Germany's celebrated its 32nd Unity Day on Monday. But this year, the tone of thefestivities was more muted than in previous celebrations as the effects of the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis are felt more keenly across the country every day.
The national holiday marks when the formerly divided Germany became one country again in 1990.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived at the ceremony in Erfurt, the capital of the eastern state of Thuringia, looking gaunt and pale after recently recovering from COVID-19.
In a short speech, he recalled the words of former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, also a Social Democrat (SPD), who said that things "must grow together that belong together." Scholz also sought to assuage worries about a looming energy crisis, promising continued government involvement to protect consumers as much as possible.
Like Scholz, Bundestag President Bärbel Bas used the occasion to call for solidarity in trying times.
"Since 1990, we Germans have overcome many crises and upheavals," she said. "The most important reason for that was and is: We stick together!"
Bas acknowledged that "the celebrations come at a difficult time this year," as inflation nears 10%.
"The consequences of the war in Ukraine and of climate change are causing many people to worry," she said, but added, "How we treat one another shows the strength of our country. We have to look after each other."
Bas counseled Germany's political parties not to pick fights and instead to work together in trying times.
Former East fears losing hard-won gains
Thuringia's premier, Bodo Ramelow of the Left Party, took a slightly different tack. He highlighted how the current crises are particularly worrying to those in what was East Germany who worked hard to rebuild after reunification and have at times felt economically left behind by the prosperity seen in most of the country's west.
"Whether it's the coronavirus pandemic or the energy shortage, the current crises are bringing what wasn't working before, and our pre-existing differences into the spotlight," Ramelow said. He added that while eastern Germany had made huge strides in terms of development, the misunderstandings and disappointments on both sides "are far too seldom taken into account."
Unity Day celebrations were being held in Erfurt because Ramelow currently holds the rotating presidency of Germany's upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat. The city erected 16 pavillions to represent the country's 16 states, with interactive exhibits as well as live music and other artistic performances taking place throughout the streets.
A strong police presence meant that signs of protest were limited, though some thousands of demonstrators had indicated their desire to march in other cities in Thuringia to demand an end to the skyrocketing consumer costs as well as the end of the war in Ukraine.
The premiers of other states in the former East Germany, such as Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt, have also expressed concerns about the possible fragility of the hard-won economic success in the region following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
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es/sms (dpa, AFP, KNA)