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Germans celebrate reunification

Post leaders came together Tuesday evening to celebrate German Unity Day, marking the 20th anniversary of the nation’s reunification.

Known by Germans as “Tag der Deutschen Einheit,” the event commemorates the treaty between West and East Germany that went into effect Oct. 3, 1990, the day both countries officially became one again after the Berlin Wall was torn down a year earlier. It’s a national holiday in Germany.

Fort Benning’s observance took place at the on-post residence of Lt. Col. Frank Schuster, the German Infantry liaison officer, and his wife, Regina. The reception included traditional German food, beer and champagne.

“I don’t care when I celebrate German Unity Day because it’s just very important to celebrate,” Lt. Col. Schuster said. “Twenty years later, we are all very proud to be German — it doesn’t matter to be on the East or West part. A lot of things have been changed but we’re all happy to be one.

“It’s the same as in the Army — doesn’t matter if it’s the German or U.S. Army — we are one unit and one team. And the same is with Germany.”

He told the gathering how his father, a former journalist, had been on the eastern side of Berlin picking up photographs the day the Wall was built in 1961, but managed to make it back to the western part “at the right moment.” Two years later, Lt. Col. Schuster was born.

Sgt. Maj. Frank Zindel, the NCO representative at the German Armor liaison office, said he grew up in the southern part of West Germany, about 35 miles from a fence bordering the East. People could gaze over and see East Germany, but no one could visit without a special visa.

It was a “dangerous time” as tensions were always high between the two sides, he said, recalling how armed guards, surveillance systems and minefields sat just across the East border. West Germans also had to deal with the presence of spies, so mistrust and suspicion became a part of life. The sergeant major said people would occasionally discover that a good friend or relative was actually working for “the Stasi,” the name given to East Germany’s security machine.

“I only knew there was a fence — they are East part, we are West part,” he said. “(Reunification) came so suddenly. I never thought I’d see it. It surprised everybody how fast it happened.”

Economic conditions in the former East Germany were severely depressed, Sgt. Maj. Zindel said. People didn’t have the same democracy or freedoms enjoyed in the West and the living standard was far lower. He said much has changed.

“You can really see the development now,” he said. “Twenty years ago, it was like gray and color (between East and West Germany).”

At Tuesday’s celebration, a small contingent from the Maneuver Center of Excellence Band played the U.S. and German national anthems. Lt. Col. Schuster praised the strong ties between the two allies.

“The U.S. helped Germany become the nation it is today,” he said.

SGM Bernd Rabenstein of the German Infantry liaison office said German Unity Day is the most significant milestone in the country’s history.

“It’s more important than the end of (World War II),” he said. “A lot of us and our parents lived through that separation. Reunification was talked about a lot, but no one ever thought it would happen.”