August 3rd 1936: Jesse Owens wins 100 metre dash

On this day in 1936 at the Berlin Olympics, American athlete Jesse Owens won the 100 metre dash, defeating world record holder Ralph Metcalfe. Owens won four gold medals, in the 100 metres, 200 metres, long jump, and 4x100 metre relay, which made him the most successful athlete in the 1936 Games. Germany’s Nazi Chancellor Adolf Hitler had intended to use the Games to showcase Aryan supremacy, thus the success of African-American Owens was particularly poignant. His success made him a famous figure, but back home in America segregation was still in place. After a ticker-tape parade for him in New York, he had to ride a separate elevator to reach a reception in his honour. It was often said that Hitler snubbed Owens at the Games, refusing to shake his hand, but whilst the racist Hitler was certainly displeased by Owens’s success, these stories may have been exaggerated. In fact, Owens maintains that it was US President Franklin D. Roosevelt who snubbed him, neglecting to congratulate the athlete for his success. Jesse Owens died in 1980 aged 66.

“A lifetime of training for just ten seconds
- Jesse Owens


October 3rd 1990: German reunification

On this day in 1990, Germany was officially reunited when the German Democratic Republic was abolished and incorporated into the Federal Republic of Germany. The country had been split into East and West Germany following its defeat in World War Two, and subsequent occupation by the victorious Allied powers. The United States, Britain and France controlled the Western Federal Republic of Germany, and the Soviet Union the Eastern German Democratic Republic. The Cold War era ‘iron curtain’ marking the Communist bloc began to falter in 1989, when East Germans used the removal of the Hungarian border fence to flee the oppression of Soviet rule for the safety of West Germany. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which had divided the Western and Eastern sections of the German capital, calls for total reunification rose. Conservative pro-reunification parties won in the first free elections in Soviet-controlled East Germany, and worked to secure closer ties with the West. Economic union occurred in July 1990, followed by total political reunification in October under the government of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. While rightly celebrated as a momentous event in German history, reunification came at the price of the economic collapse of the former East Germany, which plunged Germany into recession. The reunification of Germany was one the major events leading up to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Today, October 3rd, is celebrated in Germany as German Unity Day.

Today is Tag der Deutschen Einheit (”Day of German Unity”) - Germany’s national holiday, celebrated annually on October 3. It commemorates the anniversary of the German Reunification of East and West that happened in 1990, when the goal of a united Germany that originated in the 1800′s was fulfilled again. For this reason, the name addresses neither the re-union nor the union, but the unity of Germany. 

An alternative choice to commemorate the Reunification could have been the day the Berlin Wall came down: 9 Nov 1989, which coincided with the anniversary of the proclamation of the German Republic (1918) and the defeat of Hitler’s first coup (1923). However, this was also the anniversary of the first large-scale Nazi pogroms against Jews in 1938 (Kristallnacht), so the day was considered inappropriate as a national holiday. Therefore, 3 Oct 1990, the day of the formal Reunification, was chosen instead and replaced the previous “Day of German Unity” (17 June), which had been the national holiday of West Germany since 1954. This year’s celebration centers around Dresden, state capital of Sachsen under the motto: „Brücken bauen“ - “Building bridges”. Next year it will be in Mainz.


The Berlin Wall: Then and now

Berlin’s appearance has changed enormously since the fall on Nov. 9, 1989 of the Berlin Wall, which for nearly three decades divided the communist east from the city’s west — a capitalist enclave deep inside East Germany.

East Germany disappeared less than a year later when the country was reunited, and much of the wall also was demolished quickly — though a few sections still remain at their original sites.

The images include the building of the wall in 1961, people waving to relatives across the divide, children playing beside the wall, U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon looking into East Germany across the barrier, border checkpoints and people walking through a hole in the wall created by East German border guards two days after the frontier was opened. (AP)

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