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German Unity Day

October 3, 2011

Germany marked its 21st reunification anniversary in the former capital of Bonn. It was a significant showcase of unity against a backdrop of European disarray.

Merkel and other officials
Germany's political elite came to Bonn for Unity DayImage: dapd

Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Christian Wulff and a host of other public personalities celebrated 21 years of a reunited Germany with speeches in the former parliament building and a sprawling street fair on Monday.

As tens of thousands of visitors descended on sun-drenched Bonn to enjoy the public holiday, the country's political elite gathered for the formal festivities in the old parliament building for an ecumenical religious service and a speech by Andreas Vosskuhle, the president of the Federal Constitutional Court.

Security was especially tight after four men were temporarily held on Saturday under suspicion of planning a possible terrorist attack. The men, who have since been released, have connections to the German Islamist scene, police said, but no concrete plans were uncovered.

German identity linked to Europe

Vosskuhle's address was eagerly awaited since the Constitutional Court recently upheld Germany's participation in the bailout of bankrupt Greece, but not before stipulating that lawmakers must have more of a say in future rescue measures.

German High Court Justice Andreas Vosskuhle
Germany is committed to Europe, said VosskuhleImage: dapd

The justice said that Germany's identity has been "closely linked from the beginning with the commitment to Europe," and he lauded the East German in particular for uniting Germany.

"It was the East Germans who chanted 'we are the people; we are one people' and put an end to dictatorship in Germany and elsewhere in Europe," Vosskuhle said. "This moment has been burned into our collective memory. It not only united our country, but filled a void in our own history."

Looking at Europe and its numerous current difficulties - both political and fiscal - Vosskuhle had a word of warning for European institutions. He said they should not try to "immunize themselves against criticism from their citizens." He emphasized that "where Europe is going must not be decided by elite circles alone."

Debt crisis woes

This year's Unity Day celebrations also coincided with the 65th anniversary of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, formed after World War II and the division of Germany.

Visitors at the Unity Day street fair
Thousands enjoyed the late summer weatherImage: dapd

In light of the debt crisis in the European Union and calls to throw Greece out of the eurozone, the premier of Germany's most populous state, Hannelore Kraft, in her address, urged people not to return to old ideas of the individual nation-state.

"We are seeing that we have still not managed to prevent the excesses of the financial markets," Kraft said. "We are tempted after such experiences to pull back and go it alone. It would be a historic mistake to pursue that temptation. The supposed warmth of the good old days when going it alone seemed possible does not exist," she added.

Germany, as the European Union's biggest economy, is a key player in trying to stem the EU debt crisis, but the struggle to rescue Europe's debt-ridden countries is extremely unpopular in Germany.

And that was the touchiest issue at this year's Unity Day festivities: How to celebrate 21 years of a vibrant, successful and reunited Germany without fueling the popular sentiment to go it alone against a European Union which many Germans view as largely dysfunctional.

Author: Gregg Benzow (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson