On 11 May Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier travelled to the French city of Reims to join his French counterpart Laurent Fabius to inaugurate stained glass windows designed by German artist Imi Knoebel in the cathedral.
“Healing old wounds and joining forces to create something new – that is the goal of and the motivation behind Franco-German reconciliation,” Foreign Minister Steinmeier stressed before leaving on his trip to the French city of Reims.
There he joined his French counterpart Laurent Fabius on Monday to inaugurate a special work of art at the cathedral: three stained glass windows designed by German artist Imi Knoebel covering a total area of 64 square metres. Steinmeier emphasised: “The new quality of Franco‑German friendship is reflected in the light from the windows.”
Representatives from the spheres of politics, culture and the clergy attended the inauguration ceremony for the windows, as well as the artist himself. Around 500 pupils from Franco‑German grammar schools in the vicinity and the Paris area were also invited.
Destruction in the First World War
According to Foreign Minister Steinmeier, the new stained glass windows are intended to help heal old wartime wounds: “One hundred years ago German troops ravaged this church, with its inestimable value for France and the world, in a fit of nationalistic rage.”
A German artillery attack during the First World War caused serious damage to the roof structure. The historically important mediaeval stained glass windows were also destroyed. In his address, Foreign Minister Steinmeier was quite clear:
In their war mania the Germans even believed that God was on their side. Yet whoever has seen the wounds inflicted on this cathedral, as you, the citizens of Reims, have, is irrevocably convinced that war can never be holy. Only peace can be so.
Over the past decades various artists, including Marc Chagall and Imi Knoebel, have designed new windows for Reims Cathedral. Now, around one million people come to Reims each year to visit the cathedral.
Chancellor Adenauer and France’s President de Gaulle participated in a mass of reconciliation in Reims on 8 July 1962. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty, Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande made a joint visit to the cathedral on 8 July 2013.
Initiative of the artist Imi Knoebel
Referring to the destruction inflicted on the cathedral by German attacks during the war, Foreign Minister Steinmeier explained, “Thanks to the great initiative of the artist Imi Knoebel, we can now erase a scar.”
Last year Imi Knoebel himself proposed redesigning the last remaining temporary windows in the Jeanne D’Arc chapel as a gift to the French Republic.
Knoebel explained that it was his desire and an honour for him also to redesign the last three cathedral windows. He declined to accept payment for the project, and the Federal Foreign Office shouldered most of the remaining costs (approximately 900,000 euros). The North Rhine‑Westphalian Art Foundation provided additional funding and was responsible for project management.
Close Franco‑German friendship and consultation
Following the inauguration of the stained glass windows, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Imi Knoebel were made honorary citizens of Reims in a special ceremony.
In his words of thanks, Steinmeier expressed his delight in the fact that today “another piece of Franco‑German friendship” had been incorporated into Reims Cathedral.
"I feel that today in my heart I personally have also become a little more French ... And indeed I have: now it’s official! I am grateful and moved to receive honorary citizenship of your proud city!"
The two Foreign Ministers Steinmeier and Fabius then met for political talks on current international issues and bilateral topics. Steinmeier clearly emphasised the closeness of Franco‑German cooperation – for example, within the EU and in their joint commitment to resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine:
With no other partner do we liaise more comprehensively and intensively on foreign policy issues than we do with France.