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Unity and division

Dagmar Engel / cbOctober 3, 2014

The German national holiday is called the Day of German Unity. This unity is 24 years old - and yet many people still focus on things that separate east and west. That needs to change, says DW's Dagmar Engel.

Crowds celebrate German unity on October 3, 1990. (Photo:
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Germans aren't really happy with October 3 as their national holiday. The date is purely technical. It was set 24 years ago, because election time limits called for it. In short, Germans aren't exactly in the mood to celebrate when their national holiday rolls around.

Germany's Day of Unity, or Einheitsfeier, is an annual occasion to check how unified the country really is. Every year brings with it new statistics - so let's have a look at them for the 24th time. Economically speaking, the federal states belonging to the former East Germany are lagging behind - by about a third. Workers in Brandenburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Saxony, and Thuringia earn significantly less on average. Only every fifth western German has ever been to the east. From that perspective, unity looks a little different.

There are a few things to keep in mind, though: there are some regions in western Germany where the economic engine isn't exactly roaring. And the pensions in the west are much lower than those in the east, even though living costs are significantly higher. The infrastructure in the west is dilapidated, women earn less than men everywhere in Germany and hardly anyone from Bavaria has ever been to the northern German state of Lower Saxony.

Dagmar Engel. (Photo: DW)
DW's Dagmar EngelImage: DW/S. Eichberg

The discrepancies haven't disappeared, but they are evenly distributed. Eastern and western Germans both believe each other to be totally different, while they are in fact pretty close in what matters most to them: wages, family, friends and relationships are all equally high up on the list. And the freedom considered to be most important by both is freedom of expression.

Let's be happy!

I believe it is time to regard the factors that unite us higher than those that divide us. For example, a majority of all Germans supports the idea that Germany should be more involved in international crises. That's new. It's time for the citizens of the most heavily populated and economically strongest nation in Europe to become more aware of their responsibility and to take on a new role.

This debate would be worthy of a national holiday.

The term "nation" is a difficult one, because it was abused in German history. But the young people in this country don't see themselves as East or West Germans, but simply as Germans - or even Europeans.

We obviously don't have to rename the Day of German Unity. Let's be happy that no one inside or outside the country is even considering the possibility of breaking up this union again. Let's be happy that we who belong together anyway are together now. Let's be happy that we have a national holiday, enjoy this day off we all have in common - and celebrate!