-- Translation of advance text --
Fellow members of the German Bundestag,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Spring in Berlin!
“It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining in the blue sky and you can smell spring in the air.” That is how eyewitness Arno Kiehl described Berlin on 2 May 1945.
The sky was blue, but what was happening under that sky?
The Große Tiergarten park is a battlefield. Fighting is even raging amid the trees of the Berliners’ one‑time oasis. Then the Reichstag is taken.
The young Soviet soldier Ivan Aleksandrov uses a small hammer to chisel his name into the stonework. A few metres away, in front of the burnt‑out Hotel Adlon, hundreds of wounded soldiers are camped out on the middle ground on Unter den Linden. An emergency hospital has been set up on the formerly magnificent boulevard. For many the help comes too late.
A little further away, on the banks of the Spree: in the ruins of Monbijou Palace a group of half‑starved young people are hiding. They don’t want to be used as canon fodder in Hitler’s senseless, inhumane “Volkssturm” militia. And yet they know that up to the very last minute, even as Soviet machine‑gun fire is whizzing through the streets, SS henchmen are killing their own compatriots if they seek to escape the cynical last round of conscription into the militia. Now it’s calm, the grenades are no longer exploding. The young men stick their heads up: is it safe to venture out again? Their gaze sweeps over the Spree towards the Palace Square. Ruins as far as the eye can see.
That was Berlin on 2 May 1945.
70 years later the date is 2 May 2015. Spring has arrived in Berlin once again. The sky is blue once again – it was this morning, at least...
Tiergarten is covered in budding greenery; the cherry trees are blossoming. On the edge of the park a diverse, mixed group of young people from all over the world are discussing all they’ve discovered in Berlin. They’re eating their picnic and sitting on large, grey concrete blocks – the stones of the Holocaust Memorial. And quite naturally their discussion turns to Germany and its history.
The Reichstag is nearby. Somewhere in the stonework you can still see Ivan Aleksandov’s name. In fact his hammer and chisel are currently on display in the German Historical Museum. Yet nowadays, above these Reichstag walls, visitors from near and far crane their necks over the glass dome to look down into the heart of German democracy.
And on the banks of the Spree, where those young people were hiding, people are dancing their way into the month of May. Colourful fairy lights, a beer garden and a wooden dancefloor directly on the water. A group of visitors from Argentina stares as they pass – the Germans can dance tango?
And then their gaze turns to the river and they see the cranes on Palace Square behind the splendid Museum Island. This is the birthplace of the Humboldt‑Forum, a place where the world, with its people, knowledge and cultures, comes together into a melting pot.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Imagine all that in two photo albums: Spring in Berlin 1945 and Spring in Berlin 2015. Both albums are laid out in front of you – it’s near on impossible that the pictures show the same city.
The change took place within a lifespan, from the complete devastation which Germany brought upon itself and the world, to a cosmopolitan, attractive, pulsing capital.
All of that took place within a lifespan and there are some people among us today who experienced it all in person. Dearest eyewitnesses, we’re delighted to have you here today. Your presence is unbelievably valuable to us later generations and we would like to wish you an especially warm welcome into our midst.
When I see these two photo albums before me, of 1945 and 2015, and when I look at the astonishing development of this city, I am filled with two emotions: great joy and deep gratitude.
And I then ask myself, what is it that happened to make this possible? What happened between these two snapshots in time and what does that mean for the role that this city, that our country should play today?
First and foremost, there is no doubt over what Michael Müller has already pointed out: The end of the war, which took place on 2 May on Schulenburgring road in Berlin and was finally sealed on 8 May in the town of Karlshorst, was a liberation for Germany. Even if it took a long time for the majority of Germans to view it as such. As Ingeborg Bachmann wrote: “People can reasonably be expected to accept the truth”. Richard von Weizsäcker expected the Germans to do so, and thus the term of liberation he used had a liberating effect on our country itself.
Yet this liberation that Weizsäcker talked of was not merely a liberation from something – from National Socialist tyranny – it was also a liberation to something. After the racial fanaticism and the tyranny of National Socialism, the darkest aberration in our history, we were able to shine more light on the path that lay ahead of us, and to remain ever vigilant and fully committed to the human values and political principles that Germany had desecrated in an unprecedented way.
Thus our liberation also gives rise to our responsibility – the responsibility of “never again!”
These two words summarise what guilt, duty and responsibility mean to us Germans today – including passing on the experience of a terrible past as a warning to future generations, and countering those who ignore it. Racial hatred and hatred directed at minorities must never again have a place in our society.
The suffering of the terror of National Socialism as well as that of the war was inflicted by Germany: all the deaths, the expulsions and the unparalleled crime against humanity that was the Shoah. And over the past seven decades, this very country has been granted the privilege of gradually, step by step becoming once more part of the international community of states and of a united Europe.
No other place embodies this felicitous development as vividly as the cosmopolitan Berlin of today, of 2015. It’s a development which we can be deeply grateful for. For we have been able to enjoy this good fortune partly because many of the victims have reached out to the country of the perpetrators. We now live in friendship with our neighbouring countries and erstwhile war opponents. This friendship must be fostered and protected. No one reminds us of that as much as the great German who did such a great deal to shape this city and our country: Willy Brandt. His warning is as true now as it ever was.
One friendship is a particular expression of this felicitous development and is in fact nothing short of a miracle – the friendship between the Federal Republic of Germany and the State of Israel. In a few days we will be celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations between our two countries – something which gives us a sterling opportunity to reflect on the miracle of this friendship. Following the unparalleled crimes of the Shoah which you, Ms Deutschkron, Ms Friedlaender and Ms Mann, and your families were forced to endure here in your home town Berlin and following the systematic elimination of all Jewish life, we see a miracle in our city, too: Jewish life is flourishing once more. Many young Israelis come to Berlin every year, there are Jewish theatres, festivals, synagogues, cultural centres – you can even find good bagels here in Berlin, some say... Jewish life can once again flourish in Berlin, Ms Deutschkron, Ms Friedlaender and Ms Mann, because you offered to trust us again. We’re very aware of that. It is our responsibility to nurture and protect that new trust and to raise our voices against any form of anti-Semitism in our country.
I’m filled with humility and gratitude that we Germans are not alone in our remembrance on a day like today, but that we can remember together with Germany’s former opponents. Together with the countries in which Germany caused untold suffering during the National Socialist regime and which made great sacrifices for the liberation of Europe until the last days of war. Just three days ago in the Halbe cemetery in front of the city gates, we commemorated a further 120 deaths, including Soviet soldiers whose lives were taken from them shortly before an end was finally put to that carnage.
When I look around this meeting, when I can welcome in our midst the Ambassadors of the United States, of Russia, the representatives of our European friends and the representatives of our partners all over the world, I know that “never again” has a second meaning for us Germans: “never again alone”!
Excellencies, representatives and guests from all over the world: we’ll not let go of the hand that you and your countries of origin have held out to us.
Never again alone – as German Foreign Minister, for me these words are not only a warning from our past but a call to the future. It is a call to German foreign policy, for us to show commitment to understanding between peoples, to political solutions to conflicts and to maintaining the structures which ensure peace.
Especially Germany, the country whose rampant nationalism plunged the world into misery, especially Germany, which has been cautiously, step by step reintroduced to the European and international peaceful order – we are the very ones who today must take on perhaps more responsibility than anyone else for maintaining an international order. An order which ensures peace but which is strained in this world filled with conflict and antagonism; a world which seems to have got out of joint in recent months.
And where else in Germany do you see daily proof of understanding, antagonism overcome and do you see new ideas and rules for global coexistence developed as much as here in Berlin?! Berlin: a city of the world and the capital of Germany in equal measure. A city which attracts people from all over the globe whilst at the same time challenging its own inhabitants to come into contact with the world. A city in which remembering the past is just as much a part of daily life as working on the future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Remembrance on a day such as today is as multi‑faceted as this city itself.
We grieve for the dead, the victims in Berlin and all of the victims of the war which was inflicted on the world from here.
We pay tribute to those who remain among us as eyewitnesses and who have reached out to us.
We’re grateful for the opportunity to remember together with those who were once enemies and are now friends.
We reaffirm our responsibility for the “never again”, for peace and understanding in our all-too often unpeaceful world.
And in remembering the darkest chapter of the history of Berlin, we summon strength and confidence for a more peaceful future, as Oskar Maria Graf sought to express in verse at the end of the war:
“The end broke down behind me,
The beginning opened the doors of a fresh new dawn.
The ground beneath my feet sounds out,
The steps striding forward in hope.”