It’s that time of year again: Halloween season! Although this spooky holiday is predominately celebrated with costumes in the United States, many autumn traditions are also celebrated in Germany. In fact, Germany is home to the largest pumpkin festival in the world!
Each fall, the Ludwigsburg Castle (near Stuttgart) hosts a large exhibition of pumpkins, which are shaped as extravagant sculptures based on a particular theme. This year’s theme is “Pumpkin Forest” and features pumpkin sculptures of woodland creatures like foxes. Typically, more than 450,000 pumpkins in 600 varieties are used to create the pumpkin sculptures that bring tourists from near and far.
The festival also hosts some unusual activities, such as pumpkin boat races in which people paddle across a lake in a giant pumpkin. There is also an annual competition to find the largest pumpkin and a pumpkin smashing ritual at the end of the season. That makes your typical pumpkin farms look mediocre in comparison!
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, which was often described as the “war to end all wars.”
Remembering the Great War is of utmost importance to the Federal Foreign Office. This week, a series of events kicked off in Berlin to look back on the events before and after 1918.
“The future needs remembrance,” said Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on October 11. “The European Union is a unique example in world history for successful conflict resolution. We should be proud of the lessons we have learnt from our shared history, of what we have achieved. And – in awareness of the past – to protect and promote this.”
Together with French politician Jean Yves Le Drian, Minister Maas opened the two-day conference “Winning Peace – the end of the First World War with its history, remembrance and current challenges”. Several other events will take place in October and November to reflect on the war, including an international Youth for Peace meeting in Berlin with more than 500 young people from 52 countries.
Four-time break-dance world champions the Flying Steps held a special performance at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to kick-start our year-long campaign, Wunderbar Together – a celebration of the German-American friendship.
The B-Boy crew, which has been around since 1993, combined break-dancing with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach for a one-of-a-kind performance in the nation’s capital.
The show took place during the opening week of our Wunderbar Together campaign, which celebrates the transatlantic partnership between the US and Germany through dialogue, experience and exchange.
The Flying Steps crew was formed by Vartan Bassil and Kadir „Amigo” Memis in Berlin, Germany. Currently the group consists of nine members. In 2007, the group established the Flying Steps Academy, which is the largest urban dance school in Germany. The group is currently on tour in the US.
It’s the most eventful season of the year for us at the German Embassy! Important anniversaries take place in the autumn, including the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Day of German Unity and the events leading up to and following those historic moments in history. Wednesday is German Unity Day, which celebrates Germany’s reunification on October 3, 1990. Let’s look at some important dates leading up to this historic moment:
September 20, 1990
On this day in history, the legislative chambers of East and West Germany voted in favor of unifying the two parts of Germany. Almost a year prior, the border between the East and the West was opened, but the country had not yet been united politically. After many months of discussions, the West German Bundestag voted 442 to 47 in favor of reunification and the East German Volkskammer voted 299 to 80.
September 23-29, 1990
The German Unification Treaty was signed on September 23. It stated that the territory of the former German Democratic Republic, as reestablished “Länder” (federal states), would accede to the Federal Republic of Germany in accordance with Article 23 of the Basic Law. On September 28, the Federal Statute was published in the Bundesgesetzblatt, which is where the Federal Republic publishes its official laws of the nation. The treaty was entered into force on September 29.
October 3, 1990
Germany was officially reunified and its five states, which had been abolished in 1952, were reinstated as regions of one country. East and West Berlin became one unified city and the German flag was raised above the Brandenburg Gate. As you can imagine – and as some of you may remember – the celebrations on October 3, 1990 were massive – and they continue to this day. Are you celebrating German Unity Day this year?
Berlin, Berlin…What can we say about you? To explain it to Americans is to say it is a mix of New York and Washington. It is both a haven for policy wonks and government interns, but also stays up all night and attracts those searching to live an alternative lifestyle. So before you go, here’s what you should know about Germany’s capital.
Carnival of cultures
By any standard, Berlin is an international city. Its population, albeit ever transient, is made up of 13% people of a non-German background. In fact, Berlin has the largest Turkish population outside of Turkey! Much like New York, Berlin’s collection of cultures is reflected in their food offerings—with Turkish, Japanese, and Greek food as commonly found as traditionally German restaurants.
Berlin wasn’t always the capital
Bonn was the capital of West Germany previous to the fall of the wall. Berlin became the official capital of a reunified Germany in 1990.
We are gearing up to celebrate German Unity Day on October 3. This national holiday celebrates the anniversary of German reunification in 1990 – the day that East Germany and West Germany came together as one country. German Unity Day is to Germans what Fourth of July is to Americans – except for the fact that it is a much more recent holiday.
Germany’s national holiday has changed several times in history. Before 1871, Germany consisted of various kingdoms and principalities. Once these regions united into an empire, there was still no national holiday – but there was a celebration of the victory in the Franco-Prussion War, the so-called Sedantag. The date was changed and debated on several times, but eventually the Sedantag celebration was moved to January 18.
From 1947 through the end of 1948 my family lived in Berlin, where my father was assigned to the U.S. Office of Military Government. I was only two years old at that time, so I have no personal recollection of our life in Berlin or of the Airlift in particular. In later years, however, I have read a number of books on the subject of the Berlin Airlift; it is based on my reading that I offer my response to the Deutschland-Nachrichten editorial regarding the Berlin Airlift.
I think it is important, when considering the impressive amounts of food and fuel delivered during the Berlin Airlift, to remember that the Allies did not do this alone. The Allies were in one instance influenced by, and in other instances assisted by, German people.
Let me start with the German children who inspired pilot Gail Halvorsen. As has been recounted, Halvorsen had spent some off-duty time at Tempelhof Airport on July 17, 1948. While recording movies with his hand-held camera, he began to interact with German children who were there to watch the airplanes land. In later years Halvorsen wrote that he saw in the eyes of these children knowledge they should not have had at their young ages – knowledge of the difficulties and cruelties brought on by war. Halvorsen impulsively took out two sticks of chewing gum that he had in his pocket. He handed them to two nearby children and watched as the children carefully divided the gum into as many pieces as possible so that other children could share this unexpected treat. There was no disagreement or fighting among the children. It was this behavior and attitude shown by the children that prompted Halvorsen to tell them that he would return during his next flight and drop candy and gum for them. Halvorsen’s drops to the children eventually came to the attention of General Tunner, who gave his approval and named these candy drops by Halvorsen and other pilots “Operation Little Vittels”.
Cologne is not the most picturesque city one can imagine. We admit it lacks the sprawling old town and magnificent castles that many acquaint with Germany. But whilst much of the city was destroyed during WW2, the area surrounding the banks of the Rhine immediately by the Dom (Cathedral) still boasts various beautiful buildings. Besides, as we all know, it’s what’s on the inside that counts and you would be hard-pressed to find a friendlier city in Germany!
The one huge exception from the above-mentioned rule, is Cologne’s crown jewel; the Dom. As Germany’s most visited landmark, this magnificent cathedral has drawn people to the city for decades. At 157m, it is the tallest twin-spired church in the world and attracts between 20,000 and 30,000 visitors a day.
Three Wise Men
According to legend, the relics of the Three Wise Men are housed in the golden Shrine of the Three Kings in the Cologne Cathedral. They were transferred there by Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor in 1164. To honor the Three Kings, the coat of arms of Cologne prominently incorporates three golden crowns.
Universität zu Köln
Founded in 1388, the University of Cologne missed out on the title of oldest German University by just two years to Heidelberg. It is nevertheless one of the oldest universities in all of Europe and boasts over 50,000 students, making it the second largest university in Germany.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Berlin Airlift of 1948 and 1949, which is widely considered a turning point in the German-American relationship.
After the end of the Second World War, Germany was divided into the American, British, French and Soviet occupation zones. Although Berlin lay within the Soviet occupation zone, the city itself was also divided into four sectors. In 1948, the Allied nations created a single new currency – the Deutsche Mark – for their occupation zones. The Soviets were displeased with this move, fearing that this new currency would devalue the Reichsmark they were using in the East. As a result, they began a blockade of West Berlin, hoping to starve the western powers out of the city. Without the intervention of the Allies, there would have been a humanitarian disaster and many people would have starved to death.
“Ostalgie” is a special kind of nostalgia. In the US, some people collect old soda and gas station signs or old cars. All over the world there are also people who collect old relics from the former East Germany. Trabis, GDR signs, East German food, TV shows – all are examples of Ostalgie.
The “Trabi” may not be the fastest car, or the prettiest car, or even a good car for that matter, but for anyone who has a touch of “Ostalgie,” it is the perfect cure. People in East German would literally register their children at birth for Trabants, in the hopes that by the time he or she turned 18, a car would be available. Trabi enthusiasts can still be found all around the world. In the US, there is an annual Trabi Parade in DC to mark the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Rotkäppchen is one of the few East German brands that survived reunification, and is still widely enjoyed in both the East and West.
The film company DEFA produced a huge chunk of East German television programming. Its fairy tale series was particularly beloved by children. Most of the full length films are still available on YouTube.
4. Berlin Wall pieces
While not strictly a piece of “Ostalgie” the Berlin Wall is nevertheless one of the most symbolic parts of East Germany. Today, pieces of the Berlin wall are attached to key chains, magnets, or used as paper weights. For some, the wall is still a symbol of forty years under a surveillance state. Others, though, see it as a symbol of hard-fought freedom.
5.Pittiplatsch and Friends
Pittiplatsch the kobold and his companions were a staple in East German children’s television. Pittiplatsch dolls are still around to buy, and the older episodes are available online.