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Helmut Kohl’s Welcome in Dresden (December 19, 1989)

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I had the impression that the people assembled in front of the Frauenkirche were already looking toward a unified Germany. It was this prospect that filled them with enthusiasm, not so much the results of my negotiations. So while there was a surge of applause when I spoke of the free elections that were about to take place in the GDR, the enthusiasm that followed my mentioning of the prospects that would thereby open up was absolutely indescribable:

“You will have a freely elected government. Then the time will come for what I have called confederative structures, that is, joint government committees, so we can live in Germany with as much common ground as possible. And let me also say on this square, which is so rich in history, that my goal – should the historical hour permit it – remains the unity of our nation. And, dear friends, I know that we can achieve this goal and that the hour will come when we will work together towards it, provided that we do it with reason and sound judgment and a sense for what is possible.”

In order to keep the enthusiasm on the square from going overboard, I spoke very matter-of-factly of the long and difficult path to this common future, just as I had done in Berlin on November 10th:

“We, the Germans, do not live alone in Europe and in the world. One look at a map will show that everything that changes here will have an effect on all of our neighbors, those in the East and those in the West. There is no point if we fail to acknowledge that many of our neighbors view this path with concern and some even with fear. Nothing good can come of fear.

And still, as Germans we must say to our neighbors: In view of the history of this century, we understand some of these fears. We will take them seriously. For us, that means we wish to represent our interests as Germans. We say “yes” to the right to self-determination, which all peoples in the world should have, also the Germans. But, dear friends, this right to self-determination only makes sense for the Germans if we do not lose sight of the security needs of others. We want to enter a world with greater peace and greater freedom, which sees more cooperation with each other than opposition against each other. The house of Germany, our house, must be built under a European roof. That must be the goal of our policies. [ . . . ]

But, dear friends, true peace is not possible without freedom. That is why you are fighting and demonstrating for freedom in the GDR, and that is why we are supporting you, and that is why you have our solidarity. [ . . . ] Now it is up to us to continue peacefully along this path in the time ahead of us, to proceed with patience, sound judgment, and together with our neighbors. Let us work together toward this goal, let us help each other in a spirit of solidarity. From here in Dresden, I send my greetings to all our compatriots in the GDR and the Federal Republic of Germany.”

In closing, I called out to the crowd: “God bless our German fatherland!”

I was deeply moved, so it was very hard for me to conclude my speech. What would happen now? But the people remained calm; however, no one made any move to leave the square. Then something happened that signaled to everyone that it was time to go. An elderly woman climbed onto the podium, embraced me, started to cry, and said quietly: “We all thank you!”

The microphones were all still on and everyone could hear it. Then the people started to disperse. Exhausted and happy we hurried through the cordon of people to the cars that brought us back across the Elbe River.

[ . . . ]

Long after midnight, we walked to Hotel Bellevue, where I invited our small delegation to come to my room for a drink. Together we made a preliminary assessment of the last few hours, and I said once more, “I think we’ll do it; we’ll get unification. It’s rolling. I don’t think it can be stopped anymore, the people want it. The regime is definitely finished.”

Source: Helmut Kohl, Erinnerungen 1982-1990 [Recollections, 1982-1990]. Munich, 2005, pp. 1020-28.

Translation: Allison Brown

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