Foreign Minister Westerwelle spoke in commemoration of the First World War at the opening of the exhibitions “1914 – The Avant-Gardes at War” and “Missing Sons” at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn on 7 November 2013.
-- Trqanslation of advance text --
Art and culture put up a mirror to the state of a society. They often stride ahead of society, driving its development forwards. That is particularly true of the avant-garde.
A hundred years ago, Europe’s artists considered themselves honour-bound to be part of the avant-garde. They prioritised the idea of humanity moving on to uncharted territory.
For many, fighting was a normal part of life. Not necessary in a literal sense – in the cafés and salons of Paris, Berlin and Vienna, people talked about fighting against the shackles of traditions, against the shackles of morality.
Then, the avant-garde actually did end up fighting. August 1914 signalled the start of a cataclysm that was to end an era and affect millions of people.
At the beginning, many even welcomed the war, seeing it as a test that Europe had to go through in order to create something new. It was with enthusiasm, at first, that many artists went to war.
There was even a belief that the war had meaning.
The horrors of industrialised mass warfare soon dispelled all the romantic delusions about war. In practice, the war proved a catastrophe for humanity. The brutality of the First World War defied comprehension.
Modernity, longed for by so many artists, revealed its horrific, deadly face. It was still in the early weeks of the war that its horrors became visible in Belgiumand northern France.
On the Eastern Front, the town of Kalisz was all but destroyed in August 1914. The unrestrained submarine war claimed the lives of thousands of civilians.
The use of poison gas added a completely new and particularly horrific dimension to the conflict.
The end of the war saw political and social turmoil across large parts of Europe and the world.
Many felt hard done by and demanded retribution. We know today what terrible seeds were sown at that time.
The First World War has been dubbed the seminal catastrophe of the 20th century, a description which has tragic resonance.
In Germany, aggressive revanchism took hold in broad sections of society after the establishment of what many saw as a one-sided peace. The Third Reich and its betrayal of civilised values approached. From the very beginning, the Nazis made no secret of their aim to violently overturn the order which had emerged from the First World War. They were horrifyingly successful in that endeavour.
In 2014, we are marking not only the 100th anniversary of the First World War but also the 75th anniversary of the Second. The memory of Nazi Germany’s war of extermination and the Holocaust will play a significant part in our thoughts during 2014.
Some say that it took until the end of the Second World War for the German people to grasp that they had lost the First.
Germany’s belief in itself as a great power and a global player ended in political, military and above all moral catastrophe in 1945.
The bitter consequence was that our country and Europe were split in two as the world descended into the Cold War.
This made the joy all the greater when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and peaceful revolution in Central and Eastern Europe tore down the Iron Curtain. Next year, it will be 25 years since those events took place. That is the third major date which Europe will be commemorating in 2014.
As anyone with an awareness of history knows, even if it had done nothing else, the EU would be worthwhile for the decades of peace it has brought our continent.
The EU is a union of peace, both for those within it and for those outside. The foundation of the European Union installed the principle of cooperation where confrontation once reigned. Cooperation can be tough going. But anyone familiar with the consequences of confrontation – and the images in this exhibition express them clearly – knows that cooperation is worth every ounce of effort.
Not only is the EU the answer to the darkest chapter in our history; it is also the response we need to our changing world. We in Europe are a community of shared culture, bound together by a common destiny. That is another thing this exhibition makes clear.
Even during the Second World War and the Cold War, the artists of Europe found closely related means of expression in their literature, music and art despite not being permitted to speak to one another. Their shared cultural heritage was alive and well.
It was very tangible that Europe was a community bound together by shared culture, even as it faced the greatest test in its history.
My thanks go to the Art and Exhibition Hall and to all those involved. You are not only commemorating a dreadful period of our shared past, but also reminding us of the responsibility we bear for the future of Europe.