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Germany

Germany's 60th Anniversary Party Slimmed Down

Many Germans who were looking forward to celebrations to mark their country's 60th anniversary are going to be disappointed. Instead of three days of party, there will be a rather more sedate one-day event.

Fireworks exploding around the Brandenburg gate

Will the new celebrations turn out to be a damp squib?

It's sobering news. While classical music lovers can still, in all likelihood, look forward to a concert with top conductor Kurt Masur, Rolling Stones fans will be devastated that a free concert featuring the rock band will now no longer take place. Other spectacular program events are also going to be axed.

The taxpayer rather than private sponsors will now pick up the bill for the new slimline version of the celebrations, which will be run by Germany's Federal Press Office. The costs are estimated to run to some 3.5 or 4.5 million euros.

It's my party ....

Crowds of German football fans waving flags

It's not that Germans don't like to party

What remains unclear is how much the change of plans is simply down to the effects of the recession currently hitting Germany, and how much it is the result of a political campaign against the proposed events -- the latter fueled, in part, by fears that the program would be hijacked by commercial interests, in particular by Germany's auto industry.

Government spokesman Thomas Steg said that the agency charged with organizing the celebrations, Media Event, had been unable to find enough sponsors. But he also added that it was important to remember that the party should be about "citizens celebrating themselves."

He said a one-day event would now take place on May 23 to celebrate both the anniversary of the signing of Germany's Basic Law, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany (then West Germany) in 1949 and the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall -- which actually takes place this November.

Brandenburg gate in 1989 with people standing on top of the Wall

The party near the Brandenburg Gate will also mark the Fall of the Wall

"We are a middle-sized, civilian power in Europe," said Steg, as he justified the slimming down of the plans.

German interior ministry spokesman Stefan Paris expressed "regret" at the pull-out by Media Event. He said that they had put forward a "very good and sound program," but that their decision had been guided by business considerations. The celebrations would now take place in a "reduced" form, Paris added.

But Media Event said in a letter published in Die Welt newspaper that a "political campaign" waged against the event had led existing sponsors to jump ship. "Understandably, no firm would like to be associated with an event that has been so badly mauled in the press." The agency was planning to finance the three-day bonanza almost exclusively with commercial sponsorship.

Political objections to the spectacle

The planned spectacle with a car show, a light and pyrotechnic show, celebrity chefs, as well as Mick Jagger and co., had come under heavy fire from the SPD in particular. The Social Democrats' Secretary-General Hubertus Heil described it as "unworthy and embarrassing", also dubbing it "a small-minded car show".

Senior Social Democrats had also criticized the fact that the keynote speakers on 23rd May did not include members of the SPD, Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition partners.

President of Germany's Constitutional Court, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Norbert Lammert, Speaker of the German Parliament, German President Horst Koehler and Peter Harry Carstensen, state governor of Schleswig Holstein, from left, pose for the media in Kiel, northern Germany, on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2006 during celebrations for the 16th anniversary of the unification of East and West Germany

Germany's national holiday celebrations are usually a rather gray affair

German president Horst Koehler, Chancellor Merkel and Parliamentary Speaker Norbert Lammert were due to address the crowds on the first day of the event. All of them are members of Merkel's CDU party. SPD chairman Franz Muentefering voiced fears of a "political event" that favored the CDU.

Berlin will work together with the states and citizens' associations to organize the new event.

Government spokesman said that politicians' speeches are not the main priority. He said the party should not "instrumentalized by political parties".

Besides the potential sensitivity of such an event in the current economic climate and an election year, Germany is notoriously ill at ease when it comes to national celebrations. Germany's national holiday on 3rd October -- that marks German reunification -- is a notably low-key affair worlds away from France's self-congratulatory July 14th spectacle.

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