Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the event in the Akademie der Künste celebrating the 90th anniversary of the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service)

17.06.2015 - Speech

– check against delivery –

Members of the Bundestag,
Friends of the DAAD,
Ladies and gentlemen,

What an impressive birthday gathering! I am very happy to be part of it, and I warmly congratulate you – dear Ms Wintermantel, Mr Mukherjee, and Ms Rüland – on this special anniversary! There are plenty of reasons to celebrate, and you are very right to think that this anniversary is close to my heart as Foreign Minister. Again and again, I am thrilled and impressed by the great impact of academic and scientific exchange, not only across borders, but beyond cultural and political divides, as well. This makes it absolutely essential, especially during times of crisis – and we have plenty of crises at the moment – because academic and scientific exchange is a key building block of smart foreign policy.

The fact that it is so vibrant here in our country – that it is constantly expanding and cannot be stopped even by conflicts – is to a very large extent thanks to the DAAD, and thanks to you in particular, ladies and gentlemen. For this, I am most grateful to all of you!

Why is this work such an important part of our policies? It may surprise you, but a closer look at the life of the young man who started this organization will provide a good explanation. Carl Joachim Friedrich was young, only in his early 20s, when he set out as a visiting student from Heidelberg to New York in 1922. He must have truly enjoyed his time there because, on his return to Germany, together with the American Institute of International Education, he began to arrange scholarships for his fellow German students. At first, a mere 13 were granted. Yet it was precisely those scholarships that 90 years ago laid the foundation for the present-day DAAD.

Friedrich later emigrated to the United States, where he became one of the most respected political scientists of his time. What many do not know is that, after he became a US citizen, while teaching at Harvard, he campaigned strongly against the Nazi regime. The DAAD had, after all, been co-opted by the followers of an unpalatable political movement. As of 1933, the prominent National Socialists Alfred Rosenberg and Ernst Röhm sat on its executive board. Soon thereafter, evidence of Aryan ancestry and support of “Mein Kampf” became prerequisites for a DAAD scholarship. A policy that was fully supported by the German Foreign Office at the time, one must add. What a perversion of the vision of the young student Friedrich.

After the war, Friedrich helped to develop the Marshall Plan. Another often-overlooked fact is that he was one of the experts who helped write the first draft of the Basic Law at the Herrenchiemsee convention. Looking at this impressive man’s biography, I can identify three key principles in his life – principles that guide our present-day research and academic relations policy:

First, promoting understanding and communication through exchange and cooperation, as Friedrich did with his 13 scholarships in 1925, at a time when many in our country no longer believed in establishing international ties, wishing instead to retreat into nationalism.

Second, assuming responsibility during times of crisis, just as Carl Joachim Friedrich did during the Second World War.

And third, striving to promote a peaceful order in a world that is not at peace – as he did following the devastation of the war, by helping to draft a Basic Law for the new Federal Republic. He also helped lay a solid foundation for our transatlantic friendship, and did his personal best to prepare a path for Germany to return to the family of nations. I would like to use these three principles to illustrate what I believe are the pillars of our research and academic relations policy.


Understanding through dialogue. Knowledge and discovery through exchange. 90 years ago, Friedrich laid the foundation for these aims of the DAAD. More students were to follow in the footsteps of those first 13 scholarship recipients – many more. Some two million academics have meanwhile received funding from the DAAD. Nearly half of these are foreigners. Only the United States and the United Kingdom attract more foreign students, thanks to their linguistic advantage.

Ms Wintermantel,

This is an incredible success story. But we have also set our sights very high – we want to significantly increase the number of foreign students who come to Germany. And, vice versa, five years from now, we want every second student who earns a degree at a German university to have spent some time studying abroad. The work of the DAAD has given rise to, and nurtured, strong international networks, in the spheres of science, culture, and research. Around the world, DAAD alumni – who have gotten to know, and grown fond of, Germany – are helping to shape and spread the reputation of our country. I travel all over the world. Whether it be in Warsaw, Brussels, or Tunis: I am always surprised how often I am addressed in German – by Tunisia’s former Minister of Tourism Amel Karboul, or by Poland’s Ambassador to the EU Marek Prawda. Both are DAAD alumni! And both are here this evening. Very warm greetings to you. Why is this network so important? Because everyone who decides to travel abroad brings with them, and contributes, a small part of their cultural and intellectual traditions.

In my view, this exchange of experience, culture, and knowledge lies at the heart of scientific cooperation. At the same time, it highlights how we must cooperate and share our knowledge, in order to better understand the world and each other. The DAAD does a great deal to advance these efforts, for example through its Centres of Excellence in Russia, Thailand and Chile. Only a few weeks ago, I visited the Centre of Excellence in Marine Sciences in Santa Maria, Colombia. At this centre, German and Colombian scientists are together researching the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans. And they are doing this on an impressive level! In Kenya, we are in the process of establishing a Kenyan-German Centre for Applied Resources Management. Through this DAAD pilot project, German universities of applied sciences are helping to set up practically-oriented study programmes. This form of cooperation opens up new prospects for everyone involved. Expanding one’s knowledge by exchanging culture and experiences – Willy Brandt once described this form of cooperation as “working to strengthen reason as a driving force in the world”.


This brings me to my second point: Responsible conduct in times of crisis. For, in this day and age, it is hard to see reason as a driving force in the world – whether we look at the acts of terror perpetrated by ISIS in the Middle East, or at the murders carried out by Boko Haram in Nigeria. With the conflict in Ukraine, the question of war and peace has even returned to the European continent. And I am afraid I must disappoint all those who were hoping we had reached the crest of this wave of crises. Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, this “crisis mode” is the new normal.

One dramatic consequence of these crises is that countless people are finding their access to education and research blocked. Because they need to leave their home country, because they are not able to attend schools and universities, or because they must flee misery, hardship and violence. There are currently some 50 million displaced persons in the world. That is the largest number since the end of the Second World War. This comparison, too, is a sign of the dramatic transformation we are witnessing these days.

It is clear to us that we must help to keep prospects open for these people, for the next generation, and thereby for the future of their countries of origin. That is why, in cooperation with the DAAD, we have established the programme “Leaders for Syria”. Within the next four years, we are planning for more than 200 Syrian fellows to come and study in Germany. In addition to following their regular courses of study, they will all take classes in good governance, promoting civil society and sustainable project management. I am pleased that some Länder such as North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg are following our example and intend to offer additional scholarships to Syrian women and men.

It is clear to us that we cannot permit the conflict in Syria to rob an entire generation of its opportunities. We absolutely need education and exchange, especially in times of crisis. However, it is just as true that education and exchange can help overcome hardship and crises. Because, with their common language, the academic disciplines are predestined to build bridges where diplomacy cannot make headway or has not yet established ties. The example of Germany and Israel demonstrates this in an impressive way. Over the past few decades, our two countries have established contacts in amazing ways, building bridges across horrible chapters in our history. Yet, before politicians accomplished this feat, it was academics who reached out to one another! When diplomatic relations were established between our two countries 50 years ago, researchers and academics had already been working together for several years. It is precisely these human ties and this form of exchange and cooperation that establish trust and understanding, and that can sometimes even prepare a path for politicians.

That is why I say thank you, dear Prof. Wintermantel, for your recent trip to Tehran for the purpose of strengthening the DAAD’s ties in Iran. For decades, there has been academic exchange between Germans and Iranians. More than 6,000 Iranians are enrolled at German universities. After a vacancy that lasted several years, you managed to re-open the DAAD Information Centre in Tehran last year, so that young Iranians now have a place in their own country where they can enquire into the possibility of studying and conducting research in Germany. That was an important step! In September, you are planning to hold a large DAAD alumni gathering in Tehran. You know that we are working hard in the E3+3 format to arrive at a negotiated solution with Tehran on Iran’s nuclear programme. I cannot promise you today that we will be successful. There is hope. But in any case, we know that academic ties between Germans and Iranians outside of the political arena help us to build confidence and open doors in the sphere of foreign policy, as well.

Also when it comes to Russia, such ties are of key importance, particularly these days. There, too, the DAAD is actively engaged. Thank you, Ms Wintermantel, that you have launched a new grant programme for young German and Russian academics, in cooperation with the Chairman of the Association of Leading Russian Universities – Professor Kropachev. Programmes like these send an important signal: That personal contacts are not cut, that channels of communication remain open, even when political relations are strained. Such a signal is truly invaluable in these very trying times.


This brings me to my third point: The question of how we can create and maintain order in this world that has come unhinged. Much has happened since experts like Carl Joachim Friedrich drew up an order for our country in the form of a constitution based on the rule of law.

But has the world become more peaceful? Not only the numerous present crises fill me with doubt. Behind these crises, much more powerful global tectonic shifts are under way. It seems to me the world is currently searching for a new order. The bipolar order of the Cold War era is gone – and that’s a good thing. Yet no new order has come to take its place. And this search for an order is not like a peaceful discussion in a class at university; rather, a fight for dominance and influence has been unleashed, and this has given rise to the numerous conflicts with which we all are now dealing.

How should we react? How can change in the world come about without leading to chaos? More importantly, how can we Germans in particular – who have had the great luck to return to the fold in Europe, the United Nations, and the Western world – how can we contribute to the establishment of a new, peaceful, and just order in this world that appears to have lost its bearings?

First, we must clearly say what we mean when we speak of “new order in the world”. When I say “new global order”, I’m not naive: I’m not talking about us politicians standing at a drawing board, as if we were architects, and designing a huge global building with our compasses and rulers. That’s not what I mean. Staying with the architectural metaphor, it would already be a major achievement if we could reach agreement internationally on the basic arithmetic, if we could establish common perspectives on the multi-layered and rapidly-changing world in which we live.

This brings into play the role of cultural relations and education policy, and along with it the potential for “cultural intelligence”; these are enduring, long-term efforts. Our focus must not be meaningless talk of common ground, but rather to lay the foundation for understanding one another, and for learning what the dreams and traumas of our respective societies are.

We must learn to understand each other better, so that we can identify the dreams and traumas that exist in, and affect, a society. And we have to figure out how we can use this knowledge to achieve new, common perspectives on the world.

Here, too, the DAAD is leading the way. I am thinking, for example, of the German-Israeli series of readings that we are conducting together with the Artists-in-Berlin Programme of the DAAD. It brings together artists, authors, and film-makers from Germany and Israel. We engage in discussions and disputes, to sharpen our sense of how our counterparts view the world that we all inhabit.

The Artists-in-Berlin Programme stands for much more. John Cage, Jim Jarmusch, György Konrad, Imre Kertesz, Susan Sontag, and Igor Strawinsky – thanks to the programme, all of them have lived and worked in Berlin. These world-class alumni send a message to audiences around the world, far beyond Mitte and Kreuzberg. This promotes precisely the understanding and cultural intelligence that we will need if we are to develop shared ideas of order.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Promoting understanding through exchange. Assuming responsibility in times of crisis. Finding a common sense of order. These principles may be what we can learn from Carl Joachim Friedrich today. They underpin our research and academic relations policy, and we work hard to promote these aims. The DAAD is our indispensable partner in shaping this policy. Whether you work at the head office of the DAAD assisting foreign students, go abroad as a lecturer, or are enrolled in Germany as a foreign student, bringing with you your experience and knowledge: You all are involved in this demanding process of analysing, understanding, and communicating. In so doing, you are helping us follow the advice given by Harry Rowohlt, referring to his favourite virtue: “Saying what you think – having used your brain first.”

Thank you.

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