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.
If it’s an authentic experience of the Bavarian mountain culture you seek, you needn’t head for the foothills of the Alps south of Munich.
Rather, if you’re in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, a more convenient—and less mountainous—destination lies at hand.
Head to the “Deutsche Halle” of the Delaware Sängerbund in Newark, DE (that’s Delaware, not Deutschland!) for a festive dance performance by the Enzian Volkstanzgruppe—the traditional Alpine dance ensemble of the Sängerbund—founded 1853, making it one of the oldest German social clubs in the country.
The Enzian Volkstanzgruppe, or EVTG, founded in 1968, has been keeping the German mountain traditions alive for 50 years now. On Saturday, September 15, 2018, the dance troupe members along with many friends and guests from the Gauverband Nordamerika—the association of 72 member Vereine dedicated to preserving Alpine traditions—gathered to celebrate the 50th “Stiftungsfest” or founding, of the EVTG.
It is no secret that Germans have some of the best beer. The country also has plenty of beer gardens. On a beautiful, sunny afternoon, these beer gardens are often filled with people. After all, most of these locales are outside (thus the term beer “garden”). Beer gardens are emptier when it rains, although some brave souls may choose to sit under the umbrellas. If you’re in the mood for a beer and good company, you may find yourself wishing for Biergartenwetter. Biergartenwetter is the German word for “beer garden weather”, and it describes the most favorable weather conditions to enjoy a day at the beer garden. Biergartenwetter is usually sunny and warm (but not too hot). Imagine a 70 degree day with plenty of sunshine and perhaps an occasionally passing cloud: the perfect beer garden weather!
But even if you have no plans to visit a beer garden, you can still use the term Biergartenwetter to describe the beautiful weather. In Germany, even weather channels will sometimes talk about Biergartenwetter in the forecast. When you step outside and feel the rays on your shoulders, you may be tempted to go meet your friends at a Biergarten – even if you’re just having a soda (or a snack). Better yet: pack a picnic basket with bread, radish, cheese and sausage to take with you and just buy an Apfelschorle at the Biergarten, as many Germans do. Because after all, who wouldn’t want to soak up the sun with friends at a Biergarten?
The 61st annual German-American Steuben Parade was held in New York City over the weekend, once again bringing out thousands of spectators to celebrate German-American friendship, culture, history and heritage.
Germans and Americans lined the parade route, wearing traditional German clothing (including the famous Dirndl and Lederhosen), waving German flags and cheering on those who marched in the parade. The parade featured many different marching divisions and even showcased old German cars. The German Embassy featured a float that promoted the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift – a mission in which the United States and the United Kingdom airlifted food and fuel to the people of Berlin after the Soviets blockaded the city in 1948 and 1949. The Airlift is considered a turning point after the Second World War for the German-American friendship.
At the end of the parade route, the Steuben Parade Oktoberfest served thousands of hungry people in Central Park. Featuring German food and live bands, the afternoon of September 15 once again marked an important occasion for the German-American community in New York.
The parade is one of the largest German-American events in the world and is named in honor of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (1730-1793), a Prussian general who came to the United States to support General George Washington in the American Revolution. Similar parades and festivities are also held annually in Philadelphia and Chicago.
This week, we are introducing one of our interns in the economics department at the German Embassy. Our Q&A with Tijen sheds light on her experience as a German in the US – and the Embassy!
Name: Tijen Ataoğlu
Where you’re from: I am from Cologne which is located in North Rhine-Westphalia.
What is one project or activity you enjoyed at the Embassy?
Since I worked for the economics department, I participated in many interesting projects and activities. Attending an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies with the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was my personal highlight. He came to Washington in order to negotiate trade tariffs with President Trump. Following their meeting he held a speech about the importance of the partnership between the European Union and the United States.
The annual Steuben Parade is getting ready to kick off! On September 15, we will be participating in the parade along New York City’s Fifth Avenue. And it’s one we definitely can’t miss: the Steuben Parade is one of the largest gatherings of German- Americans in the world!
Thousands of participants and spectators attend the annual parade, and we can’t wait to be among them! Let’s take a look at who this large event is named after:
Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (1730-1794) has long been a symbol of German-American friendship. The Prussian-born military officer fought in two major wars, but is best known for his contributions on American soil. His experience gained during the Seven Years’ War equipped him with a wealth of military knowledge that helped the young man rise in the ranks. When he was in his thirties, he found himself in debt, and hoped to find employment in a foreign army to gather funds. In 1777, the young baron was introduced to General George Washington by means of a letter. Soon thereafter, he was on his way to the United States, where he offered to volunteer his services without pay. Arrangements were made so that Steuben would be paid for his services after the war, based on his contributions.
And he did not fail to impress: Von Steuben became inspector general and major general of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and he is often credited as being one of the founders of the Continental Army. In the final years of the war, the Prussian-born military officer even served as General Washington’s chief of staff. Finally, in 1784, he became an American citizen.
Today, there are celebrations throughout the US that are named after Von Steuben, including the German-American Steuben Parades in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. There is also a Steuben Society, an educational and fraternal organization that was founded in 1919 to help organize the German-American community. We even have a statue of Von Steuben at the German Embassy in Washington!
As we celebrate German-American friendship, culture and heritage, Von Steuben is a name that we will always remember.