Speech on the Day of German Unity
Helmut Kohl, 03/10/1997
Category: German Politics
I am delighted to be here with you today in Berlin's historic Hotel Adlon. My thanks are due to the "Community spirit campaign" and the "We're backing Germany" initiative for their kind invitation to this evening's ceremony.
Today we are celebrating the seventh anniversary of the reunification of our fatherland. For us Germans the third of October is a day of joy and gratitude. At the same time, our national holiday gives us the opportunity to reflect on what we Germans have achieved together since 1990 and how we want to shape our common future.
Nowhere else are the tasks facing us as clear as they are in Berlin. In a unique way, Berlin is associated with both the division and the unification of Germany. For nearly 30 years the Berlin Wall - which was only a few metres from here - was the dreadful symbol of the partition of Germany, of the brutal division of our nation.
Even today, crosses on the other side of the Brandenburg Gate remind us of citizens of the GDR who, at this inhuman border, paid with their lives for their longing for freedom. They died because they wanted to flee from Germany to Germany. On this day our thoughts are with all the victims of the SED dictatorship.
Over and over again, courageous women and men in the GDR stood up for human rights and democracy. Their peaceful protest against state oppression and tyranny, against injustice and a lack of freedom, made a substantial contribution to the Wall's eventual demolition.
For many decades, ladies and gentlemen, Berlin was a focal point of the conflict between East and West. During that period the Western part of the city was an island of freedom, which was often under threat. Many a German can still clearly recall Stalin's blockade of Berlin in 1948/49, and the Allied airlift which sustained the city. The three Western powers, headed by the USA, gave a clear signal of their determination to defend the liberty of West Berlin against any form of Soviet extortion.
1998 will see the fiftieth anniversary of these events. I am especially delighted that President Bush is here with us today: a great representative of the nation which, together with France and Great Britain, guaranteed the security of the free part of Berlin over decades. Time and time again, American presidents have come here to Berlin to support the Germans in their determination to achieve unity and liberty. John F Kennedy came here to declare "Ich bin ein Berliner", whilst Ronald Reagan, standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate, called for the Wall to be torn down. Many people - even in Germany - found that laughable at the time, but history has proved him right. The visionary has turned out to be a realist.
And the same is true of President Bush. We Germans can think ourselves fortunate to have such a man as our friend. When the Wall had come down and the prospect of reunification was approaching, others hesitated - but he placed himself at the head of those who encouraged us to take the road leading to unity, and did everything within their power to assist us. As early as October 1989, George, you said with total clarity: "I do not share the disquiet of other European nations about reunification". We Germans have not forgotten how you stood up for the right of our people to unity and free self-determination. For that we are deeply grateful to you.
I should also like to take this opportunity to recall that you declared the 6th of October 1990 to be German-American Day, in honour of the landing of the first German immigrants in America in 1683. This was another expression of your active interest in the destiny of Germany. George, you have an honoured place in the book of German history.
In future, German-American friendship will continue to be one of the foundation stones of our foreign policy. In the coming century the excellent political and economic relations between Americans and Germans, as well as our many personal contacts, will continue to form a bridge of friendship over the Atlantic.
I well remember, ladies and gentlemen, how on 3 October 1990 we were able to celebrate the unity of our fatherland a few metres from here, in front of the Reichstag. It was one of the most moving moments of my life. Today, with all the every-day political problems that face us, we should not forget what a great gift has been granted us in unity.
Berlin provides us with a microcosm of the progress which is being made by internal German unity. Our undivided capital city is continually growing closer together. The face of the city has changed so much that if it were not for the red line which now marks the old course of the Berlin Wall, we could no longer see where it stood. Berliners, too - despite all their problems - are coming together more and more. And more than any other city in Germany, Berlin is a meeting-place for Germans from East and West. Berlin has become a symbol of a new beginning.
Though it is still Europe's biggest building site, the new face of our capital city is gradually taking shape. In the triangle bounded by the Alexanderplatz, the government district and the Potsdamer Platz, monuments to the grandeur of various periods of our history blend in with architectonic visions of the future. Here in Berlin a new mood of awakening can be clearly discerned.
Since 1990, ladies and gentlemen, we have made good progress in rebuilding the East - though much, of course, remains to be done. This success has been achieved by millions of hard-working women and men. It is due both to the hard work of the population of the new federal L“?nder in eastern Germany, and to the active solidarity of the people in the Western part of the country. What we have created and achieved together gives us vigour and confidence for those tasks that still lie ahead.
The greatest political challenge, and one that faces us both in East and in West, is combating unemployment. Job security means more than a regular income. It also gives men and women the certainty of being needed, of making a contribution to the country's overall prosperity. The creation of new jobs is thus of enormous importance for the internal cohesion of our nation. I am sure that we Germans are in a position to overcome our economic and social problems.
But in order for us to succeed in this, the intangible fundamentals must also be correct. Beyond mere supply and demand, there are values without which a free community cannot exist in the long term. In a longer-term perspective the consolidation of these intangible fundamental values is undoubtedly the more important and more difficult task. If we as a nation are to achieve spiritual unity we shall need patience and good will, and we must be prepared to listen to each other. We must make even greater efforts than ever before to understand each other better. We should talk less about each other and more to each other. That is the first step towards acting in solidarity.
The two organisations that have arranged this evening's function have made outstanding contributions to this process. The "Community spirit campaign" and the "We're backing Germany" association organise all sorts of initiatives to promote civic commitment to the public good. You have done especially valuable work for Germany's achievement of spiritual and cultural oneness, and for that you have my warmest thanks.
This year the "Community spirit campaign" celebrated its 40th anniversary. Let me once more express my sincerest congratulations to you, Professor Schweitzer, and to all the members of the "Community spirit campaign". Your work on behalf of the community and against 'nothing to do with me' attitudes is an example to us all. Long may you continue your work to strengthen the sense of responsibility in our society.
We are responsible not only for our own lives, but also for other people. We must re-learn the forgotten art of doing all we can to solve our own problems before asking the community and the state to do it for us. The welfare state is no substitute for individual responsibility and civic consciousness.
A nation, ladies and gentlemen, does not live by its common memories alone - rather by the experience of common labour in pursuit of common aims. This becomes especially clear at moments when major challenges can be met only by joining forces.
This summer's disastrous floods on the Oder made this obvious for all to see. The people who suffered when the Oder burst its banks experienced the sympathy of the whole German nation in their hour of need. In their struggle against the floods they were supported by innumerable helpers and donors from every part of Germany. When I visited the Oder I experienced for myself just what solidarity can achieve in practice.
At this point I want to thank the members of our armed forces, of the border-protection service and the police, as well as the many volunteers, for their tremendous work. The sacrifices they made not only helped their fellow citizens: they also made a major contribution to the internal unity of our fatherland. We in Germany need more of the practical patriotism that we saw on the Oder.
At present, ladies and gentlemen, we are fast approaching the end of the 20th century, a century that has been marked by enormous, hitherto unknown contrasts: world wars and genocide, yes - but also global partnership and humane progress. The 21st century will be an age of freedom and peace, provided that we now do what is needed to make it so.
In order to meet these challenges we need a new mood of awakening. With courage and determination we have achieved the unity of the German state, and with equal courage and determination we should now set about the renewal of our nation and the further unification of Europe. If we as a nation stand together in solidarity, we Germans - jointly with our partners and friends all over the world - shall meet the challenges of the 21st century. We have every reason to be confident.