Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the opening of the “Tyskland” exhibition in the National Museum of Denmark

08.11.2019 - Speech

A German meets a Dane. The Dane is reading out a passage from his book, in German. Time and again, Danish words creep in – Danishisms as he called them. However, the German understands them. Indeed, they sound so lovely to him, so fitting, that he suggests integrating the words straightaway into the German language. As a “sisterly gift”, as he calls them.

The German in this little story is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. And the Dane is Adam Oehlenschläger.

This meeting of our two national poets took place just over two hundred years ago. Weimar and Jena were the meeting places for Danish and German intellectuals at that time. The intellectual affinity was profound, as was the curiosity about each other. Literature, architecture or education – there were few fields in which Germans and Danes did not inspire each other.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Just a few kilometres from Weimer lies the Ettersberg. 130 years after the meeting between Goethe and Oehlenschläger, Buchenwald concentration camp was built there. A copy of the camp gate can be seen in this exhibition. It bears the words: “To each his due”.

It is so hard to comprehend that only time separated the intellectual flight of Weimar Classicism from the abyss of German crimes against humanity.

These crimes cast a shadow over German-Danish relations for a long time. It is no wonder then that for a long time Germany was merely a transit country for many Danes. A country they had to cross to reach the South as quickly as possible. And even today, it is still a bold undertaking here in Copenhagen to turn the spotlight on Germany and, without any restrictions as regards themes, simply choose “Tyskland” as the title. And to ask quite openly: what is this Germany between Romanticism and National Socialism, between Reformation and economic miracle?

One of my counterparts once said to me, “Every time I think I’ve understood Germany, it changes again.” I told him, “We in Germany feel the same way.”

The Germany we know today did not emerge until exactly 30 years ago with the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989, an event we will be celebrating for the 30th time tomorrow. However, even this Germany is still in the process of growing together as we in Germany are currently realising in a very, very intensive and sometimes also very, very difficult manner. And it is also in the process of finding its role in Europe.

This exhibition takes a look at this country of tumultuous changes, of contradictions. We regard the fact that you are opening this exhibition here today in your National Museum as a “sisterly gift”. It is a gift which touches us and which we greatly appreciate.

It has been made possible by people for whom the friendship between Danes and Germans has been a matter those to their hearts for many years.

People like you, Your Majesty. You have long since been a good friend, adviser and mentor to our country. That is why people’s hearts always go out to you on your many trips to Germany. We are deeply honoured by your presence today, by your attachment to our country.

Tusind tak, Deres Majestæt!

I would also like to thank you, Rane Willerslev, for your courage in showcasing this exhibition so prominently in this wonderful museum. That was by no means a given. Allow me to express my sincere gratitude for that!

And, of course, I would like to thank the Sportgoods Foundation for making this exhibition possible. It has been working for decades to promote reconciliation and peaceful coexistence in Europe and the world. The fact that your founder, Christian Helmer Jørgensen, was himself a survivor of German concentration camps makes us all the more grateful – and the gift of this exhibition all the more precious.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Not only Danes will have an opportunity in the coming months to see us, your southern neighbours, in a new light. For we Germans will also get a chance to re-examine our image of Denmark. Today, together with my colleague Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, I will be opening the German-Danish Cultural Year of Friendship with countless events which cross boundaries in every sense.

Copenhagen is the European capital which can be reached most quickly by direct flight from Berlin. Transforming this geographical proximity into even closer interpersonal ties – Goethe would perhaps say: into sisterly love – is the aim of this year of friendship. Above all, therefore, I hope that this exhibition will attract a large number of curious visitors!

For it was intellectual curiosity which led Oehlenschläger and Goethe to discover the beauty of each other’s language, the Germanisms and Danishisms. And one thing is still true today: there is still much room in German hearts and minds for Danishisms.

Thank you very much.


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