Speeches & Texts
German Unity Day
Gotha, October 3, 2011
Ambassador Philip D. Murphy
Minister President Lieberknecht,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honor and a privilege to join you today to celebrate German Unity Day. The fall of the Wall and the reunification of Germany 21 years ago represent an unwavering exclamation of freedom that set an example for people around the world. On October 3, 1990, the German people began building a new Germany. Less than two weeks later, the state of Thüringen was re-established. Today we celebrate those historic events and also the achievements of the past 21 years. None of this was inevitable – neither the fall of the Wall nor German reunification nor the role that a Germany whole and free has taken on in the world. Together these accomplishments stand as a monument to all those who worked for generations to realize these proud goals. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in 2009 at the Brandenburg Gate at the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, these accomplishments represent an "enormous triumph of the human heart and the human soul."
Our new Embassy in Berlin now stands on Pariser Platz just meters away from the Brandenburg Gate. During the long years of the Cold War, Pariser Platz was part of the “no man’s land” that marked the path of the Wall that divided the two Germanys, East and West. Today the fact that we are right in the middle of the capital city of a united Germany fills the hearts of all Americans with pride.
We are proud when we recall the milestones of our history but we are also proud when we think about the promise and the potential of our future. Last month, I celebrated another historic anniversary – one of the milestones in the common history of the relationship between our two countries. In September 1946, the then Secretary of State James Byrnes travelled by train through Germany from Berlin to Stuttgart to deliver what came to be known as the “speech of hope.” Everybody was very aware that to the east, the end of the war had brought a new brand of tyranny. President Harry Truman felt it was essential to address the concerns of all those in Europe who were trying to put their lives back together after one of the most disastrous wars in human history. A part of the new reality of the postwar world was the Iron Curtain that was descending over Europe. In Germany, it divided families, cut off refugees from their homes, severed centuries old trade routes, and robbed manufacturers of markets and industry of raw materials. It was an unnatural barrier cutting through the center of Europe that caused immeasurable personal hardship. It disrupted economic reconstruction and also severely disrupted the kind of cultural, intellectual and human contacts that are essential for international peace and prosperity.
It was clear that following 1945, it was not possible simply for the world to resume where it had left off before World War II. There was no choice but to build something completely new.
In his speech in Stuttgart, Secretary Byrnes made it very clear, for the United States, partnership and cooperation with Germany was not a choice – it was a given.
The United States has had close connections with Germany since the earliest days of our history. And although we may not all speak German that well, more than 60 million Americans have German ancestors. And in fact, every year on October 6, we celebrate that German heritage and the contribution that Germans made to our country on German-American Day.
But looking back over the past 65 years, it is clear that each of our countries has played an important role in the process of building a new relationship with each other and with the world. America provided vision, resources and a commitment to remain engaged in the new Atlantic community that had arisen on the ruins of the old European balance. Germany brought energy, courage and a vision of democracy in Germany and Europe – a vision that came to full fruition 21 years ago. The United States of course has close, cooperative ties with many allies in Europe, but it was with Germany that the new postwar definition of our world was built.
During the Cold War, our experience in working out solutions to the problems of confrontation taught us how to find solutions together. This spirit of cooperation influenced all spheres of our economic, political and cultural ties. The intensity and depth of those relations which were so painstakingly re-built after the end of the Second World War were truly amazing. And 21 years ago, we were able to build on that spirit of cooperation and the depth of that relationship when five neue Bundesländer joined the 11 original states of the Federal Republic of Germany.
It would, of course, have been impossible to re-create history. Since 1945, hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops have been stationed in Germany. They not only formed part of West Germany’s defense, they also provided jobs and strengthened the economies of the municipalities that hosted them. Their presence also brought our peoples together on a very human level. Several generations of soldiers interacted with their host communities, making life-long friends. They gave America a human face.
Here, in the part of Germany where we stand now, the situation was very different. Although Secretary of State Byrnes’ speech was broadcast throughout all sectors of Germany, it did not have the same effect in the Soviet zone. It was not a breath of hope for people in the eastern part of Germany. That was very obvious two years later when they were prevented from accepting assistance under the Marshall Plan. Economic development was subject to rigid control and centralized direction. And in terms of cultural, intellectual and human contacts, in the eastern part of Germany, Americans were rare, and generally viewed with hostility and suspicion – at least by the regime.
Some of my colleagues started their diplomatic careers at our Embassy in East Berlin in the 1980s. An important part of the job there was to get out and meet people and counter the doubts and misgivings that people had – for whatever reason. An official Fulbright academic exchange program was established in the mid-eighties. Officers also attended meetings in church basements and performances in theaters and other locations. They felt the change that was happening. It would have been unlikely, however, that the last US Ambassador to the GDR, Ambassador Richard Barkley, would have been invited to give a speech at a large public celebration like this one here today but he travelled as much as possible and had a good understanding --or as good a understanding as possible under the circumstances -- of what was going on. He and his staff set the stage for the activities of our Consulate in Leipzig which re-opened on June 30, 1992. The Nazi authorities had ordered the closure of the Leipzig Consulate General in July1941.
Ambassador Barkley was convinced that one day the Eastern Germany would become an economic engine, matching the West. And so in addition to the many cultural, educational, political and economic programs that our Consulate in Leipzig is involved in – now under the leadership of Consul General Mark Powell who arrived last month – American business is also very present throughout the neuen Bundeslaender. U.S. companies moved rapidly into the region after reunification in search of economic opportunities that would benefit both economies. In Thüringen, U.S. firms like Opel, Truck-Lite, Avery Dennison and Borg Warner create thousands of jobs. Today, every tenth job in this state is provided by a U.S. company. With some 66 U.S. firms and investments of more than €1.6 billion, the U.S. is the largest foreign investor in Thüringen. It is also Thüringen’s most important trading partner outside the EU. These are impressive statistics; but we cannot afford to stand still.
Minister President Lieberknecht, I know, that Thüringen is not standing still. I understand that you recently visited the U.S. to underscore the importance of our mutual trade and investment relationships and the prospects for the future. I was happy to hear that your delegation included a cross-section of representatives – from politicians and business people to church representatives. That kind of cross-fertilization spurs innovation. Whether you live in Thüringen or New Jersey where my home is in the United States, the necessity for innovation is as much an invitation as it is a challenge. How, after all, can we prepare our citizens for jobs that don't yet exist, using technologies that haven't yet been invented, in order to solve problems that we don't even know are problems yet? We also cannot afford to stand still in other areas.
The fall of the Wall and German reunification transformed the landscape of Europe and it changed the course of world events. Germany now stands at the center of a free, peaceful, prosperous, unified Europe.
But as I said earlier, these two enormous achievements were not inevitable. In January1989, East Germany's Communist leaders predicted that the Wall would still be standing in 50 or even 100 years. History could have gone another way. And, in some parts of the world, it did, and it has.
Two decades and one year later, we remember and celebrate those two enormous achievements, achievements that come with an enormous responsibility and a call to action to advance the principles that were vindicated here in Germany. There are still millions around the world who are kept down and behind, unable to fulfill their own destinies.
There are still millions of people who like Chancellor Merkel felt that she suffered because she could never test the borders of her own possibilities. The State was always in the way.”
And so the question that we dare never forget is how can we take this gift of freedom, this alliance of values, this commitment for a better future, and put it to work to meet the challenges of freedom today?
Along with our other allies in the transatlantic community, the United States and Germany are united in addressing these challenges. We are united by history but also by our interests and our values. In other parts of the world, there are people who are working to achieve change through discussion, through debates, through peaceful protests and practical politics. What are the lessons learned from the “Peaceful Revolution” for the Arab Spring? How can the United States, Germany and our partners support their efforts? And in a broader focus, how can we all, as individuals and as nations, promote mutual respect and stand up to bigotry, intolerance and prejudice?
Minister President Lieberknecht, Pope Benedict recalled that call to action in his historic visit to your state last month. “We are all convinced, he said, “that the new freedom has helped to give people greater dignity and to open up many new opportunities.”
I was honored to attend the papal service in Erfurt last month. That experience reinforced my belief that it is indeed the duty of every person of conscience to stand up and speak out when we believe religion is being perverted, misappropriated, or exploited. We have a responsibility as individuals to make good choices about what we say and do. We have that same responsibility as nations. To expand freedom to more people, we cannot accept that freedom does not belong to all people. We cannot allow oppression to replace that ideology.
Now, as in the past, we know that the work ahead will not be quick, and it will certainly not be easy. There have been times in the past – and there will be times in the future – when we do not see eye to eye on the steps that we think need to be taken to address the challenges we face. But we dare not give up ownership of our future, and we must never fail to affirm the principles and the sacrifice of those who helped us reach the milestone we commemorate today.
When we talk about the values and goals that our two countries share, it all comes down to a respect for democracy and the human spirit – even though the paths of history that have brought us to these common values have been very different. The history of the United States has been an ongoing promise of liberty and equality. And as I said earlier, German-Americans have played an important role in that history.
I would like to close with the story of one of those German-Americans who happened to be a son of Thüringen. His story touches on many of the themes that I have touched upon this evening – personal responsibility, innovation, initiative, and commitment.
John Roebling was born Johannes August Roebling in 1806 in Mühlhausen. Despite the first class Prussian engineering education he had received, Roebling decided to give up engineering and immigrate to the United States. At that time, here in Germany, there was a “right way” and a “wrong way” to approach engineering problems – and other issues.
Innovation was not encouraged – as it is today here in Thüringen – and Roebling felt stifled. He set out for America in 1831. He and his brother Carl purchased uncleared farm land north of Pittsburgh. In letters to his family and friends back in Mühlhausen, Roebling described the area as a virtual paradise but the most important aspect of this country, he wrote, was the emotional climate. I quote from one of his letters: “Every American, even when he is poor and must serve others, feels his innate rights as a man.”
John Roebling eventually gave up farming and went back to engineering. He found a job on the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal. Immediately he started looking at better ways to build and operate canals. He developed a new kind of wire rope that quickly became a valuable engineering material. It was used to build suspension bridges, such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and one over the Niagara River just north of the famous waterfall. But John Roebling, geboren Johannes August Roebling aus Mühlhausen, did not go down in history for his wire rope or for the company that he established in Trenton, New Jersey – my home state. John Roebling went down in history as the builder of the Brooklyn Bridge. When it opened in 1883, it was called the "eighth wonder of the world.”
The Brooklyn Bridge reflects the optimism and entrepreneurial spirit of late 19th century America but it also celebrated Roebling’s creativity and vision. The construction required tenacity and sacrifice. There are lessons to be learned in his story. Those qualities -- optimism and entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, vision, tenacity, sacrifice – combined with an innate respect for the rights and dignity of women and men everywhere are just as relevant today. There are many stories like this one to be told in the history of the partnership between our two countries. Let’s together build the connections for many ,many more in the future.
Thank you for inviting me to join you in this celebration of Unity Day. Congratulations, Germany!