Dear Professor Fischer, Mr Kühnel, Excellencies, Ms von Uslar-Gleichen, Ms Korzuschek, honorable guests and friends of the British Museum,
Thank you very much for the invitation, I am delighted to be with you here today to open the festival “Europe and the world – a symphony of cultures” at the British Museum. It will be wonderful to hear such beautiful music in front of this inspiring backdrop.
Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas sends his warm greetings and best wishes for a successful festival !
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” Charles Dickens penned these famous lines at the start of his epic novel “A Tale of Two Cities”, published here in London in 1859.
So everything was not rosier in the past. There was never much distance between the positive and the negative.
Also in our time, there are these contradictions, feelings of insecurity, discomfort about the consequences of technological progress and its effects, which are not clear yet, reinforced by the Internet and social media.
When meeting today with Minister Margot James MP, responsible for Digital and the Creative Industries, these challenges, as well as the power of culture to deal with them, have become very clear to me once again.
Art, culture and creativity are not only a key to deal with these challenges; they contribute significantly to overcoming nation-state thinking.
That is why the aim of our cultural relations and education policy is no longer to showcase national art, but to help create open spaces for co‑production of culture, education and science across national borders.
A pluralist open society is not possible without freedom of culture, the media and science. This is the way for critical discourse to be a prerequisite for social progress, to take root, very much in the vein of Theodor Adorno, who put it in somewhat anarchistic terms: “The task of art today is to bring chaos into order”.
For us, a prime task of our international cultural relations and education policy in the years to come will therefore be to improve access to education and culture and create, and indeed maintain and protect, open spaces in the media, art and science.
We have the Philipp Schwartz Initiative which we developed together with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. This is a programme which enables academics under threat to continue their work at universities in Germany.
We are currently working on a similar programme for threatened artists and intellectuals. We want to strengthen our engagement for people from and in crisis regions, give them cultural but also scientific and academic prospects in Germany and in the region – inter alia through DAAD scholarships and the Albert Einstein Initiative.
This is an engagement that will have a long‑term effect. It will complement humanitarian assistance with assistance for humanity and make a tangible contribution to peace and stability.
These examples underline that we want an international cultural and education policy which is a stakeholder of social responsibility. A cultural policy which embraces open society, which sees its future in cross‑border exchange, learning from each other and shaping culture and knowledge together.
This, of course, also holds true for museums. Here, the British Museum has been very engaged to open up new perspectives. Nevertheless, there is still a lot to do when it comes to extending cultural infrastructure, using the opportunities of the digital era and strengthening cooperation with museums in other countries.
Tasks that our museums in Germany are facing in the same way.
Of course, we conduct debates on the origins of exhibits in our museums and claims for restitution are being taken seriously. At the same time, thanks to modern technological possibilities, we can decouple museum exhibitions from the visitor’s location by networking museums.
New perspectives and new formats are possible, even when it comes to curating content together.
We need to intensify our cooperation with African museums. The British Museum is taking a good approach here, particularly with regard to training.
At the same time we also need to be willing to involve African curators to a greater extent in the work of European museums, for example. The same goes for the willingness to promote museum infrastructure in Africa.
This presents opportunities in which German and British museums can get involved in many different ways. I will support these initiatives for the German Federal Government.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me say a few words about the European cultural policy. Our classical cultural institutes should no longer be restricted to representing the cultural elite of their respective countries.
What we need are overarching European approaches. One of our main priorities is thus to promote cooperation between national cultural institutes.
With a view to France, concrete decisions were taken on this at the Franco-German Council of Ministers in July 2017, to set up joint cultural institutes as a nucleus of a European cultural policy.
We are extending an invitation to other European partners to get on board. The network of European cultural institutes EUNIC, in which the British Council is also involved, is an important platform for making Europe visible worldwide as a cultural space.
Yet Brexit is, of course, a step which will not make it easier for Britain to get involved in such cooperation.
But, let me underscore quite clearly that we would also be happy to work with the British Council and to see German and British museums and other cultural institutions collaborating after Brexit.
What is more, this cooperation is something important that we feel strongly about. So I extend an invitation for us to continue the dialogue and cooperation. Exchange, cooperation and co-production is more essential than ever. We must follow up our ideal of a European identity with concrete cultural projects.
Ladies and gentlemen,
To conclude, let me add a personal comment. Today, a dream came true for me when I visited the Cabinet War Rooms, the place from which the British Government coordinated its determined fight against Nazi Germany in the Second World War.
Not only because I was very impressed by the character of Winston Churchill in the movie “Darkest Hour”, but also because, as part of a younger generation of German foreign policy experts, I attach high importance to raising awareness among future generations on history.
Movies can help us understand and be aware of these complex, interconnected issues. The same is true for artists and musicians like the ones at the concert today, and scientists who open up spaces for discourse and free exchange of opinions.
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, especially in times of a world in disorder, it needs less “war rooms”, it needs more “peace rooms” again.
My thanks go to all those who contributed to the success of this festival.
I thank you for your attention and hope you all will enjoy the festival concerts very much !