C’est dans l’adversité que se révèlent les vrais amis.
These are not empty words. On the contrary – this fact was proved to us by your country, by countless Frenchmen and women, on 24 March of this year.
Like many of you, I remember only too well that cold March day when we heard the news of the terrible plane crash in the French Alps. A hundred and fifty people had been killed. It was the worst tragedy in German air travel for many decades.
I travelled to the crash site immediately. I will never forget what I saw there. From the helicopter, we saw pieces of the wreckage among the rocks and cliffs which were so small, so widely scattered, that they were hardly recognisable to the naked eye. These were images of terrible destruction. Images of despair. Images of death.
Fortunately, however, I saw other images too. Images that move me deeply to this day. Images that all of us here in Germany saw. The mountain rescue worker searching for the black box in the craggy terrain as the rain lashed down. The police officer organising a team in the shortest possible time. The psychologist, the interpreter talking to family members, taking them aside, offering words of comfort. The volunteer in a gym hall far from the nearest town lighting a candle and laying out a book of condolences. A girl bringing flowers.
and Mayor Hermitte, who sadly cannot be with us today,
You, ladies and gentlemen, did great things in the days following the accident. You also stand proxy for all the Frenchmen and women who stood by us at that difficult time, with their considerate and resolute help and their consummate professionalism.
Bernard, Laurent, whether we Germans could have managed it so admirably, I cannot say.
More than anything else, however, you touched our hearts with your compassion, your empathy and your fraternity. On a day of horror, you gave us a stronger sense than at any celebration, however splendid, of what Franco-German friendship really means.
Dafür sage ich Ihnen von Herzen Danke. It is an honour, on behalf of the Federal President of Germany, to present you with this prestigious award in recognition of that service.