– Translation of advance text –
Goethe is ready to celebrate – this year he even has two birthdays: his 263rd in August and today his 60th in Athens. Goethe himself saw German culture in the Greek tradition. He asked the question, “What modern nation does not have the Greeks to thank for its education in the arts? And, in certain fields, what nation more than Germany?”
So we are not just ready to celebrate together with the Goethe-Institut, but we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our Greek hosts. Here in the Goethe-Institut in Athens, our cultures have been meeting for sixty years, German culture has been meeting the culture of Greece, so steeped in tradition. The Goethe-Institut has created a unique space for exchange, dialogue and mutual inspiration in which Germans and Greeks have together engendered a new creativity. I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to you, Professor Lehmann, and to your staff.
German-Greek relations have for centuries been the story of cross-fertilization. The rediscovery of Greek antiquity was a font of renewal and hope in the German history of ideas. Particularly liberal and democracy-minded Germans welcomed the rebirth of the Greek state as a symbol of a European renaissance. German academics, artists and writers have made important contributions to help the Greeks rediscover their nation in the light of its great classical past.
However, we cannot talk about the history of the German-Greek friendship without remembering the depths of despair brought by the Second World War and the immense suffering of the Greek people under German occupation. This makes us all the more grateful today that the Greeks were the first after the War to reach out to us and open the way for a new start. The invitation to set up the first Goethe-Institut here in Athens, years ahead of all the rest, expressed the desire to rebuild the friendship on a foundation of culture. For this, I express my sincere respect and gratitude to the Greek people.
Twenty-two years after the War, the Regime of the Colonels confronted the German-Greek friendship with a new challenge. Many figures of Greek cultural and public life sought refuge in Germany. Here throughout those dreadful seven years, the Goethe-Institut remained a haven of free speech and unfettered cultural development.
But let’s not leave it at congratulations and satisfaction at what has been achieved over the decades. After all, we now face major challenges in Europe. The challenge not just to tackle the crisis embroiling our common currency but also the threat to our friendship. It is not just the job of governments to meet this challenge. On the contrary, the call goes out to all of us as citizens of Europe. And it goes out to those responsible for our cultural relations, if not first and foremost to them.
We have the Greeks to thank for so much culture, art, philosophy. Also a philosophy of friendship firmly anchored in the polis based on freedom and democracy. In his Nicomachean Ethics, the great Aristotle differentiated between friendship based on usefulness and friendship based on goodness. We don’t want Europe merely as an alliance based on usefulness. After all, according to Aristotle, friendship based on usefulness soon ends when the usefulness is over. We want a Europe of friendship based on goodness in which we see each other as we are, as an enrichment of our own lives.
We Germans want the Greeks to look back in a few years and say: in our hour of need, the Germans were there as our most reliable friends!
And we Germans do not want a Europe without Greece!