Speech by Minister of State Cornelia Pieper on the occasion of the award of the German Polish Prize

14.06.2012 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Under-Secretary of State Bernatowicz, our distinguished prize-winners, Mayor Dutkiewicz from the city of Wrocław and Director Scherer from the Europaschule Deutsch-Polnisches Gymnasium in Löcknitz – and with him I’d also like to welcome Director Golisowicz from our prize-winner’s Polish partner school –, members of the German-Polish Prize Jury, State Secretary Schröder, Director Moscicka-Dendys, Director Miszczak, Excellencies, boys and girls,
ladies and gentlemen,

I’m delighted to welcome you all to Villa Borsig. We’re gathered here today to celebrate the winners of the 2011 German-Polish Prize. This Prize was initiated nearly twenty years ago to honour outstanding services to German-Polish relations. For both societies the award of the Prize is a big annual event. An occasion to put routine aside and pay a much-deserved official tribute to special initiatives that have strengthened German-Polish ties. Like their predecessors, the winners of the 2011 Prize demonstrate each in their own way how multifaceted and rewarding these ties are.

This year the German-Polish Prize goes to the Europaschule Deutsch-Polnisches Gymnasium in Löcknitz and to the city of Wrocław. At first glance these two prize-winners might seem to have little in common. But on a closer look it’s clear that both have made a major contribution to German-Polish relations. If these relations are today vibrant and thriving particularly in places where they might be expected to be especially fragile, this is in no small part their doing.

For is it, ladies and gentlemen, something to be taken for granted when Polish and German children go to school together and learn each other’s language – in a region where for years it was anything but normal to cultivate contacts with the neighbours on the other side? And is it something to be taken for granted when the city of Wrocław today takes pride in connecting people in the heart of Europe – and is not in the least inclined to keep its distance from Germany of all countries?

None of this can be taken for granted, I believe. When the city of Wrocław and the school in Löcknitz set out years ago on their chosen path, they encountered, for different reasons, any number of obstacles. They surmounted these obstacles and became bridge-builders in the fullest sense of the word. They have thus played a crucial part in generating the lively exchange and mutual trust that underpin German-Polish relations today. So for us jury members it is indeed an honour, I feel, and always a great pleasure to salute outstanding achievements such as those of today’s two prize-winners.

As the representative of the German members of the jury, I’d like to pay a special tribute here to the Polish prize-winner, the city of Wrocław or Breslau, as it is known in German. A city that in 1945 had been largely reduced to rubble and which, as a consequence of the Second World War, had seen almost its entire population replaced. What a challenge, ladies and gentlemen, for the city’s former inhabitants and the new arrivals! What a challenge for both societies! The city’s new inhabitants – for whom war and occupation with all their terrors were still fresh memories and who in many cases had just been relocated from what had been the eastern region of Poland – faced the challenge of rebuilding an unfamiliar and largely devastated city and making it their new home. Under these circumstances, what could have been more normal than to make a complete break and cultivate a culture of separation?

But that is not at all what happened. Anyone visiting Wrocław today will find a young, dynamic metropolis that takes a lively interest in its past and has no qualms about exploring its multifaceted heritage. Wrocław proclaims this heritage in a host of creative ways and sees its future as a city in the heart of Europe where people come together and connect.

To gauge the measure of this achievement, let me spotlight some facts that can surely not be taken for granted. I’m thinking here of all the obstacles that were overcome thanks to Wrocław’s civic-minded inhabitants.

On reflection, after all, it’s by no means a matter of course that Wrocław should welcome all visitors with open arms. In the early years the visitors from Germany were mostly former residents of the city or people whose parents or grandparents came from the area. Wrocław and its inhabitants did not shy away from contact with these visitors and often enough provided them with sympathetic and practical help in tracing their roots. And as they pursued this quest, the former Breslau residents inevitably came to know more about Poland and the lives of their Polish neighbours. So these contacts flourished and acquired new meaning. Visitors who at first may have been hesitant and mistrusting went home to spread the word about what a modern and hospitable country Poland was. They did so because of the kind way in which they had been received by the people of present-day Wrocław.

It’s by no means a matter of course either that the University – formerly the University of Breslau, now Uniwersytet Wrocławski – last year celebrated its bicentenary. The celebrations, which were attended by the Presidents of Germany, Poland and Ukraine, highlighted the city’s proud academic tradition. And they also highlighted the contribution made to this tradition by the University of Lemberg – now the University of Lviv – whose Polish faculty members after the War found in Wrocław a new base for their scholarly pursuits.

And it would definitely be mistaken, too, to regard the existence in the city of a German community association as a matter of course. An association that cooperates extremely closely with the city’s various cultural organizations and sees itself as a bridge-builder between Germany and Poland. There are also flourishing trilateral exchanges with Wrocław’s Ukrainian community, who have close ties with Lviv. The city sees this diversity in its midst not as something to shun but as something to celebrate.

And if I may cite one last example, it’s by no means a matter of course, ladies and gentlemen, that we Germans can today refer to the city as “Breslau” without being suspected of revisionist leanings. This means it’s perfectly normal, when speaking in Polish, to use the Polish name of the city. And when speaking in German, to use the German name – even when the speaker is Polish.

Considering what problems we faced just a few decades ago, the fact that all this is now absolute normality is indeed reason to celebrate – and that’s exactly why we’re here today.

As I see it, Mayor Dutkiewicz, you have been a prime mover in creating this state of affairs. Wrocław is today a city where Germans and Poles connect in all kinds of ways and always in a spirit of mutual trust. Your city has a large number of schools that offer intensive German-language teaching and cultivate contacts with Germany. The University’s Department of German Studies is the largest in Poland. With its special focus on the region’s literary tradition, the research published by its scholars has an international reputation. Together with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the University runs the renowned Willy Brandt Center for German and European Studies, which celebrated its first decade just a few weeks ago. With support from the Goethe-Institut, the city library offers its users a German reading room. Every year, finally, the city attracts ever more students from abroad. Many Germans come to spend one or two ERASMUS semesters in Wrocław and later return as friends again and again to renew their ties with the city.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s not to pass over the fact either that with economic growth of over 12% Wrocław is one of the most dynamic cities in Poland and indeed the whole of Europe. As a result, an increasing number of international companies now have a presence in the region. German companies in particular have long discovered that the city is an attractive place to do business. The German-Polish Chamber of Commerce has an office there and in the so-called Europe Forum companies regularly discuss matters of mutual concern. For Germany’s federal states, too – especially those situated along the Polish border – cooperation with the Lower Silesian capital is a high priority, as the celebrations a few weeks ago marking Saxony’s opening of its new liaison office in Wrocław made very clear.

This means in fact that the oft-heard appeals for us – Germans and Poles – to cooperate and interact as equals is something which in Wrocław has long become reality. When Poles and Germans collaborate in binational or multinational teams, learn together as students or meet in projects for schoolchildren and young people, they are actively participating in a kind of normality of which we could long only dream: the normality that exists between neighbours who know and trust one another.

And that’s exactly what makes Wrocław so special in terms of German-Polish relations. Virtually no other city has such close ties with neighbouring Germany. At all levels and in every area of life there is a thriving give and take. As I pointed out earlier, we see all kinds of things being taken for granted and regarded as perfectly normal where we should have least expected it. A city where the distance between Germans and Poles could have been greatest became a pioneer in fostering closeness and hence an example to society as a whole.

And in Wrocław, I may add, “connecting people” never means simply “connecting Germans and Poles”. One need only think of the many young people studying there from all over Europe. Wrocław has demonstrated time and again, moreover, that its heritage can be a rich resource for developing a vision for the future. As I’ve already mentioned, a good many of its present-day residents have connections with Poland’s former eastern regions and Ukraine. The city also stages a series of public events evoking its Jewish traditions. One such event is the so-called “Neighbourhood of Tolerance”, which takes place in a neighbourhood featuring four houses of worship in close proximity, all belonging to different faiths. Another is the Polish-German-Israeli forum held at the Edith Stein House. The city is increasingly recalling its historic ties with its southern neighbours, too, the Czech Republic and also Austria, and these are now the focus of a number of cultural initiatives.

In the light of all this we’re thrilled and delighted that Wrocław, which has perhaps a better claim than any other to be the hub of Central Europe, will in 2016 bear the proud title of European Capital of Culture. What wonderful recognition for the city that Norman Davies calls in the German version of his monography on Wrocław “the flower of Europe” – a description with which any visitor to the city would wholeheartedly agree! Looking ahead, we see the city’s “connecting people” motto being realized in a host of different ways. It’s one of the host cities right now, for example, for the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship. That in the midst of this great festival of football you’ve found the time to join us today, Mr Mayor, is something we greatly appreciate. We fervently hope EURO 2012 will bring Wrocław many new friends from all over Europe.

Here in Germany Wrocław has already won countless staunch friends and this is a true boon, I may say, for both our societies. The Prize we are presenting today is a way of expressing our admiration and very heartfelt thanks to the city of Wrocław and its inhabitants as well as to all those who have shared in this endeavour.

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