Katja Hoyer Katja Hoyer

Germany’s ‘day of fate’ is a reminder of the country’s troubled past

(Getty images)

The 9 November is often called Germany’s Schicksalstag – Day of Fate. The date punctuates the fabric of the country’s calamitous search for a political identity like no other: from its origins as a constitutional monarchy, through democracy, dictatorship and division. As every year, today too marks a point of introspection for my compatriots. Let’s hope they use it well: German democracy has come a long way, but it is far from perfect.

On 9 November 1918, Germany’s first democratic experiment as a nation state ended in spectacular failure. Only the third German Kaiser since the country’s inception in 1871, Kaiser Wilhelm was forced to abdicate, and with him fell the German Empire. The country’s first parliamentary system had included free elections through universal male suffrage and a free press. Yet it had been unable to prevent the deadliest conflict the world had seen up to that point.

But the First World War also compounded Germany as a nation. The collective sense of humiliation – and the experience of mass violence and misery – was shared by almost all Germans, irrespective of regional identity, denomination, class or creed. This trauma bound people together in an unhealthy bond of resentment, bitterness and defeat.

It was this bitter cocktail of emotions which brought down the last German Kaiser and, on the same day, gave rise to the first full German democracy. Mere hours after Wilhelm’s abdication had been announced, two very different German republics were announced from two different windows in Berlin. The Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann pronounced a ‘German republic’ from a window in the Reichstag building; while the communist Karl Liebknecht called for a ‘free socialist’ one from a balcony of the Kaiser’s city palace.

It was also under Adolf Hitler that the darkest of the 9 November dates took place

Both visions were immediately under siege from the virulent anti-democratic forces at play in the early Weimar Republic.

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