German Unity Day: A brief history of Germany's national holiday

German Unity Day: A brief history of Germany's national holiday

Every year, on October 3, the people of Germany take a public holiday to celebrate the Day of German Unity. While the day is officially celebrated as a commemoration of Germany’s reunification in 1990, it is also filled with fun spectacles such as fireworks displays and festivals. Here’s the lowdown on German Unity Day!

A brief history of Unity Day in Germany

After the Second World War, Germany was divided into four occupation zones, as result of the Potsdam Agreement on August 1, 1945. The management of these four zones were overseen by the governments of France, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia.

Over time, France, the US and the UK collaborated to align their sectors, eventually forming the Federal Republic of Germany, and West Berlin - following a Western European drive towards capitalism. Meanwhile, the Russian-governed sectors of East Germany (which became the German Democratic Republic) and East Berlin aligned itself with the communist Soviet bloc. 

As the Cold War picked up speed throughout the 1950s and 60s, tensions rose between the west and east of the country, and the two sides became physically separated from each other, despite sharing a common history, language and culture. While an inner German border was constructed between the two territories, the capital city of Berlin was also divided. In 1961, a wall was constructed around West Berlin, leaving it as an enclave in East German territory. 

berlin wall memorial

Germany was reunified in 1990

After more than 25 years of division, the collapse of the Berlin Wall symbolised the drive to reunite the country and put an end to the Cold War. After months of protests, demonstrations, and political discussions, Germany finally completed its reunification by delineating its external borders and returning to unification. 

The treaty that officially united East and West Germany stipulated October 3, 1990, as the day that both sides would merge and East Germany would join the West’s constitution. It is for this reason that German Unity Day is celebrated on October 3. 

German Unity Day celebrations

For Unity Day, celebrations take place in many different German cities over the national holiday. While each city has its own celebrations, there is also a larger celebration in one nominated host city for each year. In recent years, the main celebrations have been hosted in Potsdam, Kiel, Berlin, Mainz, Dresden and Frankfurt. Fittingly, the first ever Unity Day host city was the previously divided capital of Berlin

Aside from the host city, Berlin’s celebrations are the largest in the country. Unity Day festivities in the city are known to take place in areas with strong political and historical significance, such as the Platz der Republik, Straße des 17. Juni and the Brandenburg Gate. The capital’s celebrations include a festival featuring actors, comedians, musicians and poetry performers, food and drink stands and sweet stalls. 

German Unity Day

Image: Sergey Kohl /

Unity Day is a low-key affair for most Germans

While fireworks and official celebrations are an important part of Unity Day, many Germans often choose to spend the day relaxing with family and friends, as part of a more low-key public holiday.

Unlike patriotic celebrations in other countries, such as the US Independence Day, most people in Germany do not display German flags or attend military parades for Unity Day, rather opting to partake in festivities at home. This includes watching TV, which often broadcasts documentaries about German history, watching politicians make Unity Day speeches, and enjoying lunch or dinner with family. 

German Independence Day

While Germany doesn't have an independence day in the way that many other countries such as the United States, do, Unity Day is probably as close at it comes! However, unlike its American cousin, Unity Day is a more low-key event, spent with loved ones, rather than huge firework displays and patriotic ceremonies as national and independence days are often spent elsewhere.

Many people also see the day as an opportunity to get outside and enjoy the autumn before Germany’s cold winter weather comes in. Families picnic together in beauty spots and national parks, children play outside with friends, and everyone enjoys a slow morning without needing to set the alarm. 

Germany's Foreign Office has put together this Unity Day explainer, with subtitles in English, ahead of the celebrations.

Alternative Unity Day celebrations

If you don't fancy heading out in a huge crowd, but still want to take part in some of the celebrations, there are also lots of family-friendly activities in Germany that are perfect for Unity Day - special enough to differentiate October 3 from any normal day! 

Family activities to enjoy on the national holiday can include horseback riding around Berlin, German board games, karaoke, fun fairs, hiking and bike riding. 

However you choose to spend the day, we wish you a very happy Unity Day! 

Emily Proctor


Emily Proctor

Emily grew up in the UK before moving abroad to study International Relations and Chinese. After this, she obtained a Master's degree in International Security and gained an interest in...

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