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Rede von Außenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier zur Preview der Ausstellung „Word and Image: Martin Luthers’s Reformation“, The Morgan Library

24.09.2016 - Rede

Ladies and gentlemen,

„Germany is the most important unknown culture in the world“, that is how the historian Ulrich Raulff once put it. „Long forgotten in America are legions of German immigrants who shaped (America’s) view of the world.“

It’s true: the goods that Germany brought to this country – they might not feature prominently on everybody’s mind. They do, however, feature prominently on almost every street corner in lower Manhattan! Pretzels, bratwurst, sauerkraut, and – obviously – beer! From a culinary point of view, I think we can safely say that Germany’s impact on America has been very tasteful indeed!

But Germans and Americans today share much more than a love of grilled meat.

Our countries have built a unique friendship over the centuries. Today, it is deeper and stronger than ever before. This is true on a political level. But I am extremely grateful that to me, this is also true on a personal level. My friendship with John Kerry is a godsend! Not only do we see eye to eye on practically every foreign policy issue – whether it be Syria, Libya or Ukraine. We also share a relationship based on trust, respect and mutual appreciation.

And I don’t think that is a coincidence.

Germany and America share the same set of cultural, historic and religious references and values. And it is from this solid basis that the friendship between our countries has grown and flourished.


One extraordinary personality embodies our common heritance like no other: Martin Luther!

And that is why I am very pleased that this unique exhibition on Martin Luther will now travel to the one place where it has as much relevance as it has in Germany: America!

„Here I stand. I can do no other.“ – Those were the words Martin Luther used 500 years ago when he refused to recant the ideas he so deeply believed in.

I can do no other – that’s what Luther said because he was convinced that he was defending the right cause! His 95 theses caused an outrage in medieval Europe – He criticized the Roman Catholic Church, the sale of indulgences, and the lavish lifestyle of the Pope. And he thereby set in motion a train of events that would reshape Western civilization, and lift it out of the Dark Ages!

Martin Luther’s ideas still shape our societies’ values today - The separation of church and state, religious tolerance, the freedom of religion. Sola gratia, Just Grace, Martin Luther’s core message was meant to bring freedom to guilt-ridden Christians.

Today, I also read his message as a call to lead a just and meaningful life – and to assume our responsibility in this conflict-ridden world! Luther teaches us to not look away when a situation is intolerable. He teaches us to be brave. To never say: „I won’t make a difference anyways. Why should I even try?“ He reminds us that we are the ones that shape our own future. And that we have to act if we want to change things!

There is one great man, one great American, who lived this message like no other: who faced resistance and danger to fight for his conviction and who inspired millions. I am, of course, talking about the „other“ Luther: Martin Luther King. Dr King’s father – so the story goes – was so moved when he learned about the life of Martin Luther while on a trip to Europe, that he renamed both him and his son „Martin Luther King“. And Martin Luther King certainly lived up to his great name!

We should not ignore, however, that the older Luther was not a tolerant man. We can only strongly distance ourselves from his anti-Semitic views.

Martin Luther was a complex personality. And I invite you all to learn more about Luther and his times through the two great exhibitions, which we are kicking off today. Starting at the marvelous Morgan Library – the exhibition „Here I stand“ will also be shown in Minneapolis and Atlanta. We have a second exhibition in Los Angeles showing German Art during the Renaissance and Reformation era with paintings by Cranach, Dürer and others.

Colin Bailey, thank you very much for hosting us here tonight - in these splendid surroundings.

I am very pleased that Till Brönner and a talented group of young German jazz musicians will be performing for us tonight. And Till, who better to choose for such a special German-American night? You divide your time between Berlin and L.A. And you have taken your music to the best places on both sides of the Atlantic: from edgy Berlin clubs right to the White House. --- I am not sure which of these you have enjoyed more. But I am sure that we will enjoy your music!

And, if I may add one last word - about advertising: I am sure, Colin, that you will push this show on social media. You have an easier task than Luther, that’s for sure.

Luther didn’t have a Facebook account. No Instagram. No way to twitter his theses to the world. And I wonder how he would have fitted 95 theses into 140 letters anyway…

Luther did, however, benefit from a different, an earlier technological revolution: Print! The newly invented machinery of printing meant that pamphlets could be duplicated rapidly. Within months, all Europe was awash with copies of Luther's theses.

That might have surprised Luther himself! In a remark that doesn’t actually sound so different to someone finding himself in a social media shitstorm today, Luther said:

„I would never have thought that such a storm would rise from Rome over one simple scrap of paper...“

Thank you and enjoy the evening!

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