Have you ever knowingly smuggled anything?
"Now they were moving among the thousands. It was as if they were floating a hand's breadth above the ground. What else should want to get in their way."
What else should stand in their way, wrote Erich Loest in his novel "Nikolaikirche" - them, the people who courageously wrote history here in Leipzig 30 years ago. The great writer tells in "Nikolaikirche" - many of you will know the novel and the film adaptation - from the last years of the GDR until October 9, 1989. Tens of thousands took to the streets in Leipzig for freedom and democracy. Nobody wanted to stand in their way. Nobody dared yet.
October 9th was a big day in German history. I am grateful that I can be here today to celebrate this day with you. I'm honoured. Thank you very much for the invitation.
Yes, October 9th is a big day for German history. But I want, I have to start with today. Because on my travels through Germany - especially in areas that are otherwise hardly the focus - I always meet people who don't feel like partying - much less than at some earlier anniversaries.
Today, 30 years after that October 9th, I see a strong country in front of me, but I also see a country that is partly insecure. I see a country where cracks are opening. Cracks that are also reflected in election results, but even more so in the way we talk about each other and how we talk about this country.
I hear about a country where people feel left behind - left behind by politics and, as it is sometimes called, elites. I hear of a growing gap, and not just between East and West. Also between living environments: between town and country, between rich and poor. I hear young people who feel abandoned, even betrayed, by their elders. They fear that the future on this planet will be stolen from them. I hear from Jews who are insulted and attacked. I hear that our country has taken in too many refugees and immigrants from other cultures and that the feeling of foreignness in one's own country is growing. But I also hear that citizens with a history of migration feel increasingly threatened. I hear nationalistic and xenophobic tones that have obviously become more seductive.
30 years after the Peaceful Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall, I hear East Germans who feel they have been misunderstood and West Germans who no longer want to hear about it.
I see a country struggling to stay together. Is this our country? Is that the whole truth about our country? I tell you: certainly not.
So I want to try a different look. Because when I'm on the road, I also meet people who have amazing stories to tell. I hear their stories of new beginnings and upheavals, of success and failure, of hopes and disappointments. I hear stories, life stories, which - each for itself - hardly made an epoch, but which - in all its diversity of 82 million - have shaped this country. Because who are we and what is this country if not the sum of our stories?
I am particularly impressed by the stories of this city, which tell of the tremendous power that drove people onto the streets back in the fall of 1989 - of their tremendous yearning for freedom and democracy, which was the result of the Peaceful Revolution.
At that time I was brooding over the last part of my doctoral thesis in an attic room at my Giessen University. I knew about the longing and I admired the courage of the many here. But did I really suspect how much courage it took to turn the initial demonstrations into a departure that turned into a revolution? The Peaceful Revolutionaries met - many of them long before 1989 - in church parishes and in private homes. They fought against pollution and decay, for more say and equality, for freedom of expression and travel and free elections. And they also dreamed of a peaceful and united Europe. They set up environmental libraries and printed leaflets, they wrote resolutions and open letters. Many of their demands found their way into the draft for a new constitution, which was later drawn up at the round table.
At that time, as people tell me here in Leipzig and elsewhere, there was a tremendous atmosphere of optimism. But if you listen carefully, you will not only hear of the new beginnings and heroism at that time, but also of doubts and fear. From the fear of arbitrariness and persecution; fear of violence, sometimes manifest, sometimes threatened, a constant shadow that extends to families and friends. Today we also remember the many victims of arbitrariness and oppression! They too should not be forgotten on October 9th.
But then, that autumn 30 years ago, something amazing happened: The fear switched sides. The few became many. It first happened in Plauen on October 7th. Two days later, on October 9th, more than 70,000 people gathered here in Leipzig for prayers for peace and for the largest Monday demonstration to date. Despite the fear of a "Chinese solution" that was in the room a few months after the Tian’anmen massacre. Despite the uncertainty as to whether the SED regime would put down the protests.
The SED had prevented western journalists from coming to Leipzig. But it could not prevent the film footage that Siegbert Schefke and Aram Radomski had secretly shot from the tower of the Reformed Church from being smuggled into the West. When these images flickered through the living room in the days after October 9, many suspected - in West and East: something was happening in the GDR that could no longer be stopped. Fear had changed sides - and after October 9th in Leipzig nothing was like before in the GDR.
Many of these brave people are in the room today. Kathrin Mahler Walther, Gesine Oltmanns and Ines-Maria Köllner, Uwe Schwabe, Tobias Hollitzer, Roland Jahn, relatives of Kurt Masur are here. For the many, Freya Klier is about to speak again. How nice that you are all here today.
Their stories have written German democratic history. You are in the best tradition of our history, in the tradition of the German freedom movements of 1848 and 1918. Your stories are extraordinary stories of great moments in our country. You have added an important part to our history of democracy. Not only do we owe you, the Peaceful Revolutionaries, respect, we owe you joint thanks. From east and west. We owe thanks.
Because the wall didn't come down easily. The people in the GDR brought them to the collapse - peacefully and without violence. Before the autumn of the revolution came the summer of escape in 1989. Hundreds of thousands of citizens of the GDR left everything behind, sought freedom and found it. They too were part of the great upheaval, and their stories also made history. Many of these stories have not yet been told sufficiently, not even heard sufficiently. Thirty years after reunification, it is time for them too - these East German stories - to become part of our common German we.
These stories include the stories of our European neighbors. The epochal upheaval that we are remembering today with this festival would probably not have been possible without the freedom struggle of our eastern neighbors. In Poland, people had rebelled against dictatorship and lack of freedom for years. Mass protests and strikes, the establishment of Solidarność and the Round Table - despite all the setbacks, democratization could not be stopped. The spark jumped over to other countries: to Hungary, which opened its borders in the spring of 1989, to what was then Czechoslovakia. And what happened in Eastern Europe certainly also encouraged the people in the GDR.
Today we know: history would have turned out differently had it not been for Mikhail Gorbachev's decision in the Kremlin not to send troops; had Mikhail Gorbachev not warned the SED leadership to exercise restraint; if he and his Western allies had not later agreed to the unification of Germany.
We should not forget that the happiness of German unity is inextricably linked with the growing together of Europe and the new trust that our neighbors had given us again after the catastrophes of the 20th century. We Germans can also be grateful for this.
But gratitude isn't everything. No, we Germans have a special responsibility for the success of this peaceful and united Europe. It is unique in the history of this continent. We will continue to bear this responsibility in the future. And we take them particularly seriously at a time when some are trying to drive this Europe apart again. This promise is also part of today.
Anyone who only talks about the great moments, about the change of epochs in those days, does not capture all the stories that shape our country today, that have an impact and continue to have an effect from back then into our time.
German unity was a tremendous work. It demanded a lot from the people in our country, from those in the west as well, but above all from those in the east. They have mastered upheavals to a degree that my generation in the West never knew. And this tremendous achievement, which is also part of the memory, has not been adequately appreciated for a long time.
Most people in the West have experienced the upheaval from afar. And many believed that even in a unified Germany everything would go on as before. That was - by the way, even then - a big misjudgment. Even the West has not remained the same after unification, and I say: lucky for a united Germany that it is so!
This reunited Germany is shaped by many impulses from the East - good impulses, a drive for renewal. Yes, the SED regime established a dictatorship that continued to spread fear and violence into society. And yet there were also impulses from a human reality in East Germany, if I may put it that way, which in some ways was resistant and idiosyncratic, quite modern. I am thinking of the self-confident role of women, of a social infrastructure for childcare, of medical care concepts, some of which are being rediscovered today. And, yes, it is certainly no coincidence that it is especially East German women who have shaped and changed the reunified Germany at the top of the list.
Of course there were also many in the West who wanted to do something. West Germans who were curious, who helped to build the East, who went to the then still new federal states - not just because of their careers, but because they wanted to change, because they wanted to help shape the reunified Germany. In addition to exciting challenges, many also found a new home in the East.
One thing is certain, however: the upheaval hit people much harder in eastern Germany than in the west. He met every single family. Companies were shut down, millions of people lost their jobs and at least had to retrain. Parents feared how they should look after their families in the future. And the boys in particular often saw no perspective and went to the West. This bloodletting from back then, especially the 1990s, has left deep marks. In some places, almost a whole generation is missing.
I often hear stories of uprooting, of broken certainties. Today we know - how could it be otherwise - that of course there was not an alternative to everything that happened back then: from business liquidation to the constitutional question. That mistakes were knowingly and probably more unknowingly made. We have to talk about them. We also have to correct them where possible. That is the job of politics.
A task that has lost none of its urgency after 30 years. For example, with a view of some rural areas, where only the elderly have stayed behind and hope and prospects have wandered with the young. Politicians are called upon to ensure a functioning infrastructure and good living conditions. Do not leave these people alone with their worries and needs. Take their problems seriously and take care of: kindergartens and schools, bus connections and fire services, midwives and general practitioners, job prospects and the Internet. It is the supposedly small tasks that are the big ones. Politics cannot neglect that.
Yes, the decades after reunification were difficult years of upheaval and adjustment, and some of them continue to have an impact today. It is all the more astonishing with what courage, with what pragmatism and with what drive East Germans tackled and mastered the challenges.
When I'm on the road in East Germany, I meet people who have rehabilitated decaying cities and put a stop to the destruction of the environment. Those who successfully fought for the continued existence of businesses or who founded their own businesses.
And more and more often I hear stories of returning. Today, many people are drawn from west to east. Lately there are even a little more people going to the eastern federal states than the other way around. This shows that the unity, even three decades later, is not simply rigid and closed, but that the path to it continues and is alive.
"East Germany is a special area, with special experiences", writes Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk, and from these special experiences, especially among the young, a new East German self-confidence has arisen. An awareness that knows about the differences, but does not perceive them exclusively as deficiencies.
They are right. These cultural, life-biographical peculiarities are just not something that you just had to leave behind as quickly as possible in order to belong, as many East Germans believed in the 1990s, but these peculiarities are an enrichment for a diverse country. For a country that consists of many different regions and in which there are also other regions that are not exactly lacking in self-confidence.
We need the experiences of the East with upheaval and change. We can draw strength from the memory of how people stood up together for a better life in a better country. It gives us courage that new and good things have been created. It is so infinitely valuable, this East German experience. Let us take some of this with us into our future together.
In any case, one thing is certain: the one, the official history of German unity does not exist and I predict it will not exist either. Maybe you don't even need them in this country. Because history is made up of stories - the stories of all of us. And as different as we Germans are, our history is so complex.
This diversity, this complexity is not a flaw, but we can discover a strength in it. Democracy and dictatorship, division and unification, peaceful revolution and the merging of two systems, immigration and integration - which country actually brings together so many, so different experiences in the recent past? Let us be curious about the different experiences in East and West, from long-time residents and newcomers, and build our future together on them. Let us make a new solidarity pact of appreciation in our society.
No, I'm not interested in chair circles or symbolic politics. The solidarity pact, which I mean, is an offer and an imposition at the same time. Because it means: "You, on the other hand, belong to it. I am ready to listen to you - your story, your point of view. But I expect the same - please - also the other way around."
This solidarity pact is an offer, because it says: In this country there is room for many opinions and recognition is not a scarce resource. This solidarity pact is an imposition, because recognition means: to endure to be different and to endure different thinking. Those who write off, exclude or give up others have already given up democracy.
"We are the people!" That powerful call from then means: "We are all the people!" In a democracy, the people only exist in the plural. It remains the difficult task of politics to develop a line for joint action from its many voices. But no individual or group can ever again claim to speak alone for the self-appointed true people. That too must be a lesson from our history. We have also learned that: from the Nazi dictatorship, the SED regime and the liberation strike of the Peaceful Revolution. This teaching must be our common teaching, in East and West.
After 30 years, I wish all of us a confident view of our own country.I hope that in the years and decades that lie behind us we will not only see a long chain of breaks, crises and unreasonable demands, but that we will see the people who have shouldered and mastered these huge tasks - in the process of becoming unity, but also in what followed: the economic rise from the bottom of Europe to its driving force, the monetary union and the eastward expansion of the European Union, the solidarity and determination in the financial and economic crisis of the late two-thousanders, through which we Germans got through better than many others in Europe.
And this, too, I don't want to forget it: the admission and care of over a million refugees in 2015 and 2016. I know, on the last point, applause is not so easy. But with all the remaining challenges that we shouldn't downplay at all, that was a tremendous achievement by society as a whole, which was only possible together and of which we can be proud together.
Anyone who looks at this country in this way, with self-confidence and, where there is an occasion, also with a little pride, can justifiably claim: We have not suffered our history - we made it! And whoever looks at this country in this way can also trust it: just as little as we have suffered history, so little do we have to endure the present or freeze before the future.
Yes, there are inequalities, there are disadvantages, there are problems. Recognizing this, and above all changing it, remains an ongoing task. Precisely because we are not victims of the passage of time. Being a victim, that doesn't go with democracy. No, democracy has created a wonderful counter-term and it is called: citizen.
We are citizens, free and self-determined, with the same rights and with the same obligations. That is why it really pains me when some people say: The East Germans or this or that group are second-class citizens. If individuals feel this way, we must not come to terms with it. I can say clearly: There are no first or second class citizens in our country and according to our constitution.
There is one Federal Republic of Germany - its citizens, and with them the many people who live and work here. And we are all jointly responsible for a good future and peaceful coexistence in our country. We all have a right to be part of the common future.
Yes, of course it is true: the responsibility rests first and foremost with politics. She has to take care that children get a good education, their parents get a good job and their grandparents get good care. But that's not all. The responsibility for our democracy, for our future, rests a good deal on every single citizen. I understand that some find this responsibility to be overwhelming. It is correct: Sometimes it takes courage to face this responsibility, to bear it.
But the sentence also applies: Democracy without courageous democrats - that cannot work. This is also a legacy from 1989 that obliges us all: a lived democracy needs the brave. The confident, the doer. And whoever has lost courage, who is discouraged, who turns away, is not against democracy for that alone, but he lacks this democracy. We must never just let it go with a shrug of the shoulders, we have to win it back. That is what we can expect from this country, that is what we as citizens can expect. We have to expect that, because the responsibility for our democracy is not borne by politics alone. We all bear this responsibility!
Many are asking themselves these days: What is actually left of that vigor, of that tremendous force, which 30 years ago made its way on the streets of this city and gradually throughout our country? What is left?
I think these questions are important. It is obvious that we need strength and vigor. In times when the open questions seem bigger than ever - from climate change and digitization to inequality and cohesion - but the old answers are obviously no longer relevant. In times when we are worried about the future of our democracy and the democracy of the future has not yet taken shape. I am sure it would be good for our country if we use the diverse legacy of the Peaceful Revolution for today.
Let us build on the force for change that the East Germans repeatedly applied in 1989 and in the decades afterwards!
Let us build on the courage to take responsibility as citizens!
Let us build on the drive to eliminate grievances and injustices!
Let us build on the will to bridge trenches, tear down walls and keep looking for common solutions!
And - why not? - Let us build on the tradition of the round tables, where politics was made passionately, unideologically, openly and pragmatically! Let us find ways in which we bring citizens' participation and participation to life. There are already many exciting ideas at the local level. It can make our democracy livelier and more attractive. Yes, I think it is time for new round tables in this country - not to avoid arguments, but arguments with rules and with respect. Round tables instead of constant outrage and hate speech: That could be a way to keep our democracy strong.
In conclusion: yes, it is true. Not all the hopes of those who were here on October 9th have come true. The session is not complete, it is a mission and much remains to be done. But let us remember Erich Loest when we reflect on our strength: What should then want to stand in our way?
We live in a country where, of course, not all is well. But it is a country that gives everyone the opportunity to do better.
"And because we improve this country, we love and protect it."
So we love this country and we take care of each other! We owe it to those who had courage 30 years ago. Who united this land. Who made it the best Germany that ever existed.
Thank you very much.
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