National commemorations in Germany

Cérémonie devant le monument aux morts de la Bundeswehr situé dans l’enceinte du ministère de la défense à Berlin. © Ministère de la défense de la République fédérale d’Allemagne

While France’s commemorative calendar centres around 11 national holidays in honour of contemporary conflicts, across the Rhine there are only five, in addition to Germany’s national day. There is also room in German remembrance programming for other commemorative dates, which vary from year to year according to the anniversaries being celebrated. This occurs at different levels, in line with a highly specific protocol and rules.

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In Germany, the official commemorative days are among the symbols by which the State makes its presence felt. They focus on key collective events and experiences, which are presented as significant and meaningful to the present.

Regarding national commemorations, a distinction can be made between annual commemorative days and commemorative ceremonies linked to specific events.

In Germany, five commemorative days are celebrated each year:

  • 27 January: Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism
  • 17 June: National Day of Remembrance
  • 20 June: Day of Remembrance for Refugees and Expellees
  • 20 July: Commemoration of the Resistance to the National Socialist Reign of Terror
  • Two Sundays before the first Sunday of Advent: Day of National Mourning

In addition to these dates is the “Day of German Unity”, on 3 October.

The Federal Government’s Domestic Protocol Office is responsible for organising the annual commemorative days, with the exception of the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism (27 January), which is organised by the Bundestag protocol office.

Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism (27 January)

On 3 January 1996, 27 January was declared a Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism, by proclamation of federal president Roman Herzog. In 2005, the UN chose the same date as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Historically, it refers to the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp by the Red Army, on 27 January 1945. Auschwitz symbolises the genocide and represents the millions of people who were deprived of their rights, persecuted, tortured and murdered by the Nazi regime. Each year, the Bundestag celebrates this date with a ceremony attended by politicians and representatives of civil society.

The official speech is given by a German or foreign guest of honour who has a connection with the groups of victims of National Socialist racism. In 2021, it was the chair of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, Charlotte Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor and former chair of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Author Marina Weisband, who as a child left Ukraine for Germany, spoke as representative of the third generation after the Holocaust.

National Day of Remembrance (17 June)

17 June was declared a public holiday in the Federal Republic of Germany by a law of 4 August 1953, then proclaimed a “national day” ten years later, on 11 June 1963, by federal president Heinrich Lübke. This day remembers the victims of the popular uprising in East Berlin and across East Germany on 16 and 17 June 1953. The call to overthrow the regime of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) and hold free elections was brutally repressed by the Soviet army, with nearly 13 000 people arrested and over 125 people killed.

In a ceremony at the memorial to the uprising, at the Seestraße cemetery, in Berlin’s Wedding district, public figures and eyewitnesses pay tribute to the victims of the uprising with speeches and wreath-laying. The ceremony is usually accompanied by the Federal Police Orchestra of Berlin.

Day of Remembrance for Refugees and Expellees (20 June)

Following the federal cabinet’s decision of 27 August 2014, since 2015 this date has been dedicated to the victims of displacement and expulsion throughout the world, and displaced Germans in particular. At a national ceremony, speeches by representatives from public life, together with first-hand accounts, honour the memory of refugees and displaced people. In addition to representatives of the State, representatives and members of organisations for displaced people take part in the ceremony, accompanied by different musicians and orchestras, chosen for their connection with the day’s theme.

Commemoration of the Resistance to the National Socialist Reign of Terror (20 July)

A federal government ceremony in honour of the resistance against the Nazi dictatorship takes place every year on 20 July, in Berlin, at historic sites that have a connection with the attempted coup of 1944. It alternates between the Memorial to the German Resistance (in the courtyard of the Bendlerblock, the Ministry of Defence headquarters) and the Plötzensee Memorial. Besides a welcome speech, the ceremony includes a speech by a representative from public life, a tribute to the dead and the laying of a wreath by the guards of honour and wreath bearers of the Bundeswehr.


Volkstrauertag am Ehrenmal der Bw_Nr

Ceremony at the Bunderswehr war memorial in the grounds of the Ministry of Defence in Berlin.
© Ministry of Defence, Federal Republic of Germany


Day of German Unity, since 1990 (3 October)

The heads of government of the Länder and the federal government agreed that the Land which holds the presidency of the Bundesrat (parliament’s upper house) should be responsible for organising the annual celebrations of 3 October. The Länder must therefore be allowed to take their own distinctive approach to organising what is a national day.

Politicians and representatives of civil society take part in the official ceremony organised by the Bundesrat and another federal constitutional body. The population – represented by citizens’ delegations – also participate in the festivities, with a citizens’ festival for all citizens in parallel to the official ceremony, which is broadcast live on television.

Day of National Mourning (two Sundays before the first Sunday of Advent)

Every year, the Day of National Mourning honours the victims of war and tyranny at the Neue Wache, the Federal Republic of Germany’s central memorial.

As part of a ceremony, wreaths are laid by the federal president and representatives of the four other federal constitutional bodies. Foreign representatives are sometimes invited to take part in the ceremony. In 2018, for instance, it was French president Emmanuel Macron.

A detachment of honour of the Bundeswehr, comprised of wreath bearers, guards, a trumpeter and a commander, forms an integral part of the ceremony.

Protocol and etiquette

A symbol of the State, the national anthem is an integral part of all commemorative ceremonies, except the Day of National Mourning. The commemorative ceremonies always follow a precise schedule and protocol adapted to suit the circumstances (for instance, an event’s 5th or 10th anniversary) or particular participants.

On all the commemorative days, the flags of the supreme federal authorities and their departments, and also those of the local authorities, executive agencies and foundations of the federal government, are flown at half-mast throughout the Federal Republic of Germany.

As a rule, the commemorative ceremonies are not open to the public, but – primarily for reasons of security and capacity – are accessible by invitation only to a limited circle of participants. Public participation is guaranteed by the presence of the media, as well as internet documentation of the events.

Aside from the compulsory annual commemorative dates, ceremonies are held to mark specific events (e.g. terrorist attacks) or anniversaries. For example, the federal president ordered official ceremonies to be held to mark the 40th, 50th and 60th anniversaries of the Federal Republic of Germany. Likewise, it was decided that official ceremonies should be held to mark the 50th and 75th anniversaries of the end of the Second World War. As a rule, it is also the responsibility of the Domestic Protocol Office to organise the official ceremonies.


For more information, see

Domestic Protocol Office of the Federal Ministry of the Interior
Text translated from the German