On Oct. 3, 1990, East Germany and West Germany were at last reunited. Since then, the national day of celebration--equivalent to the Fourth of July--has become so important to Germans, here and there, that their Washington embassy gave not one but two great galas to celebrate it this month.
The first was a morning event on Oct. 1 for 350 guests. Juergen Chrobog, German ambassador to the United States since 1995, welcomed them as "excellencies, senators, congressmen, ladies and gentlemen." The second was an evening affair on Oct. 3 with 2,500 guests from the German community, as well as military, business and social acquaintances.
Chrobog pointed out that 1999 is notable because "we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of . . . the Grundgesetz, our constitution--a date which marks the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany."
This year marks another anniversary. Ten years ago, on Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.
The fall "ended an unnatural division of the German nation by a cruel wall separating families, relatives, friends and neighbors," Chrobog said at the recent dedication of eight pieces of the Berlin Wall at the Newseum's Freedom Park in Arlington. The display of wall pieces--the largest such exhibit outside Germany--and a guard tower from near the notorious Checkpoint Charlie border crossing are frightening reminders.
"As events rapidly unfolded in 1989," Chrobog remembered, " 'We are the people,' the cry chanted by East German demonstrators, became 'We are one people.'
"The fall of the Berlin Wall led much more quickly than most of us had expected to the reunification of Germany. The unified Germany has grown increasingly closer together--despite all the problems, which we by no means have fully overcome yet," he said.
In this anniversary year, "the German parliament and government are moving to Berlin. The city is Germany's past and future capital," Chrobog said. ". . . Berlin will come to crystallize the integration of East and West Germany."
In addition to all this food for thought, the ambassador and Magda Gohar-Chrobog, whose taste has become rightly renowned, hosted an Oktoberfest of plump German sausages, salmon, chicken, cucumber salad and roast beef loin, served on the loggia and south hillside of the embassy residence. There were also doughnuts without holes, called Berliner, and plenty of German wine and beer.
The spacious embassy residence reception rooms--where faces, manifestations of Parsifal, stare down from the upper walls--overflowed with guests. Social secretary Christa Bluehdorn, who put the list together, had tried not to leave anyone out.
Bluehdorn didn't reveal what magic she invoked to make a sunshiny morn and a dry, pleasant evening.
Berlin, in the person of Annette Fuggmann-Meesing, the city's first deputy mayor and finance senator, came to the Oct. 3 celebration on her way home from Atlanta. She said she had great hopes for her city, "the most interesting cultural city in Europe."
"We have much in common," she told the Chronicler, "not only Coca-Cola."
At both events, a uniformed German band played with enthusiasm both the American and German anthems.
At the morning event, Thomas Pickering, the State Department's political affairs undersecretary, said the Berlin Wall became "a line dividing a continent and ultimately the world. . . . For many years, we did not even dare to hope that we would see it end, much less that it would end peacefully and in our lifetimes. . . . German unification has become poetic shorthand for hope.
"In Berlin in 1963, President Kennedy declared that he, too, was a Berliner. To say that you are a Berliner today is to say you are a citizen of a free and unified country," Pickering said. ". . . I am a German, a Hungarian, a Latvian, a Slovene. . . . I am a citizen of a new and hopeful world."