Keynote speech by Minister of State Michelle Müntefering at the kick-off panel of the German Consulate General in Boston for Deutschlandjahr USA
I feel extremely honoured to be here at the historic Harvard Club in Boston.
Not only are we celebrating the Day of German Unity here today, but we are also launching Deutschlandjahr USA.
Allow me, on this occasion, to quote one of this city’s most famous sons, who, some 60 years ago, had the following to say to his fellow alumni:
“Let us not emphasise all on which we differ, but all we have in common. Let us consider not what we fear separately, but what we share together.”
It was John F. Kennedy, then a 39‑year-old senator, who spoke those words and who would eventually go on, as the President of this country, to have a profound impact on relations between Germany and the United States.
John F. Kennedy is fondly remembered not just in the US; his visit to Berlin in 1963 remains to this day an event firmly inscribed in the history books of our own country.
It is now the time for a young new generation to make its own contribution to carrying this historic legacy into the future. And that is no easy task in these times in which old certainties are increasingly disappearing.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas joined us just yesterday in Washington, DC for the launch of Deutschlandjahr USA.
In his speech, Mr Maas talked about the importance of the “Day of German Unity”, saying:
“After all of the horrors that the Germans brought to the world, it was above all the Americans who placed their trust in a Germany. Who believed in a peaceful Germany without any fantasies of world domination.”
It is through the same lens that we want to view transatlantic relations.
The United States is and will remain Germany’s closest partner outside Europe. We are bound by seven decades of partnership and friendship.
Our societies are now deeply interconnected by a wealth of economic, cultural and political ties.
Nevertheless, we do see how under the current US administration diplomatic uncertainty between our countries is on the rise.
For the first time after the Second World War, we see it is no longer self-understood that we share the same common values and interests that were the mainstay of our relationship for more than two generations.
The “America First” credo as well as a number of unilateral decisions taken by this US administration have caused uncertainty among America’s partners in the West.
This uncertainty is getting worse right now by pressure being brought to bear on the world order from many other sides, as well.
Our system of rules-based, multilateral trade order is being openly challenged on a wide scale.
We in the US and in Europe need to ask ourselves how we want to handle these changes: by continuing to drift further apart, or by closing ranks to tackle challenges together?
We are convinced that we must not call into question the key principle that always bound us together as friends and allies in the world, despite any differences of opinion.
In a nutshell, the questions are these:
do we agree with the statement that “everyone’s interests are served when each person thinks only of himself?”
Or do we think we can achieve greater things if we act together and cooperate?
Do we have faith in the idea of multilateralism – as a platform for reconciling interests, a vehicle for progress, and a way to prevent war?
In view of the changes we are experiencing all around the world, a close transatlantic partnership is not a given.
Rather, it was made possible by the conscious, far-sighted decisions of politicians, and by a close network of personal contacts.
We want to support these contacts and these deep ties and intellectual exchange of ideas as the motor of global development.
I was at Johns Hopkins University the day before yesterday to inaugurate the Helmut Schmidt Distinguished Chair there. Schmidt’s friendship with Henry Kissinger spanned the course of more than 60 years!
Theirs was a friendship we can all look to for inspiration. It was not without conflict and differences of opinion, but it was always predicated on dialogue and exchange.
Our motto, “Wunderbar together”, is our objective. It is our vision not just for the Boston region, but for German-American relations as a whole.
Over the past decades, we have taken the idea of “Wunderbar together” to be a given.
These days, some people might be surprised by this claim.
And yet, there is so much that unites us: our shared history, our intensive and close cultural links and economic ties, and the fact that we hold the same values dear.
More than 45 million Americans claim to have German ancestry, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers and their families were stationed in Germany over the years, and every year thousands of German youngsters take part in student exchange programmes in the US.
We will be celebrating and paying homage to all these diverse ties with more than 1000 events to be held across all 50 States – in cities on the East and West Coasts and in the heart of the country.
The tremendous amount of enthusiasm for these events on both sides of the Atlantic is a reflection of the fact that many people both in Germany and in America are keen to shape the issues of the future together.
In a letter to Germany’s Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, US President Donald Trump himself welcomed Deutschlandjahr USA, calling it “a great way to deepen the bonds between our countries”.
Ladies and gentlemen,
More than 200 organisations will help us to fill the “Wunderbar together” initiative with a whole range of ideas and projects. Special thanks to our partners, the BDI and the Goethe Institute.
Digital natives and digital immigrants will gather at re:publica digital conferences in LA, Austin, Portland, New York and Detroit to discuss the future of business and civil society in the digital age.
School children from Berlin and New Orleans will research climate change together, while Americans of all ages will document their biographical links to Germany in an oral-history project hosted by the German Emigration Center in Bremerhaven.
Musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Gewandhaus in Leipzig will perform together to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
And, yes, there will of course be many “Oktoberfest” at which people can come together and party.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This is my second trip to the United States this year. I had the pleasure, back in June, of attending Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s opening of the restored Thomas Mann House in Los Angeles.
That house, formally a place of exile for Thomas Mann, is a strong and important symbol of the German-American friendship and of our foundation of shared values.
In the ten years that Mann’s family lived in exile at that house in California, it was a meeting point for many expatriate literary figures, artists, actors and scientists, who gathered to talk about their experiences and cultivate new ideas.
It was from here that Thomas Mann took his stand against Hitler and alerted the world to the dangers of fascism in more than 50 BBC interviews.
Formerly the place where Mann lived and worked, the house has now been brought back to life as a vibrant forum for debate in the spirit of Thomas Mann himself.
The very first fellows are already working there as pioneering transatlantic intellectuals who address the fundamental issues of our age, network and exchange ideas.
It was Thomas Mann who, in the face of rising Nazi terror, said, “It is a terrible spectacle when irrationalism becomes popular.”
It is at times like these, when fake news and irrationalism are becoming more and more informing in our communications and thinking that we are quite deliberately focusing on dialogue and interaction.
Settings like the Thomas Mann House and its Thomas Mann Fellowship programme allow us to send a clear signal and to advance the all-important dialogue with America’s civil society.
The Villa Aurora is another successful residency programme that offers, for the most part young, artists the opportunity to go on exchanges in the US.
It is set to cooperate with the Thomas Mann House in the future.
The German Academy New York will soon be yet another independent intellectual and cultural centre providing a platform and experimental space for the development of shared solutions to the complex and diverse challenges that we face on both sides of the Atlantic.
Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, patron of the “Wunderbar together” initiative, said the following in his welcoming address at the opening of Deutschlandjahr USA:
“We know that friendship is not a miraculous gift that materialises without effort. It requires attentive listening, and being sensitive to the issues others care about. Taking the time to pay attention to others, and to show one another respect – that’s what friendship is built on and needs in order to grow.”
I believe that shared experiences also have the capacity to bring people together.
As a member of the German Bundestag, our national parliament, I recently welcomed home the exchange student I had sponsored as part of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange programme.
Deborah brought with her a photo album she had made for me in which she chronicled her experiences in the United States: the birthday party she went to for her new best friend, Lilly; the homecoming football game; her first Halloween; skiing in Aspen; and an unforgettable encounter with Patrick Schwarzenegger, Terminator Junior.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Encounters between people from our countries have been and will continue to be decisive.
That is how friendships come to be – friendships that can truly last a lifetime, that bridge divides and that are capable of holding fast even when there are differences of opinion.
We want to build on this and carry this forwards so that Germany and the US will be “wunderbar together.”
This is about making people aware of the fact that we are affected by similar concerns and that it makes sense to talk about our common goals, wishes and hopes, as well as our problems.
I hope, therefore, that we will not perceive the global changes we are experiencing as grounds to choose the path of withdrawal, isolation and mistrust.
I hope that we can work together on a positive agenda for our partnership and thereby jointly tackle the immense challenges that we face on both this side of the Atlantic and the other.
And I hope that you will all help to make that happen. Get involved, be “wunderbar” and be “together,” and don’t leave our transatlantic friendship to the likes of Twitter.
Ladies and gentlemen!
Wunderbar together means:
Dancing together at Lincoln Memorial.
Means partying at Oktoberfest all over the country.
Means asking what connect our societies.
And in the End it might mean that you come over for a German beer in Berlin.
Have great fun an understanding. Do wonder and make a wonder – to be wunderbar together.
I now declare the Deutschlandjahr USA in Boston officially open!