When did WWII end? While children in Germany are taught it happened on May 8, historians aren't so sure. But it's not just historical confusion that has led the world to mark the occasion on different days till today.
Germany first capitulated in Reims, France on May 7, 1945 and then a day later in Berlin -- or was it actually May 9? Russia in any case does celebrate the end of the Second World War on May 9, while the West insists on doing it on May 8.
The only thing that everyone does agree on is where the war ended: in the officer's mess in Karlshorst, a suburb of eastern Berlin. The Russian hosts couldn't find a central location for the signing of the treaty in 1945 due to the massive destruction caused by the war bombs and the recently-concluded battles and the building in Karlshorst was one the few that was still left intact. Thus, this is where the German delegation signed the capitulation treaty.
The only question is -- when?
Today, it's difficult to imagine that a crucial chapter of world history was once played out in this upscale neighborhood in eastern Berlin. The Soviet battle tanks and cannons, which were displayed in the garden as the historic place was turned into a "museum of capitulation" during Communist East Germany, seem unnerving.
Technical glitch led to delay
Musuem head Peter Jahn knows only too well all the tangles, legends and disputes surrounding German capitulation. "The war ended at 11.01 p.m. Central European Time on May 8, 1945. That's a legally binding fact," said Jahn. The time is documented on the capitulation treaty.
But, in reality, the German delegation led by Field Marshal Keitel hadn't even entered the hall in Karlshorst at 23.01 p.m. on May 8. "The ratification was actually postponed by 75 minutes," said Jahn -- which means it took place on May 9. "There were technical reasons for the delay," Jahn added.
Apparently, the Russian text was delivered incomplete to Berlin and lacked a few sentences. The Germans waited more than an hour to receive the complete text and finally after midnight Keitel's delegation entered the room to put their signatures on the capitulation treaty -- more than an hour after its conditions had already entered validity.
"Whether one pegs capitulation to May 8 or May 9 -- that's not just a question of belief," said Jahn.
From the Soviet perspective, the first capitulation was merely part of "temporary protocol."
Confusion over second capitulation
It's true that there's no doubt about the validity of the May 7 capitulation -- even the Soviets accepted it and informed German troops via flyers about the signing of the surrender treaty and the date of the cease fire.
But, at the same time the Allies insisted in Reims that the document had to be ratified in the presence of the Soviet high command by the commander-in-chief of the German army.
The renewed and publicly symbolic second capitulation was more than a gesture for the Soviet Allies. In Reims, the treaty was signed by a mere general, Colonel Alfred Jodl, without the authoritative presence of a commander-in-chief. That wasn't enough for the Allies who still had bitter memories of the signing of the ceasefire at the end of the First World War.
The personal signature of the German commander in chief was thus important to the Allies to avoid a repeat of any further such "revolution" and "betrayal" legends.
Nothing really happened on May 8
At 12:20 early on May 9, the German delegation left the room in Karlshorst after inking the capitulation treaty. "Only then was it finally complete," said Jahn. The tense atmosphere in the room, it's said, suddenly dissolved after that. German officers instructed their troops to drop their weapons and Stalin announced to Russian citizens on the morning of May 9 that the war was finally over.
Since then, Russia has been commemorating the end of WWII on May 9 -- it's probably historically more correct than the West since nothing really happened on May 8, 1945.
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