Bundespräsident Frank-Walter Steinmeier described November 9 as “the German day par excellence”. At a memorial event at Bellevue Palace in Berlin on Tuesday, he said that this day “gives us hope for the good that is in our country, and it makes us despair in the face of its abysses”. Steinmeier had invited to commemorate the numerous, formative events in German history that fell on November 9th: the proclamation of the republic in 1918, the so-called Hitler putsch in 1923, the pogrom night of the National Socialists in 1938, the fall of the wall in 1989 and also the Assassination of the Paulskirchen Democrat Robert Blum in 1848. The guests included Chancellor Angela Merkel, Bundestag President Bärbel Bas and the President of the Federal Constitutional Court, Stephan Harbarth.
Steinmeier did not invite people to Bellevue Palace with the aim of holding a discussion about a national holiday other than October 3, as it is called in the President’s Office. Rather, his aim is to make the contradictions of German history clear through the memory of November 9th. “November 9th is certainly not a day of celebration, not a day for fireworks and military parades, like our friends in America celebrate their country on July 4th or our neighbors in France on July 14th,” said Steinmeier. It is also not a day of remembrance in the sense that we come together with a serious expression on “practiced and sometimes somewhat rigid rituals”, not a day “on which we already know exactly what it is that we are commemorating and what lessons we draw from it ”. Perhaps that is what constitutes “our patriotism”, said Steinmeier: “We can only love our country with its contradictions, but we can love it.” He advocated a “patriotism of the quiet tones”.
November 9th is not a “fateful day”, said Steinmeier, no matter how much this term is used year after year. Fate sounds like providence, like force majeure. “No, on November 9th there was always human strength at work. Forces of progress – and barbarism. Forces of liberation – and injustice. ”Especially because it is about human action, what Germans have done“ and what we learn from it for our actions ”, November 9th is“ an important day ”.
“It’s time to face it”
In his speech, Steinmeier asked why “a day of this weight” has so far only played a subordinate role in public commemoration. Perhaps, he replied, for a long time it had seemed “simply impossible” to do justice to November 9th precisely because it meant so much. “Precisely because it unsettles us.” The effort to avoid the day should be understandable. “But it is time to face it – with all its contradictions,” said the President. “November 9th is an ambivalent day, a light and a dark day. It makes our hearts pound and brings tears to our eyes. He gives us hope for the good that lies in our country and he makes us despair in the face of its abysses. “
November 9, 1938 commemorates the “human crime of the Shoah, six million Jews murdered,” said Steinmeier. The events of 1918 and 1989 were a reminder that freedom and democracy “do not fall from the sky” and are never guaranteed forever. But they also showed the “tremendous courage of democrats, a courage that we can take as an example”.
Before Steinmeier, the Holocaust survivor Margot Friedländer, the Green MP Emilia Fester and Roland Jahn, the last head of the Stasi records authority, spoke. Friedländer, who turned 100 a few days ago, remembered November 9, 1938: “We knew that this was the beginning of much worse that was yet to come.” Fester, the youngest member of the new MP, born in 1998 Bundestag, remembered the year 1918 and called for us to understand the “birthday of our parliamentary democracy” as a new beginning and to take it with us into the future. Jahn described the fall of the Wall as a “signal to the world” that dictatorship could be overcome.