Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the official ceremony in memory of Richard von Weizsäcker, former President of the Federal Republic of Germany

11.02.2015 - Speech

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Mrs von Weizsäcker,
The von Weizsäcker family,
Federal President,
Excellencies, distinguished guests,

Sometimes, there are bright moments in history when neither armies, nor war, nor coercion, influence the course of events – but rather words. Richard von Weizsäcker knew that.

8 May 1985 was such a bright moment in history.

His speech on German history made German history. When he spoke of a 'day of liberation', it had a liberating effect on our country.


Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds, Elie Wiesel once said. Richard von Weizsäcker’s words were transformed into deeds in three ways:

Richard von Weizsäcker inspired new trust in our country around the world. This trust was vital on the road to reunification.

Richard von Weizsäcker demanded truthfulness of Germany: Liberation, not defeat. No 1945 without 1933.

These words completed in spoken language what Willy Brandt’s gesture in the Warsaw ghetto had begun.

Thirdly, Richard von Weizsäcker thus bridged the gap between generations. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the lectern in Bonn: his stature – Federal President, a liberal aristocrat from a generations-old elite: How emphatic those words sounded in the ears of my generation, in my own ears: those of a student, of a young Social Democrat, the son of a carpenter!

These words could only have the impact they had because they were uttered by Richard von Weizsäcker. His words rang true to young and old, Germany and the world because they rang true to him!


Neither armies, nor war, nor coercion – but rather words should shape the course of events. This hope is so vitally important, especially in today’s stormy and perilous times!

Above all, what would foreign policy be without this hope?

For Richard von Weizsäcker, words brought hope of peace.

For words have two dimensions: they are an invitation to dialogue with the tools of reason, and they are an expression of our own – if you will forgive me for using an old-fashioned phrase – moral bearings.

The statesman Richard von Weizsäcker was instilled with this hope. He never simply uttered words. Rather he sought to ascertain how words become reality.

He not only spoke of reconciliation. He actively fostered trust among our neighbours – in Poland, in France. He did so consistently over decades and began even before his Presidency when he helped ensure the success of the Ostverträge, the series of treaties with Eastern bloc countries, in the Bundestag in Bonn.

He not only spoke of conflicts and human suffering. Rather he looked for causes and solutions, and to that end – even long after his Presidency – he did not shy away from difficult or awkward channels of communication.

He once said that a friend of dialogue is a friend of peace.

Above all, however, the individual Richard von Weizsäcker personified this hope.

As a Christian, he was aware of the power of words and lived by St. Paul’s pronouncement: “I appeal to you that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement.”

Even after this day of parting, we remain duty-bound to keep his memory and his ideals alive, such as his appeal to young people at the very end of his speech on 8 May 1985: “Learn to live together,

not in opposition to each other.”


I met Richard von Weizsäcker for the last time twelve weeks ago. It was a moving encounter – but in terms of music, not words. For Richard von Weizsäcker, there was a realm with a deep and powerful impact beyond words: the arts, especially music, which brought him great joy from a very early age.

He once said that music was like the miracle of Pentecost, for ears hear music in every language.

I believe I witnessed such a miracle during our last encounter. A group of young musicians were playing Felix Mendelssohn’s String Octet, and – seated next to von Weizsäcker – I saw how his features, already pale and drawn, were transformed and infused with intense rapture by the first notes and remained so until the very last chord. I will remember this image for a long time to come.

And when, in a moment, the clarinet starts playing the wonderful melody from Mozart’s Stadler Quintet, I will think of the words of Richard von Weizsäcker. “Man finds his identity in his own culture”.

And I hope that we will all find our way to him one last time.

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