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What Germany is saying about the US elections

While politicians in Germany could not yet fully comment on the US vote, which was still being counted as of Wednesday evening, many were concerned about what they saw as an "attack" on democracy.

What Germany is saying about the US elections
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaking in Berlin on November 3rd. Photo: DPA

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Wednesday urged America's politicians to help maintain “trust” in the electoral system after President Donald Trump prematurely declared victory in the tightly contested race.

“It is important that all politicians who reach people directly, establish trust in the electoral process and the results,” Maas said in a statement, adding that it would be “premature” to comment further given that ballots were still being counted.

“We must now be patient,” said the minister, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

Trump had declared himself the winner before all the votes were counted and announced that he wanted to have another count stopped by the US Supreme Court. 

READ ALSO: US-German relations 'on life support' after four years of Trump

The German government as a whole did not want to comment on Trump’s statement Wednesday, pointing out that the final result of the election was still missing. 

“As long as that is the case, the German government is following everything closely, but it does not comment on the state of affairs,” said government spokesman Steffen Seibert.

'Acting anti-democratically'

However, the Social Democrats (SPD), Left Party (Die Linke), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) strongly criticised Trump's statement.

“A candidate, even if he is the incumbent president, who calls for postal votes not to be counted any further, is acting anti-democratically”, SPD leader Saskia Esken told the Rheinische Post. 

Left leader Bernd Riexinger spoke of a “renewed attack on democracy”, and the Green party politician Reinhard Bütikofer called it an “unprecedented attack”. There had not been anything comparable since the founding of the United States more than 230 years ago, he said.

FDP leader Christian Lindner predicted a “dramatic conflict situation” on public broadcaster ZDF. This could have unforeseeable consequences for the US, but also for the rest of the world, he said. 

“A situation will of course arise in which the United States may not be able to act at all on the international level. They will then only deal with themselves.”

The German government's Transatlantic Coordinator, Peter Beyer, expressed concern that violent clashes could occur if the situation is prolonged. 

“If it takes time to reach a legally binding decision on the election winner, it is to be feared that confrontations between the two camps will also occur on the streets,” the CDU politician told DPA. 

But he added: “I consider the scenario of a civil war to be completely exaggerated.”

The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) was the only party represented in the Bundestag to react cautiously to Trump's premature declaration of victory.

“(Trump's statement) is probably due to the excitement of the election,” party leader Jörg Meuthen told DPA in Berlin, saying that no one needs to worry about the functioning of democracy in the USA.

In Germany, many had hoped for a Biden win. In pre-election polls, a large majority had hoped for the Democratic Party's challenger as US president, with only about one in ten people in favour of Trump.

German-American relations have plummeted to a low point following the election of the the 74-year-old. For four years, he regarded Germany primarily as a rival and not an ally, and even put pressure on it with sanctions.

'We are not prepared for this'

Re-election would catch the German government cold, says CDU foreign policy expert Norbert Röttgen.

“We are not prepared for this,” the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag told ARD television. 

If Trump were to remain president for another four years, there would be an increase in everything that had been experienced in the first term of office. “It makes a difference whether you doubt NATO for four years or whether that happens for eight years.”

READ ALSO: Germans 'more worried about Trump than coronavirus'

Beyer stressed, however, that Germany would have to strive for constructive cooperation with the US even if Trump won the elections. 

“It would be downright irresponsible of us to definitely retreat into the dung heap if Trump wins,” he said.

Before the election, Maas had announced that, regardless of the outcome, he would approach the US with proposals for a fresh start in transatlantic relations. He spoke of a “New Deal”.

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GERMANY EXPLAINED

EXPLAINED: How October 3rd became Germany’s national holiday

Compared to many other countries, October 3rd is a relatively new nationwide holiday, marking 32 years since German reunification. Aaron Burnett explains the background to it and why it's celebrated on this particular date.

EXPLAINED: How October 3rd became Germany's national holiday

Independence Day in the United States dates all the way back to 1776. Canada Day, celebrated on July 1st, goes back to 1867. France’s Bastille Day on July 14th commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789.

Compared to those national holidays, Germany’s October 3rd is fairly recent, having only been around since 1990.

October 3rd – or Tag der Deutschen Einheit – marks the date that the former West and East Germany officially became one country again, after being divided since the end of WWII. In 2022 it’s celebrated on a Monday, meaning many people will get a long weekend. 

Between 1945 and 1949, the country was split into four occupation zones – held by the Americans, British, French, and the then Soviets. In 1949 the Soviet zone became the communist East Germany – or Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), while the rest of the country became the West German Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD).

The Bundesrepublik continues today, but now with the five eastern federal states, plus East Berlin, that were formerly in the DDR.

Why October 3rd and not November 9th?

Less than a year before official reunification on October 3rd, 1990, the Berlin Wall fell on November 9th, 1989.

At first glance, November 9th might seem a better day to commemorate as a national day.

Growing up in Canada, my Gelsenkirchen-born Oma used to talk about the Berlin Wall falling with a slight waver in her voice – and sometimes even tears – decades after it crumbled before her eyes on her television screen.

November 9th, 1989 is remembered by many Germans as the happiest day in the history of the country, but the anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall is not observed as a national holiday.

‘It was the happiest day in German history,’ she told me at the time. ‘People were just so amazed at seeing that and no one really thought it would actually happen and guck mal – there it was. It was very emotional at the time and I guess I still am too,’ she would say.

READ ALSO: ‘There was a human tide moving’: Berliner remembers crossing the Wall

For Oma and many other German-Canadians I grew up around, Unity Day felt a little less momentous than November 9th. To them, October 3rd was an important day to observe, but conjured up a few less emotions.

‘November 9th suddenly made the dream of having a unified Germany again seem possible,’ my teacher at Calgary’s German-Canadian Club told me years ago. ‘By the time it was actually official, it just seemed like the final step of something that had been going on for a while already.’

To my Oma, my teacher, and others I grew up around who remembered that time – German reunification seemed inevitable within days of the Wall falling. But it wasn’t necessarily guaranteed. Even after the Wall fell, the DDR and BRD remained separate countries at first.

The months between November 9th, 1989 and October 3rd, 1990 were momentous – and saw several additional events that would pave the way for reunification.

On March 18th, 1990, the DDR would hold its first – and only – free and democratic elections. Won by the East German Christian Democrats, their leader Lothar de Maiziere served as GDR Premier until reunification on October 3rd.

Lothar de Maiziere, the first and only democratically elected leader of East Germany, at a German reunification celebration on October 3rd, 2020.

In Spring 1990, Bonn and Berlin agreed to convert the East German Ostmark – which was practically worthless at the time – to the West German Deutschmark on a largely 1 for 1 basis, with most salaries, prices, and savings being converted straight over.

Finally, the process for legal reunification took months, with the signing of an economic and currency union, the reconstituting of the five eastern federal states that had been abolished in communist times, the official reunification treaty, and the treaty that saw the WWII allies renounce all rights and responsibilities in Germany.

READ ALSO: What unity means to eastern Germans

At the stroke of midnight on October 3rd, 1990 – a reunified Germany became a fully sovereign state for the first time since WWII. That was thanks in large part to both political will and legal work in the months immediately following the Wall’s fall.

Although it seems so normal now, reunification was never guaranteed, which is part of why October 3rd enjoys and deserves its own special commemoration.

November 9th – German history’s double edge

The other major reason why October 3rd serves as Germany’s national day instead of November 9th is that November 9th, while associated with the happy elation of witnessing the Berlin Wall crumble, is also linked to many other momentous – and often solemn – historical commemorations.

On November 9th, 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated. Within hours, the Social Democrats and the Communist Party both declared the Weimar Republic and a ‘free, socialist republic,’ respectively. It would serve as the first sign of political instability that eventually allowed the Nazis to take power.

On November 9th, 1923, Adolf Hitler attempted a coup that started in a Munich beer hall. He was arrested and wrote Mein Kampf during his time in jail.

November 9th was not chosen as Germany’s national day partly because of the solemn commemorations attached to it, such as Kristallnacht on November 9th, 1938.

And on November 9th, 1938, Jewish businesses and synagogues were violently targeted during Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass.” At least 90 Jews were killed and 30,000 deported.

As happy as November 9th, 1989 was, commemorating it as Germany’s national day would be problematic given the other solemn observances attached to it, which is also part of why October 3rd was chosen.

READ ALSO: Why November 9th is a fateful day in German history

What days does October 3rd replace?

Both East and West Germany had national holidays before reunification. The DDR observed ‘Republic Day’ on October 7th, the anniversary of its founding in 1949. Before 1990, the BRD commemorated June 17th, or the anniversary of the East German uprising in 1953.

October 3rd replaced both days as the national day of celebration. 

Where can you celebrate it?

Unity Day is a national holiday with celebrations readily found around the country.

In Bavaria, Oktoberfest remains open until October 3rd partly to mark the occasion. In Berlin, festivities are readily found around the Brandenburg Gate.

However, each year, a major city plays host to official celebrations and the Unity Day Bürgerfest, or ‘Citizen’s Festival.’ The host city is in the federal state presiding over the Bundesrat – Germany’s upper legislative chamber – that particular year.

For 2022, Erfurt – the state capital of Thuringia – is the host, and next year will see Hamburg take over hosting duties.

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