Eighteen years ago, I stood on the bridge between the Polish city of Slubice and Frankfurt an der Oder along with hundreds of other people. At midnight, the anthem of Europe rang out, fireworks exploded in the sky, people hugged one another. It was the night of 1 May 2004 and the moment when Poland joined the European Union. The joy of being part of Europe was written all over the faces of the people on the bridge. For me, this feeling, this sense of joy is inextricably linked with your country. I am therefore delighted – and it was very important for me personally – that today I can spend the Day of German Unity in Warsaw. For 3 October is also a joyful day for Germany and Europe.
1 May 2004 would not have been possible without 3 October. Yet likewise, 3 October is inconceivable without 1 May 2004. I therefore want to call to mind something that in Germany is sometimes too seldom expressed. We Germans could not have written the chapter of our reunification without the courage of the Polish people. There is a love poem by Wislawa Szymborska in which she writes:
“Every beginning is only a sequel, after all, and the book of events is always open, halfway through.”
Long before the Berlin Wall collapsed, thousands of people here took to the streets with the Solidarność movement. They called for their voices to be heard, for democracy and freedom for their country – and a new, free, united Europe. I am thinking of the workers who founded the first free trade union in the Eastern bloc in the shipyard in Gdańsk. The many strong women who weren’t perhaps to be found in the front row on all the photos, but who were so important for these protests. The tram driver Henryka Krzywonos, who is with us this evening. Welcome! You organised the solidarity strikes by the transport companies. I think of the actor Krystyna Janda, who sang protest songs at the “Forbidden Songs Festival”. I think of the millions of courageous men and women who took to the streets and declared loudly and clearly: We want to be free!
The pull of that freedom movement also took hold of Germany. It was not least the images from Gdańsk, from Kraków, from Warsaw which drew the Germans onto the streets in 1989 and gave them courage. Until the Wall fell and Germany was reunited – in a free Europe.
I was born in 1980. I grew up in West Germany and experienced the Cold War only through the eyes of a child. I have spent three-quarters of my life in this united, peaceful Germany. When my generation and subsequent generations attend protests today in Europe, for the climate or women’s rights or our common Europe, we know that afterwards we can go home, to the cinema, to our friends or our families. My children are now 7 and 11, born in Berlin and Potsdam. For them, east and west are just points on the compass, different directions. I think of this freedom, the freedom to move in any direction when I see the brave people who are standing up against authoritarian regimes today – in places such as Tehran, Minsk and Moscow. These people deserve our solidarity. It is their courage that can change a society. It is this kind of courage that also made German reunification possible. And I say quite deliberately as Foreign Minister and as a politician that this freedom was not dictated or orchestrated from above. It was not the idea of a party or a government, neither was it a cabinet decision. It was the will and the courage of the people that brought about this freedom.
Without the courage shown in November 1989, we would not be celebrating 3 October. The courage of people who took to the streets and did not know what the outcome of these protests would be. Who didn’t know whether the protests would cost them their job or have them thrown into prison. And they went ahead anyway – first in Poland, then in Germany.
And today I can tell you this: I’m proud that Poland counts this reunited Germany among its friends. That was possible because you, above all as the people, held out your hand to us.
After the Second World War, after the most heinous crimes committed by Germany, the Polish people were willing to reach out to us. For that we are forever grateful.
I don’t want to start listing all the statistics on how many German-Polish enterprises we now have, how many youth exchanges, students and German-Polish associations. All that is impressive – but our relations are more than these institutions. We are tied to one another forever, as grandchildren, as sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, as colleagues, as neighbours, as friends.
What we have is an intimate friendship between millions of people. A friendship and partnership that is stronger than political differences. A friendship that we have to continue to invest in, challenging as that can sometimes be – to prevent the erosion of what we have achieved through the Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness. That is our political responsibility. Poland is one of our most important partners in the EU. And I am delighted that the feeling I had and the joy I sensed on the bridge over the Oder in 2004 has not dissipated. Now, as then, the people of our countries are united by the strong desire to be part of this European Union. A European Union that is so much more than a common internal market. A European Union that is more than anything a union of freedom and peace. For particularly at the moment we are seeing that an effective European Union is not an end in itself but our common life insurance.
For seven months now, we have been witnessing a war on the European continent that is writing a new chapter in our history with brutal penmanship. The Ukrainian people are not only fighting this war for the survival of their country, they are also fighting for a free Europe, for our Europe. And once again, Poland is at the centre of those who are supporting this fight for freedom at all levels, above all among the general public. What the Polish people have achieved since 24 February in their support for Ukraine is unprecedented and fills me with the greatest respect.
That’s also why I am here today. We will not relax our support for Ukraine, together with our partners in the EU and NATO. For we Germans will never forget that we owe our life in freedom, in a reunited country at the heart of Europe, also to our allies and neighbours. We will be there for them now, just as they were there for us. This is true for Ukraine. But the same applies to Poland. We will be there for you. The way you were there for us when we needed you most. After all, the security of Eastern Europe is also Germany’s security. You can rely on that.
And now I wish us all – in spite or maybe even because of everything – an enjoyable, a joyful evening. Because we know how precious, how fragile our freedom, our security and our peace project that is Europe is. This evening, let us raise our glasses to the hope that Poland and Germany will fill our “book of events”, as portrayed in the love poem I quoted at the start of my speech, with many more pages – with stories of close cooperation, with lively and sometimes heated discussion, but above all with tales full of friendship and moments of happiness. For today is a joyful day for Europe.