Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the ceremony marking 10 years of PASCH and opening the World Congress of German Schools Abroad

06.06.2018 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Members of the German Bundestag,

Representatives of intermediary organisations,

Participants in the World Congress of German Schools Abroad,

Students and alumni of the PASCH schools,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Albert Einstein’s letter to Ernesto Alemann
Albert Einstein’s letter to Ernesto Alemann© Pestalozzi-Schule Buenos Aires

Just a few lines, written on a typewriter and signed personally by Einstein.

At the time, Ernesto Alemann was the publisher of the Argentinisches Tageblatt. As a fervent opponent of the Nazis in power in Germany, Ernesto Alemann founded the Colegio Pestalozzi, which soon became a place of refuge for many refugee Jewish children.

The letter Albert Einstein wrote to him in July 1938 still exists. I held it in my hands during my visit to the Pestalozzi School in Buenos Aires three weeks ago, and one sentence in particular is fixed in my mind.

Einstein wrote:

I send you friendly greetings and congratulations on the inauguration of your new school building. Today it is more important than ever that children grow up in a spiritually pure atmosphere and that they are protected from the systematic political poisoning of their souls.

Of course one has to view this quotation in the context of the times. 2018 is not 1938, thank goodness.

But today, too, the world is in the midst of huge tectonic upheaval. My first few weeks as Foreign Minister have made that very clear to me. Supposed certainties and things we thought we could take for granted are being swept aside.

• The prime advocate of global free trade, the United States, is turning to isolation and protectionism and unilaterally casting doubt on international agreements.

• Authoritarian forms of government and ideologies are gaining support around the world – not only in China or Russia.

• In Europe, too, after ten years of crisis, many people are longing for strong figures. All across our continent, nationalists and populists are tempting people with their overly simplistic messages, or manipulating public opinion through fake news. At the same time, European foreign policy is facing completely new tests, forced by necessity to become the guardian of multilateralism and the advocate of a rules-based global order.

• And, in Germany, for the first time since the Second World War, there is a party in the Bundestag that openly stirs up public opinion against foreigners and minorities. A party that deliberately stretches and exceeds the bounds of decency, sows division and stirs up diffuse fears of being overrun by people from other cultures and of losing one’s own identity.

Why am I mentioning this today? Because I believe that facts are the best way to counter fake news. Education helps shield against populism. Confidence in one’s own abilities helps ward off fear. Learning foreign languages, travelling, opening one’s eyes to other cultures and discovering our shared humanity helps shield against nationalism and isolation.

And that is precisely the goal of our cultural relations and education policy! That’s why it is more important now than ever.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Looking back, you might say the Schools: Partners for the Future initiative launched in 2008 by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, now Germany’s Federal President, was truly visionary. Because who would have thought back then that in just ten years PASCH would extend to 600,000 students?

Or that the number of partner schools would almost triple over that time?

Or that these 2000 or so schools would form a unique, global network extending from Punta Arenas in Tierra del Fuego to Bodø, north of the Arctic Circle?

What’s the reason for this success? Networking! The networking of a whole lot of schools and a whole lot of young people. That may sound banal, but it is really a small revolution.

Firstly, there is the networking of various stages of education, meaning that there is a whole generation of PASCH alumni growing up who may well have had close contact with German and Germany all the way through their education, from kindergarten to university.

Some of you are with us today. I would like to introduce, for example, Cloudia Sekarsari from Indonesia, whom you will shortly be meeting as one of the winners of the PASCH video competition. Along with three other alumni, she made a video comparing learning German to a lemon.

Cloudia, I know that there are sweeter fruits around than lemons. And there are languages that are easier to learn than German. But we have a saying in German: “Sauer macht lustig”.

You’re probably already familiar with it, because in your film you come up with a completely new saying: “If life gives you lemons, make lemon cake.”

With optimism like that, as you show in the film, you’ll manage to learn a difficult language like German too.

Cloudia, PASCH students and alumni,

Each and every one of you is what the PASCH strategists call a “multiplier”.

But I would say you are ambassadors – ambassadors for your home countries, but thanks to your education, where Germany and German are with you all the way, for our country as well.

A few minutes ago I spoke about today’s more complex and more uncomfortable world, in which new walls are appearing, in which structures and order are eroding and in which there is a lack of understanding and dialogue. In this world, Germany needs ambassadors like you!

Because understanding requires far more than what a foreign minister alone can do. Understanding is created by people talking to each other. To understand, you need to comprehend.

And to that end, you need to immerse yourself in the language, ideas and culture of another country, like you have done. Please don’t let go of this openness or of the courage to discover new things, and always keep a little bit of our country in your heart.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Secondly, PASCH has created a virtual network among schools, and it is for much more than just vocabulary training. Because even though schools are of course outside the realm of politics, they are in fact sometimes highly political places. Think, for instance, of the young demonstrators from Parkland, Florida, who have inspired and mobilised hundreds of thousands of people to put an end to gun violence in schools at long last.

On the PASCH web portal, 600,000 school students exchange views – in German – on topics such as freedom of opinion and freedom of the press, refugees in Europe or life under the threat of terrorism.

Particularly in times of crisis and in conflict regions where the scope for critical thinking and democratic debate is being alarmingly curtailed – as is happening, regrettably, right now – a platform for open discussion like that is hugely valuable.

We should be under no illusions, however. Keeping such forums open is not approved of everywhere in the world. Quite the contrary.

But we cannot make any concessions here – precisely because we are in competition with political systems and narratives which want to dial back on democracy and which fear rather than foster critical, informed, self-confident thinking and action.

For that very reason, it is important to stand up for our convictions.

The teaching we support should always reflect this. It should never take the form of indoctrination or the instillation of blind obedience. Rather, it should encourage critical thinking and questioning. It should encourage young people to assume responsibility for their societies and for their fellow human beings. It should encourage creativity and curiosity.

Anyone who wants to change the world for the better needs to be able to question the existing order. And anyone who has read and understood Bert Brecht or Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell in German class will know that.

Ernesto Alemann, whom I mentioned at the outset, put it like this in the statute of the Pestalozzi-Schule Buenos Aires: “In our school, children are to be educated not as slaves, but as free individuals. Our school will teach them that there are no more noble or wonderful virtues than love of freedom, humanity and justice.”

And today I would add this: a school which pursues these ideals is the kind of school we need today!

Ladies and gentlemen,

The third form of networking I would like to mention is that with the partner organisations which launched PASCH in cooperation with the Federal Foreign Office. The Goethe-Institut, the Federal Office of Administration - Central Agency for Schools Abroad, the Educational Exchange Service of the Secretariat of the KMK and the German Academic Exchange Service now work even more closely together, thanks to PASCH.

Ms Toledo,

Professor Lehmann,

Dr Klüsener,

Mr Stiwitz,

On behalf of the Federal Foreign Office, but especially on behalf of the many PASCH students, I would like to thank you very much indeed for your commitment and support over the past ten years. You are the real architects of PASCH’s success.

I studied law, but I don’t think you need to be an expert in public administration to know that it is not easy to manage cooperation among four such different partners. And yet you have succeeded in enabling each of the partners to make use of their strengths without losing their independence and thus in creating something entirely new.

So I am all the more delighted that I can today announce that our PASCH network is expanding. This year we will be adding 70 new PASCH schools across all five continents. PASCH is still growing!

These 70 new partners include schools in the countries of origin of refugees. That was very important to me, because in these countries in particular we need to do more to tackle youth unemployment and the lack of prospects for young people.

And every pupil who has learnt German, every student who has studied at university here, every teacher who has had something to do with Germany, becomes part of a global community of people with a lifelong attachment to our country and helps ensure that Germany’s voice is still heard and understood in the world of the 21st century.

And there is a third piece of good news: the circle of German schools abroad is widening, too. At no other schools abroad is German taught and used so widely. Nowhere else is there such intense contact with German culture and society.

So I am delighted today to welcome German School Brooklyn as our 141st German school abroad. A very warm welcome to the club!

German School Brooklyn was the brainchild of two young women, Kathrin Nagle and Muriel Plag, who founded the school along with other parents back in 2014 on their own initiative and in the face of considerable obstacles.

This initiative is unique to all German schools abroad.

I say this also with regard to the many volunteers – parents’ representatives, board members, those active in the World Association of German Schools Abroad – who, alongside the teachers, are crucial in ensuring the high quality and excellent reputation of our schools around the world. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to all of them, and of course also to you, Mr Ernst.

I believe the public private partnership model for German schools abroad has a future, even in the face of competition from international private schools. Because schools are more than mere businesses.

Besides, competition and cooperation are not mutually exclusive. So we should together consider where we might be able to cooperate even more closely with appropriate schools, especially those of our European partners.

I am thinking here in the first instance of French schools abroad, which in some places have already joined with our schools to form a Eurocampus. We should continue along this path.

It is not always straightforward, because you have to work out how to combine different administrative systems, but it is worth all the effort. For one thing, costs can be shared – for expensive infrastructure, for example. However, it is about much more than that: if we regard our schools abroad as forums for intercultural exchange allowing pupils to develop into true citizens of the world, then it would seem logical, almost obvious, for schools to cooperate. And if our goal is to strengthen Europe’s visibility in the world, what more effective approach can there be than to establish a Eurocampus, where pupils from very different countries come face to face with European ideas, European history and European culture?

Over the next few days, you will be discussing these and many other issues in depth. I wish you every success and have great pleasure in opening the World Congress of German Schools Abroad!

Ladies and gentlemen,

I do not know whether Ernesto Alemann ever replied to Albert Einstein’s letter. But I have been wondering: what would our reply be today?

I think we could confidently state that we have established schools in which children and young people are protected from the poisoning of their souls.

That is your true achievement day in day out.

For that you have my sincere gratitude. Thank you.


Top of page