Speech of Dr. Thomas Flierl (PDS)

culture minister in the Berlin city government, as part of the MD's opening conference for the 2005 Berlin theme year "Between War and Peace" on 15.3.2005

Dear Prof. Ottomeyer,
Dear Mr Kühnelt,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The 8th May was a day of liberation. The Allies freed Germany and its inhabitants from the inhuman Nazi system which ruled by violence. This is how it was experienced by those who suffered under this system and by those who were engaged in resistance against it. This is also what many Germans experienced when Nazi Germany capitulated and the guns fell silent.

Liberation: this - and this alone - is the historic meaning of this day!

For this reason, nobody will forget the experiences of the German population on the road to their liberation, what they had to bear and what they had to suffer. To remain silent about these experiences is to abridge history and to prepare the ground for new resentments and historical relativism.

But today, nobody - and there is unfortunately reason enough to emphasise this - can dare attempt to confuse cause and effect. Those who talk about flight, displacement and lack of liberty after 1945 must make it clear that the roots of this misery lay in the Nazis' rule by violence, which led to mass murder and war with over 50 million deaths.

"We can never separate 8th May 1945 from 30th January 1933."

Richard von Weizsäcker's famous speech, from which this line is taken, is now almost 20 years old, but it is virtually all that can and need be said about this pivotal date in German and international history.

That it is necessary to consider repeatedly the importance of this date has been proven in recent months, as was demonstrated by the - to put it diplomatically - scandal associated with the motion proposed by council members in the Berlin borough of Steglitz-Zehlendorf.

It's good that it was overturned.

And maybe we should be really glad that embarrassing events such as this reach the public, because they make it clear that the past cannot be discussed and resolved with one single action alone, but that historical responsibility is something that every generation has to acquire for itself.

According to a Forsa survey, four out of five Berliners now see 8th May as the day of liberation. In contrast to many other issues currently under discussion, there is no division between east and west when it comes to this topic. For us, there have been only two other days with a historical dimension which approaches that of 8th May: 9th November 1989 and 24th May 2004. The first of these two dates saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the event which symbolically ended the division of Germany. The second date saw the accession of Eastern European countries to the EU, finalising the end of the post-war order in Europe. Potsdam and Yalta were relegated to history, both German and European, in a peaceful manner.

When we, the people involved in cultural management, began discussing in 2002 how the German capital and the state of Berlin should mark the 60th anniversary of this date, we initially met with a significant degree of scepticism. Why have even bigger plans for the 60th anniversary, of all dates, when everything seemed to have been covered and addressed by the 50th anniversary?

For us, the date was not only of great importance because it will probably be the last round-figure anniversary which we can commemorate together with people who experienced the era. It is also the first important anniversary after the federal government's move from Bonn to Berlin. And it is also the year which sees the reunification of Germany being celebrated for the fifteenth time.

Bearing these facts in mind, three important inaugurations were planned within Berlin and Brandenburg:

  • First, the opening of a new commemorative centre at the site of the Marienfelde refugee camp on 14th April.
  • Then, on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Sachsenhausen concentration camp, the opening of the Station Z commemorative centre.
  • Finally, the inauguration of the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe on 10th May 2005.
These three events will undoubtedly be at the centre of attention this year.

But we believe that these events should be held within a context which establishes a connection between the reasons and an active culture of remembrance for the past 60 years and their historical background.

Given the importance of this topic both within Germany and far beyond this country's borders, I assembled a curatorial team under the supervision of Prof. Blumenthal and Prof. Lehmann. This team consisted not just of figures from commemorative sites and museums, the Federal Centre for Political Education and corresponding institutions within the federal and state governments, but it also included the embassies of the four Allied powers and of Poland. A team of outstanding talents, it discussed how to organise a year of cultural events dealing with the theme and which would approach the commemoration of this era from various standpoints.

We wanted to make it clear that there is no ZERO hour:
  • That post-war history is connected with the history of the war.
  • That mental after-effects persisted after the physical destruction caused by the war.
  • That a section of our society - including artists, scientists, businesses - which was exiled or murdered during the Nazi period has to this day not been replaced.
  • That relations with our neighbouring countries will always remain exceptional.
  • That, however, a lot has been created in the course of the past 60 years.
We want to show that a long process of historical development, which was initially divided but which subsequently became, after the end of the GDR, a common historical development, has been in progress. A development with all the successes - but also with all the difficulties - that result from the handling of our common historical inheritance and from our common responsibility towards it.

We believe that the question still remains of whether and how we can talk of a common route towards democracy and freedom, judged from a single German standpoint which exists as a result of German's regained unity.

Democracy and freedom are not possessions which we can simply take for granted. We must claim them and strive for them repeatedly. And the paths towards these achievements are never such that they appear to be secure, historical truths.

Who other than the Germans, both in the east and west, could be more aware of this fact given the discontinuity of their post-war history and therefore be committed to the creation of a common awareness of it?

Regions of conflict throughout the world, including and in particular regions on the edges of our own continent, show just how fragile these possessions are.

We should make clear to coming generations, whose experience of conflict and struggle is generally limited to television images, what these apparently banal commodities of freedom and democracy mean, in particular due to their relationship with values such as social justice.

We should - especially in view of our own history - make it clear how dangerous it is when this canon of values is reinterpreted in a manner intended to foster antagonism, which threatens to obscure it or pitch its constituent elements against each other.

And we should - in the awareness of our common and separate histories from the last century, a century of extremes - communicate in an arresting manner that the trio of values, freedom, democracy and social justice, form the historical foundation upon which our social contract is based.

In this light, the year 2005 represents a very special year within our contemporary history. And I think it is good, it is encouraging, that interest in historical issues is increasing. We can observe this in recent films, in television documentaries, but also in the extensive newspaper debates about the culture of remembrance in Germany.

In Berlin, we have access to an exceptionally impressive potential thanks to the number of historical locations, commemorative sites and museums dedicated to different eras in history.

Berlin is, to a degree, the capital of German history. The public agrees: although the numbers of people visiting commemorative sites is sinking elsewhere in the country, figures for Berlin continue to increase for both commemorative sites and history museums.

This year, the federal government and Berlin city government want to work together to renovate the commemorative sites in the capital and make them more attractive to visitors. Our plan for the Berlin Wall represents the first systematic, thematic visitor programme for this outstanding monument to post-war history. The new commemorative site for forced labourers is to be opened next year; with this event, we will fill a significant gap in the public's awareness of this important historical topic. And despite the well-known financial shortages, we will emphasise this topic in particular.

The commemorative sites and events which already exist and which are associated with the programme for the year reflect well on us:
  • Karlshost Museum as a historic location for 8th May, but also in particular because it is the world's only museum that is managed by two former opponents for the purpose of interpreting their common history; 8th May 2005 is the museum's tenth anniversary.
  • The Allied Museum tells the story of how France, the UK and USA turned from occupiers into friends.
  • By selecting the former barracks of the Spandau Citadel as its new exhibition space, the Topography of Terror Foundation has chosen a unique location for its exhibitions which tell the history of Berlin in 1945.
  • German society under Allied occupation will be explored in an interesting series of films and talks held at the House of Democracy and Human Rights; the organisers are the German federal states' delegates for documents relating to state security matters and the Institute for Contemporary History.
  • And at Schöneberg town hall, a long-running exhibition will continue its exemplary work in exploring the traces left by Jewish former residents of the area, thereby bringing an important topic closer to young people and keeping it alive.
In the citadel of Besancon in France, now the site of the Museum of the Resistance and Deportation, visitors can read a quote from the philosopher George Santayana:
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." And Stefan Zweig once remarked:
"Someone has to start peace, just as someone starts a war."

Both are good mottos for our 2005 cultural year, "Between War and Peace".

I hope that all the energy invested by those working in museums, at commemorative sites, at the MD, with me and at other locations associated with this project will contribute to acquiring as large an audience as possible for remembrance, understanding and an awareness of this history.

I wish everyone, you and us, the greatest of success in this cultural year. And for my part, I hope for an intelligent, and if necessary an energetic and polemical discussion about questions pertaining to contemporary history.

As long as we discuss the issue, the themes it covers remain alive and enable us to attain new insights and points of view. Ultimately, this is what I hope for all of us, including those in Steglitz-Zehlendorf!

Museumspädagogischer Dienst Berlin,
Klosterstrasse 68, 10179 Berlin, info@kulturprojekte-berlin.de
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Between War and Peace - 60th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe

Speech of Dr. Thomas Flierl (PDS)


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