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EQUALITY

What you should know about Frauentag in Germany

March 8th marks International Women’s Day, a global event calling for equality and celebrating achievements of women. In Germany, Frauentag has a long history dating back more than 100 years.

Women take part in a demo calling for equal rights on International Women's Day 2021 at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.
Women take part in a demo calling for equal rights on International Women's Day 2021 at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

What are the roots of Frauentag in Germany?

World Women’s Day was first celebrated on March 19th, 1911 in Germany – and neighbouring countries – at the suggestion of German Social Democrat Clara Zetkin, a key figure in Germany’s women’s rights movement.

More than one million women took to the streets on this first International Women’s Day demanding active and passive suffrage for women. And, in 1975, the United Nations made March 8th the “United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and World Peace”. 

In 2019, the day became an official public holiday in the German city state of Berlin.

Clara Zetkin during the International Congress on Legal Health and Safety at Work in Zurich in 1897. Photo: picture alliance/dpa

What’s the connection to East Germany?

The German Democratic Republic (GDR – former East Germany) was often dubbed a Frauenland (women’s country), a country of emancipation and equality for women – which was an official state goal in the GDR decades before there were comparable rules in the Federal Republic. 

As early as 1949, women were encouraged to participate in the workforce, something that was urgently needed for the national economy. Women’s Day was used to propagate this participation, a designated day consisting of speeches and an annual Grußwort (greeting) to GDR women from the ruling party’s Central Committee – however it remained a normal working day.

Women in the GDR would also be given poems and bouquets of flowers by children and partners alike. Specifically, it was tradition to receive red carnations.

Historically, gender equality has been a particular sticking point in the former West Germany. For instance, women still needed permission from their husbands to work until 1977.

In the months leading up to reunification, just over half of women in West Germany were employed in the workforce, compared with 91 percent of women in communist East Germany.

Some feminists based in western Germany took a critical view of Women’s Day in the Eastern Bloc states: “In the 1970s we did not know March 8th,” wrote editor of German feminist magazine Emma, Alice Schwarzer, in 2010 about what she called “Socialist Mother’s Day”.

READ ALSO: Women in Germany earn nearly a fifth less than men

Schwarzer pointed out that the holiday was only celebrated superficially, rather than used as an occasion to enact true social change.

While women in the East were more financially independent than those in the West – being encouraged to work from the beginning and able to open their own bank accounts without seeking permission from their husbands, women in the GDR were largely underrepresented in state positions, with only two women making it to ministerial posts.

The typical nuclear family with women taking care of the household and children also largely remained intact, despite their increased employment.

Nevertheless, many argue that Women’s Day enabled women in the GDR to feel appreciated, and encouraged many to push for true and realised equality.

How to celebrate Women’s Day 2022 in Germany

The Berlin official website lists a number of events held this year, including speeches by politicians and activists at the Clara Zetkin Monument in Marzahn-Hellersdorf, film, music and dance performances at FORUM Factory in Kreuzberg and “Purple Ride”, a bike demonstration from Mariannenplatz to Leopoldplatz.

Campaigners hold a sign that says 'every day is women's day' at a Frauentag demo in Berlin in 2021.

Campaigners hold a sign that says ‘every day is women’s day’ at a Frauentag demo in Berlin in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

For the full list of events check out the link here.

There will also be events around Germany, and women are often handed out flowers on the street (or you can gift the women in your life flowers). 

Is Frauentag a day off for all German residents?

No. International Women’s Day became a holiday in Berlin because the German capital was the Bundesland with least amount of Feiertage.

Politicians in Berlin had been pushing for a new public holiday, and voted for it to be on Frauentag in 2019. 

READ ALSO: What you should know about Berlin’s newest public holiday

Berlin now has 10 public holidays – but it’s still far behind Bavaria which has 13 public holidays. 

Meanwhile, the northern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania has voted for March 8th become a day off for Women’s Day. It will likely become a public holiday from 2023 onwards, with other states considering the move.

Regardless of where you live, celebrate female empowerment and the women around you with Germany’s 2022 Women’s Day slogan: “Der Wandel ist weiblich” (change is female).

READ ALSO: How you can make the most of Germany’s 2022 public holidays 

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CULTURE

How Germans are rethinking their way of death

Traditionally a very religious country, Germany is rethinking its way of death. One start-up is even claiming to have found a way of prolonging life - digitally at least - beyond the grave.

How Germans are rethinking their way of death

Youlo – a cheery contraction of “You Only Live Once” – allows people to record personal messages and videos for their loved ones, which are then secured for several years in a “digital tombstone”.

Unveiled at “Life And Death 2022” funeral fair in the northern city of Bremen this month, its creators claim it allows users to have their final word before they slip gently into the good night.

Traditionally, Lutheran northern Germany has long had a rather stiff and stern approach to death.

But as religion and ritual loosened their hold, the crowds at the fair show people are looking for alternative ways of marking their end – a trend some say has been helped by the coronavirus pandemic.

“With globalisation, more and more people live their lives far from where they were born,” said Corinna During, the woman behind Youlo.

When you live hundreds of kilometres from relatives, visiting a memorial can “demand a huge amount of effort”, she said.

And the Covid-19 pandemic has only “increased the necessity” to address the problem, she insisted.

READ ALSO: What to do when a foreigner dies in Germany

No longer taboo

During lockdowns, many families could only attend funerals by video link, while the existential threat coronavirus posed – some 136,000 people died in Germany – also seems to have challenged longtime taboos about death.

All this has been helped by the success of the German-made Netflix series “The Last Word” – a mould-breaking “dramedy” hailed for walking the fine line between comedy and tragedy when it comes to death and bereavement.

An angel figure stands on a grave at the Westfriedhof in Munich.

An angel figure stands on a grave at the Westfriedhof in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

Much like British comedian Ricky Gervais’ hit series “After Life”, which turns on a husband grieving the loss of his wife, the heroine of “The Last Word” embraces death and becomes a eulogist at funerals as her way of coping with the sudden death of her husband.

“Death shouldn’t be a taboo or shocking; we shouldn’t be taken unawares by it, and we certainly shouldn’t talk about it in veiled terms,” Bianca Hauda, the presenter of the popular podcast “Buried, Hauda”, told AFP.

It aims to “help people be less afraid and accept death,” she said.

“The coronavirus crisis will almost certainly leave a trace” on how Germans view death, said sociologist Frank Thieme, author of “Dying and Death in Germany”. He argued that there has been a change in the culture around death for “the last 20 to 25 years”.

These days, there are classes to teach you how to make your own coffin and even people who make a living writing personalised funeral speeches. Digital technology which was “barely acceptable not so long ago” was also beginning to make its mark, he said.

‘Straitjacket’

Historian Norbert Fischer of Hamburg University said they have been a shift toward individualism in the “culture of burials and grief since the beginning of the 21st century.

“The traditional social institutions of family, neighbourhood and church are losing their importance faced with a funeral culture marked by a much greater freedom of choice,” he said.

However, the change has been slower in Germany because “legal rules around funerals are much stricter than most other European countries,” said sociologist Thorsten Benkel, which is at odds with “what individuals aspire to”.

Some political parties like the Greens also want to loosen this legislative “straitjacket”, particularly the law known as the “Friedhofszwang”.

The 200-year-old rule bans coffins and urns being buried anywhere, but in a cemetery. Originally passed to prevent outbreaks of disease, it has been largely surpassed as a public health measure, particularly since cremation became popular.

Germany also had a very particular relationship with death in the aftermath of World War II.

Back in 1967, the celebrated psychoanalysts Margarete and Alexander Mitscherlich put Germany on the couch with their book “The Inability to Mourn”.

One of the most influential of the post-war era, the book argued that Germans had collectively swept the horrors committed by the Nazis in their name — and their own huge losses and suffering during the war –under the carpet.

Thankfully, said Benkel, mentalities have “changed an awful lot since”.

By David COURBET

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