National Day of Mourning

We at the German-American Heritage Foundation would like to honor the members of the German Armed Forces who died in both of the world wars, the citizens who died in armed conflicts, and the victims of violent oppression this Sunday on Germany’s National Day of Mourning.

Sunday, November 19th is Volkstrauertag (People’s Day of Mourning). It is a public holiday that commemorates fallen soldiers as well as civilians during armed conflict and violent oppressions. This day of remembrance is always held two Sundays before the first day of Advent, as this time of the year is the end of the Liturgical Year and is typically a time to remember the dead and think about time and eternity.

However, Volkstrauertag was not always the day that it is now. From 1934 to 1945, the Nazi (National Socialist) Party changed it to Heldengedenktag (“Day of Commemoration of Heroes”) that sought more to commemorate war heroes and instead of being about remembering the dead. Upon the end of the Nazi Regime in 1945, this day was no longer widely celebrated. Then, in 1948, Volkstrauertag was observed in West Germany and the day of remembrance was moved to two weeks before Advent. The scope of the day was also broadened during this time period to include those who died from violence committed by an oppressive government.

This day is observed in Germany with an official memorial in the Bundestag that involves a speech given by the President and Chancellor as well as members of the Bundestag singing the National Anthem and “Der gute Kamerad” (The Good Comrade) which is a soldier’s song. Throughout Germany, there are also memorial services held in churches. National Day of Mourning is also classified as a “silent day”, which means that in some regions of the country, music and dance events are prohibited in order to respectfully honor the fallen.

Written by Emily Beeland 

Sankt Martin’s Day

Laterne, Laterne,  Sonne, Mond und Sterne.  Brenne auf mein Licht,  Brenne auf mein Licht,  aber nur meine liebe Laterne nicht. 

     Walking through the streets of a German town the evening of November 11th you might hear children singing this song as they carry hand crafted Paper Lanterns through the streets. The above text is the first verse of a Popular German Sankt Martin’s song.  

     Sankt Martin is celebrated in Germany every year the evening of November 11th. It is a fest dedicated to St. Martin of Tours and his modesty and altruism. The legend, known by all children in Germany, states that St. Martin saved a homeless man from freezing to death by giving him half of his cloak.  

     In the weeks leading up to Sankt Martin’s Day children make their own paper lanterns, either at school or at home. Then in the evening, a person dressed up as a Roman soldier riding on a horse, to signify St. Martin, leads a Lantern Procession through the town. As the children walk through the streets they carry their Lanterns and sing songs similar to the ones above. At the end of the procession Glühwein and sweet pastries are served.  

     Originally the holiday was followed by a fast that lasted until Christmas so many traditions associated with this holiday center around food. In addition to the Glühwein and sweet pastries many Germans still have a festive meal with roasted Duck or Goose as the main meal. 

       During the Cold War, Germany was split into two parts, the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany), also known as the BRD, and the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republik), also known as the DDR. The communist DDR in eastern Germany was ruled by the Soviet Union while the BRD was a democratic nation. In addition, Berlin was split into East Berlin and West Berlin, essentially creating a “geographic loophole” used by thousands of East Germans to flee to the democratic west.

      In order to keep this from happening, the East German Authorities built a wall separating the French, British and American Sectors of West Berlin from the Soviet Union Sector in East Germany. Overnight on August 13th, 1961 the East German Authorities built a wall spanning 96 miles and completely encircling West Berlin. 

      While the Berlin wall was in place, people continued on with their lives but what that daily life looked like differed depending what side of the wall they were on. Whereas West Germans were allowed to travel to East Germany with a visa, Eastern Germans were forbidden from leaving their side of the wall.

       In addition, basic human rights such as freedom of speech were guaranteed in the BDR whereas in the DDR officials went as far as secretly placing microphones in people’s apartments to listen to their private conversations and make sure they weren’t planning anything against the East German Authorities. On the other hand, women in Eastern Germany had a more equal place in the workforce than the women in Western Germany.  While women in Eastern Germany had had the opportunity to work factory jobs and were guaranteed a childcare spot for their children, women in Western Germany didn’t have many work opportunities and therefore stayed home and took the care of the children while the men were at work.

       Since the life in the DDR was challenging, people living in Eastern Germany were looking for ways to escape to Western Germany. There were a lot of ways people tried to sneak their way into Western Germany: through an underground tunnel, in a hot air balloon or in western friends’ cars. This went on for a while, but 28 years after the wall went up the Cold War was starting to fade away in Germany, taking with it the Berlin Wall.

       On November 9th, 1989, 28 years ago today Günter Schakowsky, a spokesman for the East Berlin Communist Party, announced at an International Press Conference that the travel restrictions for East Germany would be lifted. When asked when he replied “As of now, immediately!” even though it was originally planned for the following day in order to have a better oversight on exit visas, stamps, and passports. As one can imagine, this caused for a lot of celebration in Berlin. People from both sides started climbing over the wall, chiseling the wall in attempts to break it down and standing on or near the wall singing and cheering as the concrete Iron Curtain that had divided Germany for the past 30 years was being demolished.

      About a year later on October 3rd, 1990 the five former German states that made up East Germany rejoined the Federal Republic of Germany. In addition, East and West Berlin reunited and became Germany’s third city-state. That day is known in German history as German Reunification Day and is celebrated on October 3rd every year.

Written by Elena Osiander

        Today, November 9th, marks the anniversary of Kristallnacht and is thus deemed Kristallnacht Remembrance Day. We, at the German-American Heritage Foundation, would like to remember and honor those who lost their lives on this night in 1938.

        Kristallnacht translates to “The Night of Broken Glass” and marks when the SA military destroyed Jewish homes, synagogues, and businesses, thus leaving broken glass all over the street. Over 1,000 synagogues were burned and 7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed and/or damaged.

       The attacks that occurred on this night were viewed as retaliation for the assassination of Ernst vom Rath (a Nazi German diplomat) by Herschel Grynszpan (who was a German-born Polish Jew who lived in Paris). The assassination occurred on November 7th, 1938. Kristallnacht marked the beginning of Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution”.

Written by Emily Beeland 

          If you ever find yourself in Germany in November 1st you will find that all stores and office buildings are closed, and instead, people are spending their day at the graveyard honoring their loved ones that have passed away. November 1st is known in Germany as Allerheiligen (All Saints Day), a Catholic holiday honoring those that are with God after their death and therefore have reached their final resting place.

         The day starts with the family getting together for a procession through the graveyard with a remembrance and benediction of the graves. The graves are then decorated with candles and bouquets of autumn flowers and twigs of the heath plant.

           Once the family is back home they share an Allerheiligenstriezel, a braided brioche type bread decorated with coarse sugar crystals. Children often remember receiving these Allerheiligenstriezel or a similar baked good from their Godparents on this day.

          It is not only a day to honor our loved one that have past away but also anyone in general that have lost their lives due to tragic events such as war, car accidents, or drownings. On November 1st , multiple remembrance ceremonies are held across the country to honor the fallen soldiers from WWI and WWII. In addition, crosses, candles and flowers are placed at the side of the road in memory of those that lost their lives in a car accident. The Market Gemeinde St. Nikola, in addition to many other German cities, honors drowning victims by having two men take a boat on the Danube to place a wreath in the water.

         The following day, November 2nd is known as Allerseelen, or All Souls Day. Similar to the other parts of Die Allerseleenwoche (All Souls Week), it is a day of remembering and honoring the dead. All Souls Day is typically practiced in the predominantly Catholic areas of German-speaking countries, though it is not limited to these places.

        Similar to All Saints Day, All Souls Day emerged in 998. However, what is different is that this is a day of remembrance for all departed souls that are in purgatory, due to them not confessing to their sins before they died.

         This day is one of remembrance, so the ways in which it is celebrated are more subdued than some of the other holidays that German-speaking countries take part in. There is, of course, partaking in prayer and various church services, as well as a few other traditions. One of these is that the family will do a silent procession through the graveyard holding colored glass called Allerseelenlämpchen in order to honor the dead. Another way of remembrance is one where cone-shaped candles that are red, white, blue, yellow, and/or green are placed on graves – what is interesting about this is that it is only done in Mainz and not much is known about how this tradition came about. Although this day is one that contains a fairly heavy topic, children are not left out of the traditions – they receive Seelenbreze (basically a “Soul Pretzel”) that came about due to the tradition of having a Allerheiligenstriezel on All Saints Day.

By: Emily Beeland and Elena Osiander

Happy Halloween!

          It is the night when witches, and ghouls, and ghosts alike run amuck; the night when “trick-or-treat” can be heard up and down the street; the night when everything is just a little bit spookier; it’s the night of Halloween!

          We at the German-American Heritage Foundation would like to wish everyone a Happy Halloween! Although this is primarily an Irish/American holiday, German-speaking countries throughout Europe still celebrate it. Halloween first started emerging in Germany after World War I & II, most likely due to America’s influence on the country during that time. However, in the 1990s, the holiday quickly gained popularity – this is thought to be because Fasching was cancelled in 1991 due to the First Gulf War, so the Special Carnival Group (Fachgruppe Karneval) of the German  Association for the Toy Industry (Deutscher Verband der Spielwarenindustrie) promoted the idea of Halloween.

         Celebrating Halloween in Germany (and other German-speaking countries) is a little different than it is here in America. For instance, one of the biggest differences is the prevalence of trick-or-treating (or Süß oder Saures). In Germany and other German-speaking countries, only big cities or cities near American military bases participate in trick-or-treating due to the fact that St. Martinstag (another holiday where kids go door to door to get candy) is only 11 days later. Instead, Halloween is celebrated more with parties, in which people dress up in scary costumes.

          Halloween celebrations also vary by region and country. For example, in Retz, Austria (just outside of Vienna), there is the famous Kürbisfest (Pumpkin Festival). Similarly, in Darmstadt, Germany, one can visit Burg Frankenstein, which is thought to be the possible inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. These are only a couple of the ways of celebration, with many more being found around the countries.

Once again, Happy Halloween!

Written by Emily Beeland