Speech by Minister of State Michael Roth to open the exhibition “#Luther goes USA” in the Atrium of the Federal Foreign Office

29.09.2016 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Ladies and gentlemen,

“Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise!” That’s probably what the red plastic Luther sculpture that has graced my office in Berlin for several years – first in the German Bundestag and for three years here in the Federal Foreign Office – is thinking too.

So you see: this Luther guy has been following me around for some time. And wherever I go in Europe and the world, almost everywhere people are well acquainted with this Martin Luther and his writings. You could say that he is one of our greatest national exports – “made in Germany” – and has been for almost 500 years.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg in 1517, he set in motion a process that would transform first Germany, then Europe and ultimately the whole world.

Yet the Reformation was not the work of just one man. Other countries, too, brought forth their own reformist movements: just think of Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin in Switzerland, Mikael Agricola in Finland and Jan Hus in Bohemia.

The Reformation is a true citizen of the world! It has left a lasting mark on societies in Germany, Europe and beyond. That includes the United States of America.

The Enlightenment and the concept of freedom connect us with the United States more than with any other country outside Europe. In a world that is out of joint as a result of crises and conflicts, we need to reexamine the central issues of the Reformation: religion and order, faith and peace, freedom and responsibility.

Martin Luther shook up the order of the 16th century. He set boundaries for secular and clerical power. He emphasised freedom of conscience, critical judgement and the personal responsibility of the individual. The Reformation was therefore instrumental in the developments leading to the Enlightenment and modern democracy.

Luther had a crucial asset: the printing press. A media revolution that helped spread pamphlets and writings in no time, not only within Germany. With the translation of the Bible into German and his efforts to establish schools, Martin Luther also turned the Reformation into a unique education campaign. He wanted to put people in a position to develop their consciences and their minds and enable them to make their own decisions.

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is a good opportunity to celebrate and to preserve its legacy. The Federal Foreign Office is glad to be able to support the two exhibition projects “Here I stand...” and “Renaissance and Reformation: German Art in the Age of Dürer and Cranach” in the United States. The two exhibitions feature items that have not been seen before in the United States. We would like to introduce the two projects to you this evening and present them in the new Atrium exhibition under the motto “Luther goes USA”.

The exhibition “Here I stand...” was launched in advance during a preview in New York on Friday by Foreign Minister FrankWalter Steinmeier. The Minister has assumed the patronage of both projects.

It would have been a bit complicated to set up the exhibitions quickly here at the Federal Foreign Office before they left for the United States...! That’s why we’re presenting the poster exhibition “#Here I stand...” here in the Atrium, based on the actual exhibition.

It features background information on Martin Luther and the period of the Reformation using modern infographics. Artefacts found in Luther’s living quarters have been scanned threedimensionally in a complex process and printed out in 3-D. This process is explained in the glass cabinets.

With this modern approach we have transferred the media revolution of the day, the printing press, to the present. For Luther, too, was always one step ahead of his times. Today he would probably be a big fan of Twitter! In his day, he translated “In the beginning was the Word”. Now, Luther might well merrily type hashtags into his smartphone. And I would certainly be retweeting his tweets with great enthusiasm.

The amazing thing is that the exhibition can be sent anywhere in the world for people to set up themselves – in both German and English. This is a fantastic opportunity for embassies, schools and German communities abroad. I am particularly delighted that a church from my home town of Bad Hersfeld has decided to take up this great offer.

Today I would also like to introduce to you the second project, which is more of an art exhibition: “Renaissance and Reformation: German Art in the Age of Dürer and Cranach”.

This exhibition will be shown in Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles. It features wonderful paintings by Ludger tom Ring, Hans Brosamer, Albrecht Dürer and Lucas Cranach as well as wooden sculptures by Tilman Riemenschneider.

This project is the result of a cooperation between the National Museums in Berlin, the Dresden State Art Collections and the Bavarian State Painting Collections in Munich. It is also receiving Federal Foreign Office funding.

I am delighted to welcome Professor Harald Meller, Archaeologist of Land SaxonyAnhalt and Director of the State Museum, and Dr Bernhard Maaz, Director General of the Bavarian State Painting Collections in Munich.

And now: enjoy the exhibition! And check out Twitter later on. I’ll certainly be publishing a tweet under the hashtag #HereIStand...

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