The city of Mainz took center stage on Tuesday as the host of the main celebrations for this year’s Day of German Unity.
Around 500,000 guests are expected to take part in the festival to celebrate the 27th anniversary of Germany’s the peaceful reunification.
With security concerns in Germany still running high, a total of 4,300 police officers have been deployed in Mainz alone for Tuesday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and German parliament President Norbert Lammert attended an ecumenical service in the Mainz cathedral before heading to a ceremony in teh Rheingoldhalle convention center.
Merkel, who grew up in former East Germany, said the reunification anniversary was a “day of joy” for the country and that there was a responsibility to uphold freedom at home and abroad.
“We know we cannot disconnect from what’s going on in the world. Rather, we must take care that globalization is constructed humanely,” she said in Mainz.
Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) won the most votes in Germany’s September 24 national election, but the vote also saw the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) enter German parliament for the first time.Merkel recieved a warmer welcome during this year’s reunification celebration in Mainz compared to the boos and protests that occured during last year’s ceremony in the eastern city of Dresden
Steinmeier: ‘Other walls have arisen’
President Steinmeier said that since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, less visible “walls” now divide the country. The election exposed “large and small cracks” in German society, he said, calling on lawmakers to work together to fight any return to nationalism.
“On September 24th, it became clear that other walls have arisen, less visible, without barbed wire and death-strips, but walls that stand in the way of our common sense of ‘us’,” Steinmeier said in a speech in Mainz.
Steinmeier, a Social Democrat who served as Germany’s foreign minister before taking on the largely ceremonial role of president in March, said that “behind these walls, a deep distrust in democracy and its representatives is being fomented.”
He also called for a national discussion on migration — one of the main issues that arose during the election — adding that this would mean creating new guidelines.
“In my view, this means not simply wishing away migration but … defining legal admission to Germany, which regulates and controls migration by our stipulations,” Steinmeier noted.Celebrating a reunited Germany
Under the motto “Together we are Germany,” each of Germany’s 16 states were on display, as well as a large replica of Berlin’s Brandenburg gate, at a festival near the banks of the Rhine River.
Later in the afternoon, festival-goers will gather together to take part in a new national holiday tradition by singing a round of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
Celebrations began on Monday with several concerts including performances from German pop star Tim Bendzko and eastern German rock band Karat.
As part of Germany’s national holiday, 1,000 mosques around the country have also opened up their doors to visitors – including a mosque in Cologne belonging to Germany’s largest Islamic organization, DITIB.
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