Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle at the event “The German language in the world – An homage” on 25 February 2010 at Radialsystem in Berlin

26.02.2010 - Speech

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Ladies and gentlemen,

I will give my speech in German.

German is a beautiful language. Poetic words like “Abendrot”, “Morgenstern”, “Blütenstaub” and “Alpenglühen” give the ears and the soul reason to applaud and jump for joy. German can be quite flowery.

Language is not just about what you say – how you say something is also important. In linguistic terminology this is referred to as “ductus”. “Ductus” is a characteristic way of choosing words, sentence structure, pronunciation and emphasis. As you know, everyone has their own ductus. Language can be used to hide what you mean. But language can also reveal what you would have rather kept hidden. It is possible to intentionally use language in order to not be understood. Think of two doctors discussing patients in their presence. The same thing happens in politics as well. Language can go in one ear and out the other without leaving any impression behind, or it can engage people. To do that, it must be precise.

Tonight is intended as an “homage” to the German language. We also could have called it an “Ehrerweis” or “Lobpreisung”. But that is not necessary. German is self-confident enough to get along well with words from other languages.

Ladies and gentlemen,

German foreign policy is value-oriented and interest-led. These two principles are not opposites. This is demonstrated particularly well by our cultural relations and education policy.

Cultural relations and education policy allows us to communicate our values very directly. And communicating these values is in our own vital interest. We can count on reliable political and economic cooperation with countries that respect human rights and are governed by the rule of law. In a state where the rule of law prevails, businesses can rest assured that they will be able to defend their investments before a court if necessary. We can openly discuss differences and find solutions with countries we are closely tied to economically as well as socially. Interests and values do not stand in contrast to one another; they belong instead to responsible foreign policy, and are brought together in this long-standing tradition of our country.

Whoever champions the rule of law, grants people new freedoms. Ideas which are freely debated in a Goethe-Institut are ideas for which you can sometimes be thrown into jail two houses along. Fostering intellectual freedom is an obligation which Germany intends to fulfil and to which I personally am committed.

The task of German cultural relations and education policy is to help shape the world of tomorrow. I know that Cornelia Pieper supports me on this point. We take it very seriously in our ministry. Just a single number can demonstrate the importance of cultural relations and education policy – something many people who read about and discuss foreign policy are not even aware of: in 2009 Germany invested nearly 750 million euro in this policy area. That is roughly a fourth of the Federal Foreign Office’s entire budget. Only if we succeed in fostering dialogue between cultures will we be able to live in lasting peace and freedom.

Ladies and gentlemen,

People who speak the same language treat each other with mutual respect. In the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, German is a popular language amongst young people. For example, more than 2.3 million Poles are currently learning German. Through our language and culture, we hope to convey an accurate picture of modern Germany. A Germany that stands for openness and freedom, for tolerance and values, for success and a willingness to work hard, for education and innovation.

In Poland learning English is also a clear trend. That’s a fact. No one denies it. We also encourage multilingualism. We want more young Germans to learn Polish and thus do the exact opposite. Multilingualism is the key to a European identity that takes into account our continent’s traditional diversity. German is a language close to many hearts and German is the language at the heart of Europe. It is an important part of our European identity.

I would like to share a brief story with you that demonstrates the political significance of our beautiful language. This afternoon I met with my counterpart from Skopje, Antonio Milošoski. In him, we have a dedicated friend of Germany shaping the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s foreign policy. He is not only a friend of our country, but also knows it well. He spent time in Germany on a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service. Naturally, we spoke German with each other today, though it would have been possible to have our conversation in another language and we could have relied on our interpreters.

So you see that German and the German education system is definitely not a barrier to a great career. This is something we want to show many young people around the world. As the example of my counterpart demonstrates, cultural relations and education policy can create lasting ties to Germany. The basis of these ties is the language. German gives individuals opportunities. It opens the door to one of the best education systems in the world and of course also strengthens Germany’s stance as an academic hub. German gives people the opportunity to have an academic career in over 350 institutions of higher education, some of which, as we all know, are world renowned. The German language is the key to German literature, music, philosophy and science, to the wealth of great European cultural traditions and of course also to the largest economy in Europe. For all of these reasons, over 14 million people have chosen to learn German. No other language in Europe is spoken by more people as a native tongue than our language. We want to encourage even more people, especially young people, to learn German. Not for reasons of arrogance or chauvinism, but rather because it is part of diversity. This is especially true for the rapidly growing Asian economies. In India particularly, the potential and interest in German and in studying in Germany is enormous.

To give you some specifics, the Schools: Partners for the Future initiative is the largest language promotion project ever, encompassing a global network of nearly 1500 partner schools. In their respective countries these schools stand for good quality and are very popular. That is why I am very happy to be able to launch this campaign “German – Language of Ideas” with you tonight.

“German – Language of Ideas” is the title of a joint campaign run by the Federal Foreign Office and its partners. The Goethe-Institut, German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Central Agency for Schools Abroad, Educational Exchange Service, Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations and Deutsche Welle are all represented here tonight. I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of you and thank you for being here.

This year’s campaign will offer language courses and educational fairs around the world, a partner school initiative, university partnerships as well as scholarships.

Allow me to thank everyone who has contributed to this campaign, as well as Berlin Festival Ltd for organizing tonight’s event.

I would like to welcome some special guests: the DAAD scholarship-holders and alumni who represent the 35,000 DAAD scholarships that are awarded annually. You are all most welcome here. Allow me to close with a quote from Jutta Limbach’s wonderful book Does German Have a Future? She writes, and I quote, “Speaking in many tongues promises an intellectual gain. If we only had one language on Earth, we would soon run out of things to say to each other.”

I am looking forward to an enjoyable evening with you.

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