Citation by Foreign Minister Steinmeier for Hans-Dietrich-Genscher at the Henry A. Kissinger Prize ceremony, 17 June 2015, American Academy in Berlin

17.06.2015 - Speech

Mr Secretary, my dear Henry,

Stimato Presidente Giorgio Napolitano,

President Fischer,

Caro Giuliano Amato,

Professor Casper,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is great to be back at the American Academy! Last time I was here, we had a fantastic party celebrating the Academy’s 20th anniversary! We celebrated, but we also had to bid farewell to our good friend Gary Smith. Now we are about to open a new chapter in the life of the American Academy. Gerhard Casper, we welcome you to Berlin – and I look forward to working with you!


This is a time of transition for the Academy. But tonight marks a moment of continuity. Tonight, we have come together for one the Academy’s most venerable and famous institutions: the Henry A. Kissinger Prize! And how fitting that the recipient, whom I am honoured to introduce, is himself one of Germany’s most venerable and famous political institutions. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, I’m delighted that you are here with us!

And tonight, speaking about a man who has helped to steer the course of this country for decades, I can do that in no other way than in the German language!


My dear Hans-Dietrich Genscher,

As the fifth speaker this evening, I simply have to start with an anecdote – not least for the sake of the audience. And where else could this anecdote come from but the ministry that you, Mr Genscher, shaped for an entire generation?

As you know, I had the honour of returning to this ministry for a second term one-and-a-half years ago. So there I was back in my old office at the end of December 2013. It wasn’t quite ready. I’m sure you know what it’s like when you move. There were boxes of books stacked everywhere, the furniture was wrapped in plastic, and my computer hadn’t arrived yet.

So I thought that I’d at least use my laptop to go online. And of course you need a password.

I went to my secretary’s office and said, “Ms Kaiser, what’s the WiFi password?” And Ms Kaiser gave me a piece of paper with a long combination of letters and numbers, a typical WiFi password.

I typed it all in, not suspecting anything: L-L-w-s-z-I-g-u-I-m-d-h-I-A-h-d-g-1989. But the number 1989 got me thinking, and I read the password again slowly. “L–L–w–s–z–I–g–u–I–m…” Does anyone recognise it? Maybe it will be easier if I tell you that these are the first letters of words. “L-L-w-s-z-I...”

“Liebe Landsleute, wir sind zu Ihnen gekommen, um Ihnen mitzuteilen, dass heute Ihre Ausreise…hdg – Hans-Dietrich Genscher 1989”! Or in English: “My dear fellow Germans, we have come here today to tell you that you are free to leave...hdg – Hans-Dietrich Genscher 1989” So you can see, ladies and gentlemen, what a huge impact Hans-Dietrich Genscher still has on our ministry – and not only with that legendary sentence of 30 September 1989 that was drowned out by cheers. It’s a nice story. The only problem is that now I’ve told you it, we’ll have to change our password.


Only a few politicians alive today shaped Germany’s post-1945 fate for as long and in such a lasting way as Hans-Dietrich Genscher did.

He did so as the “Foreign Minister of Unity” who invented the Two plus Four Treaty format,

as an ardent advocate of European integration,

as a driving force behind détente,

and as a safeguard of the transatlantic anchor, who never lost sight of the alliance with the United States.


Hans-Dietrich Genscher survived the war and two dictatorships – and he drew his own conclusions from these things as a young liberal. He was never interested in ideologies. He wanted to help people – including, and indeed above all, the people in his old home country. This was the reason why he supported SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik and détente from the start. This was the reason why he furthered the process of understanding in the CSCE.

Unlike many sceptics on both sides of the Atlantic who warned that an agreement with the Eastern Bloc would merely cement the division of Europe, he remained true to his belief that security in Europe was not feasible without Russia, and certainly not against Russia, but ideally with Russia. By the way, this principle should also be recalled from time to time these days.

His feeling for global political change meant he was quicker than many other politicians in Germany and the United States to recognise that Mikhail Gorbachev had brought movement to the rigid fronts of the Cold War. When the old bipolar global order crumbled in 1989, when thousands of East Germans left their country via Hungary and later occupied the West German Embassy in Prague, Genscher reaped the rewards of his many years of untiring and profoundly personal endeavours to foster trust. On the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York, where he had flown against the advice of his doctors following a life-threatening heart attack, he won Eduard Shevardnadze, who was Soviet foreign minister at the time, over to his side, against East Berlin, to end the refugee crisis in the embassy in Prague. He told Shevardnadze about the hardship suffered by these refugees, who had been waiting for weeks for permission to leave the country, living in horribly cramped conditions, in mud and dirt. Shevardnadze asked if there were children in the embassy. “Hundreds,” Genscher said. And after saying nothing for a whole minute, Shevardnadze said,

“Mr Genscher, I’ll help you.”

The rest is history. On 30 September 1989, Genscher was able to tell the Germans in the embassy in Prague that they were free to leave. The Wall was still there, but everyone could see there were cracks in it.

This was a lifelong dream come true for Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who had himself fled the GDR in 1952.

We saw each other in Prague last year, where we met some of the former embassy refugees on the 25th anniversary of the “balcony speech”. It was a moving occasion. Mr Genscher, in Prague you said “these refugees took charge of their own lives, but the truth is that they worte history”. This is true. But, if I may add, without the ground tirelessly laid by you, these people would not have been able to write history. To stick with the same metaphor, you gave your fellow Germans the tools that one needs to write: the ink and the quills of history! And this is why we are honouring you today. You truly deserve it.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Here in Germany, every child knows that Hans-Dietrich Genscher has travelled a lot. In fact, in the German language, his name has almost become a synonym for “being on the road”.

And yes: “Genscherism” implied that Hans-Dietrich Genscher didn’t only travel westward, but rather in all directions. Some people in Washington didn’t like that. Some called him – rather unfairly – a “slippery man”. But wherever Mr Genscher went, west or east, his compass needle was always firmly aligned with the transatlantic axis!

Hans-Dietrich Genscher knew that he could not achieve either his own goals or our common goals without the transatlantic anchor, and from that anchor, build trust in other directions.

History proved him right. And that is why tonight is a special night. Because tonight, you are honouring Hans-Dietrich Genscher as a Transatlanticist. And you are honouring him in the name of the great Henry Kissinger.

To me, it seems almost natural to think of these two men together. Because both of them – each in his own place – have spent their lives working on the same great project. Henry Kissinger, with his policy of détente and disarmament, laid the foundation for the end of the Cold War and for Europe’s democratic transition. Hans-Dietrich Genscher was able to continue this work, later working with Jim Baker toward the Two plus Four agreement, and so – I quote from the Kissinger Prize Jury – “Genscher played a central role in ending the division of Europe and making German reunification possible.” Unquote. And of course, I have nothing to add to Mr Kissinger’s judgment, but only to say, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, congratulations on the 2015 Henry A. Kissinger Prize! And by the way, I have asked my staff to take careful note of what you now say, because the Federal Foreign Office needs a new password. Thank you.

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