Almost precisely 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his United States colleague John Kerry visited the Berlin Wall Memorial on Wednesday, 22 October. The Foreign Ministers jointly honoured the peaceful revolution and remembered the victims of Germany’s division.
This was a special visit to Berlin for US Secretary of State John Kerry because, as a very young man, he experienced the division of Berlin first hand. More than 50 years ago, at the age of 11, he lived in Berlin for a while and was thereby able to witness the division of the city.
Once, he even took off on his own, on a bicycle and in possession of only a US diplomatic passport, to visit East Berlin. The trip did not last long: The young John Kerry found the mood in East Berlin to be gloomy, and he quickly returned to the West. Yet this personal experience of the divided Germany made a lasting impression on the young man.
Berlin: Focal point of the Cold War
That is why Foreign Minister Steinmeier greeted his colleague with a “Welcome back” upon Kerry’s arrival at the Berlin Wall Memorial – welcoming him on his return to Berlin. Steinmeier recalled during a joint press conference that, for many decades, Berlin was “the focal point of the Cold War” and expressed his gratitude for all of the United States’ efforts with a view to overcoming the division of Germany and Europe: “This would not have been feasible or possible without the unconditional support of the United States”. The German Foreign Minister went on to say that Germany will never forget America’s generosity.
John Kerry even addressed the journalists in German, saying that “America and Germany share a long history of cooperating in the service of freedom, peace and prosperity. I am very pleased to be here today, to reaffirm our deep commitment to our relations with Germany, as well as to continue and deepen this long history.”
Commemorating Wall victims and peaceful revolution
During their tour of the Berlin Wall Memorial, both Foreign Ministers recalled the division of Berlin, Germany and Europe. At the Window of Remembrance, which pays tribute to the victims of Germany’s division, Steinmeier and Kerry paused despite the pouring rain and, together with Cold War witnesses, remembered the Wall victims.
Prior to their visit to the Memorial, both Foreign Ministers met briefly with 12 students of various German–American schools in Berlin to discuss the peaceful revolution in the former GDR, as well as German reunification.
At the press conference, Steinmeier stressed how we have a “shared responsibility” to make clear to a younger generation what it was like to live in a divided Germany, and how this division was peacefully overcome. “This is a generation,” Steinmeier went on to say, “that today can hardly imagine how only 25 years ago this Wall not only cut Berlin in half, but also separated friends from one another and tore families apart.”
Close partnership in tackling international crises
Besides commemorating the fall of the Wall, the visit also focused on current foreign policy issues. Already on Tuesday evening, Steinmeier and Kerry met for political consultations at Villa Borsig, the Federal Foreign Office Guest House on Lake Tegel in Berlin. At their press conference, both Foreign Ministers addressed these talks, as well. Kerry commended Germany for its leading role in efforts to resolve international crises, such as the conflict in Ukraine, as well as the fight against the terrorist militia group ISIS, and Germany’s engagement with a view to containing Ebola. He stressed that the United States is grateful for its close partnership with Germany.
Preventing new division in Europe
Steinmeier warned that the conflict in Ukraine “still has enough potential” to threaten peace in Europe. “It is our job to make sure that Europe is never again split,” he said. Kerry called for an end to “Russian aggression” in Ukraine. Both Foreign Ministers said that the Minsk agreement on a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine must now finally be fully implemented.
Other topics included the situation in Iraq and Syria, in view of the advances of the terrorist militia group ISIS, as well as the Middle East peace process, negotiations with Iran on its nuclear programme, North Korea, and transatlantic relations.