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Celebrations for German Unity Day begin in central Germany

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel took part in the service in St Paul's Church in the city that was in East Germany when the nation was divided.

Halle, 3 October 2021 (dpa/MIA) – The celebrations for the 31st German Unity Day began on Sunday in the central city of Halle with a joint religious service including Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Among others, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel took part in the service in St Paul’s Church in the city that was in East Germany when the nation was divided.

Afterwards, a ceremony was planned in the Georg Friedrich Handel Hall, a concert venue dedicated to the composer who was born in the city in 1685. Merkel was expected to speak at this ceremony in one of her last public addresses as chancellor.

The chancellor, who hails from the former East Germany herself, intends to leave office after 16 years at the helm of German politics as soon as a new federal government is formed following last Sunday’s inconclusive election.

Coalition talks could however take months. In the meantime Merkel serves as caretaker chancellor.

Top Social Democrat (SPD) politician Olaf Scholz, who hopes to replace Merkel as chancellor, has called for a further equalization of living conditions in East and West.

“Today we are one country, yet much remains to be done,” Scholz wrote on Twitter ahead of the reunification celebrations. “We need equal salaries, pensions, perspectives. We can only do that if we focus on common ground.”

Like Scholz, SPD leader Saskia Esken recalled the historic achievement of the East German demonstrators in the autumn of 1989.

“I take my hat off to the many courageous people who overcame a dictatorship by peaceful means,” Esken tweeted. The people had worked out new perspectives and helped build democratic structures, she added.

Armin Laschet of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), who is competing with Scholz for the chancellor’s job, was also expected to attend the event.

In October 1989, St Paul’s Church was one of the meeting places of the peaceful revolution in East Germany, which led to German unification less than a year later, on October 3, 1990.

The city of Halle in the state of Saxony-Anhalt is hosting Germany’s main Unity Day festivities this year. Sunday’s ceremony caps a month-long programme of events marking the anniversary.

Like last year, Sunday’s event was a scaled-down affair due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Only 180 guests were invited to take part in the ecumenical service at St Paul’s Church and 340 are invited to the Georg Friedrich Handel Hall.

Several demonstrations are also scheduled in Halle on Sunday, while anti-fascist groups have warned against potential right-wing activities.

More than 2,500 police officers are being deployed to keep order.

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