More than 100 years ago, a man in Kaluga had a bold vision. Many of his contemporaries thought he was mad – because he was dreaming of nothing less than a journey to the stars.
You can guess whom I mean: Konstantin Tsiolkovsky – that famous son of your city, whose research made him one of the founding fathers of modern space travel.
Tsiolkovsky’s life is proof that what may appear impossible today can tomorrow become reality. What is needed is far-sightedness and the courage to tread new paths.
That is true in science – but also, ladies and gentlemen, in diplomacy, and in relations between people and nations.
Last week we marked the 80th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union.
In the wake of the crimes committed during the Second World War, it seemed inconceivable that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe would ever extend the hand of reconciliation to Germany.
But far-sightedness and courage have made reconciliation between people in our countries a reality today – and for that Germany will always be grateful.
In this context, we benefit from the unusually broad basis of relations between Germany and Russia – from civil society and business to universities and students.
These close contacts beyond the political level in Berlin and Moscow are personified most especially by you, the representatives of municipalities, towns and cities in both countries.
There are now over 100 twinning arrangements between German and Russian towns and cities. Many of them have been established for decades, nurturing contacts and bringing together tens of thousands of Germans and Russians.
This exchange is particularly important right now. After all, you are all aware of the general political situation: German-Russian relations are currently in a turbulent phase.
And, unfortunately, trust has once again been lost in recent months – owing to the increasing repression of the opposition and civil society in Russia and hacker attacks on targets in Germany and Europe.
So Moscow’s most recent signs of a greater willingness to engage in dialogue are all the more gratifying.
Because, in my view, the response to any turmoil in our relations is not less but more dialogue between Germany and Russia.
That means, however, allowing frank exchange – especially between civil society in the two countries.
Isolationism and bans on activity stir up incorrect prejudices and distorted images.
And only open societies and unrestricted coexistence create space for creativity and new ideas.
That is why this 16th German-Russian town-twinning conference is so important as an element of our ongoing Germany Year in Russia.
In your discussions over the coming days, you will be looking at the common challenges facing our two countries:
the pandemic and its impact on our economies and our healthcare systems;
technological change and the digital transformation;
and environmental protection and climate change mitigation, alongside energy-policy transformation and the shift to renewable energy.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It would be in the interest of both Germany and Russia to seek joint responses to precisely these challenges.
Because even more so than Konstantin Tsiolkovsky a century ago, we are living in an age of rapid change where today’s reality appeared impossible only yesterday.
Unlike Tsiolkovsky, we do not have to reach straight for the stars. But we must tread new paths with courage and far-sightedness.
I wish you every success and all the very best!