The band struck the first chords of the German national anthem and around the fountain in the little Friendship Garden, the patriotism suddenly became poignant.

Many knew the words. You could tell because, standing with their hands clasped in front of them, they moved their lips to the music. The men in Bavarian hats, the women in the traditional dirndl, the boys and the girls holding the flags.

Few sang strongly, almost as if the very playing of the anthem was all that was needed.

And in that almost silent, moving way, the third German-American Day Festival on the Mall celebrated what a year earlier was inconceivable -- the reunification of East and West Germany.

"This year, I think, is a very, very special day," said Gunter Pleuger, the new Germany's minister for political affairs in Washington.

"We have every reason to celebrate. Just several days ago, a dream has come true," he said.

And celebrate they have.

Yesterday's festival, now a fixture near the Washington Monument every October, was one of many parties and receptions German Americans say they have attended during the last few days.

Erika and Karl Dziggel, who emigrated in 1956, toasted unification day with champagne. The members of the Edelweiss Club in Baltimore, which was co-founded by Karl Dziggel, who also served as president, have had a hot time of it in Baltimore.

Many said the event brought them closer together as a people, and for the first time allowed them to express a patriotic spirit they felt had been denied them.

"My great-grandfather and my great-grandmother, all the way back four generations, and I'm very much a German," said Emma L. Thau-Hedges, a native Baltimorean.

The festival, like the German-American Friendship Garden near the Washington Monument, celebrates a bond that traces back three centuries, when the first Germans arrived in the United States.

There are now 60 million Americans of German descent.

Elsbeth M. Seewald, the national president of the German-American National Congress, said the re-creation of one Germany has had a profound effect, especially since it was accomplished without conflict.

"To me, that is the most beautiful thing. This was done with everybody's approval," said Seewald, whose organization is based in Chicago.

"This is important," she said. "This is why I'm so happy."

Sponsored by the Association of German-American Societies of Greater Washington, D.C., the festival commemorates the German contributions in the United States and the bond that has been forged between the countries.

It is a relationship that has been strengthened over the past few months, said Pleuger. For German Americans, especially first-generation immigrants, that has translated into a personal amity they said they had not previously experienced.

As they celebrated the historic events in their homeland, especially over the past week, even strangers seemed to take an interest.

"People came up to me and said, 'Congratulations,' " said Elsbeth Hoff, who in 1968 left what until Wednesday was East Germany.

"It's the first time you have been recognized, even with an accent like mine, as a German. The meaning of this is so incredible."