Page last updated at 20:49 GMT, Saturday, 23 May 2009 21:49 UK

Renewed pride at Germany's birthday party

German flag in front of the Brandenburg gate
The 60th anniversary of the Federal Republic has helped renew German pride.

By Steve Rosenberg
BBC News, Berlin

Forty years ago, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany (then West Germany) Gustav Heinemann was asked if he loved his country.

"I do not love the state," President Heinemann replied. "I love my wife."

It was a sign of how reluctant Germans were back then (even the country's president) to display patriotism.

Memories of World War II and the horrors inflicted by the Nazis were still fresh. Germany felt a collective responsibility for what had happened. German pride was something which needed to be kept under wraps.

Times have changed. Today Germany celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Federal Republic, which rose out of the ashes of the Third Reich.

Crowds outside the Brandenburg Gate.
Thousands came to the Brandenburg Gate for Germany's birthday party.

There were big celebrations in Berlin with concerts and fairs. The city was awash with German flags.

"We have accomplished a lot," the country's President, Horst Koehler, told parliament on the eve of the celebrations. "We can be proud of what we have achieved."

Germany has achieved a great deal. After the war, the country lay in ruins, defeated and divided between the victors of World War II.

But as the Cold War blew in, the Western powers - Britain, France and America - backed the establishment of a new German state, in the zones they controlled.

The Federal Republic of Germany would be a democracy. It would respect human rights. A new constitution, the Basic Law, would help transplant democracy into soil tainted by the Nazis, transforming this Germany into a reliable ally of the West.

Worst recession

Very quickly the Federal Republic became a success story. There was the economic miracle of the 1950s which saw the country rebuilt and prosper.

It became a dynamo for European integration - and, eventually, a vehicle for German reunification. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, communist East Germany became part of the Federal Republic.

There have been problems along the way, too.

In the 1970s terror groups targeted the state, assassinating judges and industrialists, in protest at the Establishment's Nazi past. Reunification brought an enormous financial burden. And there is economic hardship today, as Germany suffers its worst recession since the war.

Large number 60 on the pavement by a wall of information
No passers-by could fail to notice the exact age of the Federal Republic.

Despite the difficulties, in recent years Germans have felt more able to express their love of their country. It was evident during the 2006 World Cup in Germany, when fans painted German flags on their faces.

A recent survey by the Identity Foundation discovered that more than 70% of people believe they should show more confidence about being German. More than 60% said they were proud to be German.

At the Brandenburg Gate, the centrepiece of Sunday's celebrations, I noticed a giant queue snaking round the square. I wondered what everyone was standing in line for.

Then I saw. Someone was handing out German flags to wave, and carrier bags decorated with another German flag. National pride was in big demand.

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