Jubilant masses at the Brandenburg Gate, people in one another’s arms, simultaneously laughing and crying for joy. It is moving images like these that we associate with the fall of the Wall in November 1989 and German unification 30 years ago.
The whole world watched incredulously, amazed by the power unleashed by people’s courage and by how the longing for justice and freedom could peacefully overcome a dictatorship. As surprising as the events of autumn 1989 were for everyone, the fall of the Berlin Wall did not come from nothing. The ground was prepared by a policy of reconciliation and rapprochement and by decades of civil society dialogue – between individuals – forming a bridge across the Wall. Courageous people then brought about its collapse. One year later, on 3 October 1990, the unification of the two German states followed, the result of intensive and dedicated political negotiations with the Allies and neighbouring countries. It is also down to them that our country today is firmly anchored in the international community and in a united, peaceful Europe.
Thirty years of German unity provide an occasion not only for many people in Germany but also for many others throughout the world to look back. The message at the time was that major successes cannot be achieved singlehandedly but only in close cooperation with neighbours and partners.
Close cooperation based on trust is a guiding principle of German foreign policy. Even though efforts to find joint solutions do not always produce results as quickly as everyone would like, uncompromising go-it-alone efforts and the retreat into national egoism are wrong turns that do not lead to anything good.
We all sense that the major issues concerning humanity can only be resolved by joining forces, or not at all, as the COVID-19 pandemic has most recently shown us. These solutions must be based on efforts to foster greater exchange and a deeper understanding for one another. That is a task not just for policymakers but also for civil society, education and culture.
Art and culture in particular can build valuable bridges of dialogue. They can help us to understand the dreams and traumas of our societies and to seek common perspectives.
Germany, which has now been united for 30 years, advocates a policy of peace and focuses on cooperative solutions – in the European Union, in the United Nations and also in the Alliance for Multilateralism, which Germany launched together with its partners.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification showed us that many things are possible that long seemed impossible. To achieve them requires courage, determination and the instinctive ability to take the right decisions at the right time. We still need all these qualities today: as the international community we are facing particularly great challenges. But we have no reason to resign ourselves to our fate. Let us cast our minds back to the founding of the United Nations 75 years ago, right after the horrors of the Second World War. At that time, people had every reason to distrust one another. They had every reason to be afraid of what the future might hold. And yet they said: We are founding this United Nations organisation because we believe that together we can be more effective in our work to promote peace and freedom.
We should remind ourselves of that more often. We have reason to be hopeful. When, if not today, should people in Germany be more aware of that!