On 7 May 2015, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited the Russian city of Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), where he joined his counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, to commemorate the end of the Second World War 70 years ago. Directly after arriving in the city, Steinmeier drove with Lavrov to Rossoshka war cemetery to lay wreaths.
“Now, as we commemorate the end of the Second World War, we want to focus on what unites us, not on that which divides us,” Steinmeier stressed shortly before leaving Berlin.
The German Foreign Minister said he felt it important “to remember the horrors of the Second World War in Russia, along with my Russian colleague, despite and indeed precisely because of our difficult relationship with Moscow just now as a result of the Ukraine crisis”.
Wreaths laid for the dead of both countries
Immediately after the German Foreign Minister’s arrival in the city, Steinmeier and Lavrov walked side by side through Rossoshka war cemetery which holds the graves of Soviet war dead as well as a section for German war graves.
First the two Ministers visited the Russian section, where in silence they laid wreaths in memory of the fallen. The German military cemetery is just a short walk away. Here, too, the Ministers and their delegations laid a wreath and flowers.
This shared cemetery of reconciliation was made possible by an intergovernmental agreement on war graves signed in 1992. The project is managed by the German War Graves Commission. To promote understanding and friendship, young Germans and Russians work alongside one another to maintain the graves.
70 years after the unspeakable suffering Germans unleashed on this city, we are no longer alone in our remembrance. Russians, Germans and all the nations of Europe are united in their commitment –“Never again” – and in their shared responsibility for peace in Europe.
That’s what Steinmeier wrote shortly afterwards in the Golden Book at the central memorial of the Russian Federation commemorating the Battle of Stalingrad. The Foreign Ministers continued on from Rossoshka to the central memorial on Mamayev Hill for a further wreath‑laying ceremony. Here, Steinmeier and Lavrov also took the opportunity for a brief conversation with some citizens of Volgograd.
Spirit of reconciliation and understanding
Speaking at a joint press conference later, Foreign Minister Steinmeier said he was “profoundly moved” to be commemorating “the horrors of the war” in Volgograd with his Russian counterpart “in a spirit of reconciliation and understanding”.
If there is one thing that I will take away from this visit, it is an even greater determination to do everything humanly possible to ensure that there can never again be war and destruction in Europe.
Steinmeier stressed that commemoration must not be “instrumentalised” against the background of the Ukraine crisis. Nonetheless, he continued, it was clear that “the memory of Stalingrad ensures that it must be in our common interest, and above all that we have to work hard” to “bring about a peaceful resolution” to the Ukraine conflict.
Both Ministers felt that the Trilateral Contact Group meeting on 6 May marked progress. It saw the first sessions of working groups for which there had been “quite a struggle”, Steinmeier said. This was an important step, the Minister went on, “as it means that we can manage to move forwards into the next phase of implementation of the Minsk Protocol”.
We hope and we expect that the parties to the conflict will now resolutely continue along the difficult path laid out in Minsk (...) towards a political settlement and an end to the crisis. So that the bloodshed of far too many people will stop, even in the furthest corner of eastern Ukraine.
Concert for peace by German and Russian symphony orchestras
The evening of 7 May also saw a musical symbol of peace and the overcoming of enmity in Volgograd. The Osnabrück Symphony Orchestra and the Volgograd Symphony Orchestra together gave an open‑air “concert for peace”.
Many veterans and their relatives joined the Ministers and guests of honour in the front row. Foreign Ministers Steinmeier and Lavrov gave short speeches emphasising how important Volgograd/Stalingrad was in bringing about an end to the war.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier made it clear that “joint remembrance is an opportunity”, because “From this ground we stand on rises the warning that links each and every one of us commemorating the war, and which particularly links us Germans and Russians: Never again!”
Not only do we Germans owe the victims of the war our respect and remembrance, we also owe it to them to learn lessons from their suffering. And so I say as a German that the people of Stalingrad are heroes not only because seventy years ago with their blood they forced a turnaround in the war. They are also heroes because to this day they remind us to work for peace.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier was accompanied on his trip to Volgograd by, among others, members of the German Bundestag and representatives of the cultural sphere and civil society.
The concert for peace was part of a longer tour by the Osnabrück Symphony Orchestra, which is giving concerts along with local musicians in Kyiv (9 May) and Minsk (11 May). The Federal Foreign Office has provided around 100,000 euros in funding for the tour.