October 3 is the Day of German Unity, the federal national holiday in my country of birth. It marks the day Germany was formally unified after being divided by the occupying forces (US, UK, FR, USSR) after WWII.
The alternate and more emotionally charged date would have been November 9. It is a day heavy with German history, a Schicksalstag: from the execution of Robert Blum on November 9 1848 to the proclamation of the first German Republic in 1918 following the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II. From Hitler's first coup on Nov 9 1923 to the Reichskristallnacht pogroms against the Jewish population (fellow citizens) in 1938. And finally the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
November 9 would have been the right day. Not least because it is drenched in both the lightest light and the darkest dark in German history. Unsurprisingly, it is a country that does not wear its patriotism lightly. A contemplative national day would have been the right choice.
Like many Germans, I have a love-hate relationship with my country of origin. When we moved to Canada in 1989, shortly before the fall of the Wall, the first book I had to read in school - English-German dictionary in hand - was Night, by Elie Wiesel, about the experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald with his father, at the height of the holocaust.
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.
As a German, this is how I learned English at 12 years of age.
When I look around Germany today, I am gripped by nostalgia. Its traditions do not hold me in their sway but they fill me with a longing for the simpler days of childhood. Its national character - thorough, dutiful, punctual, rule-bound, korrekt - still echoes through the halls of its dusty bureaucracies and large corporates. But its culture is increasingly homogenized into the globalized sameness. Germany is not special, in that way, or in many others.
For now, it is a country managing the barely perceptible but inevitably creeping erosion of its industrial base and its highly perilous demographics. Most of its political bodies do little but administer this decline. The number on welfare and in meaningless jobs is staggering. And yet (or perhaps exactly because of this) the national spirit has been resurgent as of late, both in its lightest light and darkest dark.
What the country is not, at this point, is united. Like everywhere, deep lines divide the nation - of geography, ethnicity, class, worldview - fueled by a turn towards identity politics that is the scourge of our time.
Take this with a grain of salt. From Marx onwards, Germans have been especially good at imagining both the end of the world and in particular believing that our own epoch is its final stage. William F. Buckley (according to George Gilder) called it immanentized eschaton, this tendency to hasten the end. According to Catholic catechism, it is an embodiment of the Anti-christ.
Germany's role remains pivotal, at least in Europe. What matters is how we hand it over to the next generation. But I, for one, no longer identify as one of its sons. Too broad is the world; and too many the places that I have called home.
It is unlikely that I will choose to die on its blood-drenched soil in its name. I can only wish the country may rediscover more of its lightest light.