," he said.
Merkel told reporters in Frankfurt on Saturday that migrant crisis represented a Herculean test for the European Union.
"Twenty-five years on, we are facing great challenges with the issue of refugees," she said. "Now too, we Germans will not be able to solve the problem on our own but only with Europe, with a fair division of the burden, and with the rest of the world."
October 3 is a public holiday in Germany, and celebrations to mark the occasion are expected to last until Sunday evening. By that time up to 1.5 million people from all over the country are expected to have attended over 300 events under the motto "Overcoming Borders."
On Saturday evening, visitors will be treated to a light show with 25 bridges - one for each year of unity - illuminated along Frankfurt's river Main.
The main architects of German unity, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, have said they cannot attend the celebrations for health reasons.
nm/ (AP, Reuters, dpa, KNA, epd)