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Germany celebrates 60 years

Berlin – Huge crowds in Berlin celebrated on Saturday 60 years since Germany emerged from the ruins of WWII to lay the foundations for what became a democratic, peaceful and prosperous nation.

Meanwhile MPs and public figures re-elected the conservative Horst Koehler to the largely ceremonial post of president for a second five-year term, in a boost to Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of general elections in September.

Authorities expected half a million people around the historic Brandenburg Gate for a celebration of all things German from beer to Beethoven, with the country’s newly felt sense of national pride on full show.

Specifically, the events celebrate the 1949 creation of a democratic nation that still bore the shame of the Nazis’ horrors and was struggling to rebuild after total defeat and destruction in 1945.

The constitution that was drawn up for this country – West Germany as it was – came into effect in May 1949, and has been used a model for other young democracies, primarily in post-Soviet eastern Europe.

"The founding fathers of the constitution created a solid order so that free citizens could create a life for themselves in a just society," Koehler told an ecumenical service in Berlin’s cathedral.

Other events to mark this milestone are planned across Germany in 2009, which also sees the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall before the unification of West and East Germany in 1990, and is an election year.

Being patriotic is something of a new phenomenon here, however.

For decades deep psychological scars from the war kept such feelings at bay, summed up by West Germany’s then-president Gustav Heinemann famously declaring in 1969 that he loved his wife, not his country.

But in recent years, Germans have become more comfortable with patriotism, as seen in an orgy of flag-waving national pride when Germany hosted the football World Cup in 2006.

Visitors to Saturday’s Buergerfest, or people’s party, along the Strasse des 17 Juni boulevard could sample rollmops from Bremen or Bavarian white sausages while being entertained by on-stage discussions and music.

"I think it is absolutely fine to do this," 68-year-old Gerhard Harald from nearby Flensburg told AFP. "We have the problem of nationalism under control."

Not everyone is happy, though, with around 1,100 people expected at a left-wing "anti-nationalist" demo on Saturday evening, Berlin police said.

And it is not all roses, with Germany’s worst recession since WWII shaking many people’s trust in the country’s cherished social market economy.

The recession, with the accompanying rise in unemployment and huge increase in national debt, is expected to figure highly in campaigning for general elections on 27 September when Merkel is standing for a second term.

Convincing voters that she and her conservative bloc can get Germany on the road to recovery is a tall order – as it is for the other parties.

But the victory of Koehler was a minor victory for Merkel as she and her conservatives had backed the 66-year-old former head of the International Monetary Fund.

The fact that the vote by 1,223 MPs and public figures was held by secret ballot meant that there was the potential for a surprise victory for Koehler’s main challenger, the left-wing academic Gesine Schwan.

"We think he is the president that Germany needs in this situation," Merkel said after the vote.

AFP / Expatica