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A Look Backward and a Look Ahead: Germany, Europe, and the Transatlantic Relationship (November 3, 2009)

Shortly before the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Chancellor Angela Merkel reflected on the role of the United States in postwar Germany and in German unification. She emphasized the necessity of cooperation between Europe and the U.S. in solving far-reaching global problems.

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Speech by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel before the United States Congress

Madam Speaker,
Mr. Vice President,
Distinguished Members of Congress,

I would like to thank you for the great honor and privilege to address you today, shortly before the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I am the second German Chancellor on whom this honor has been bestowed. The first was Konrad Adenauer when he addressed both Houses of Congress in 1957, albeit one after the other.

Our lives could not have been more different. In 1957 I was just a small child of three years. I lived with my parents in Brandenburg, a region that belonged to the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the part of Germany that was not free. My father was a Protestant pastor. My mother, who had studied English and Latin to become a teacher, was not allowed to work in her chosen profession in the GDR.

In 1957 Konrad Adenauer was already 81 years old. He had lived through the German Empire, the First World War, the Weimar Republic and the Second World War. The National Socialists ousted him from his position as mayor of the city of Cologne. After the war, he was among the men and women who helped build up the free, democratic Federal Republic of Germany.

Nothing is more symbolic of the Federal Republic of Germany than its constitution, the Basic Law, or "Grundgesetz”. It was adopted exactly 60 years ago. Article 1 of the Grundgesetz proclaims, and I quote, "Human dignity shall be inviolable”. This short, simple sentence – "Human dignity shall be inviolable” – was the answer to the catastrophe that was the Second World War, to the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust, to the hate, destruction and annihilation that Germany brought upon Europe and the world.

November 9th is just a few days away. It was on November 9, 1989 that the Berlin Wall fell and it was also on November 9 in 1938 that an indelible mark was branded into Germany’s memory and Europe’s history. On that day the National Socialists destroyed synagogues, setting them on fire, and murdered countless people. It was the beginning of what led to the break with civilization, the Shoah. I cannot stand before you today without remembering the victims of this day and of the Shoah.

And I cannot stand before you today without mentioning how grateful I am for the presence of one guest, who personally experienced the horror of National Socialism in Germany and whom I recently met personally: Professor Fritz Stern. He was born in 1926 in what was then the German city of Breslau and today is the Polish city of Wrocław. He and his family were able to escape the Nazi regime in 1938 and flee to the United States. In his autobiography, published in 2006 under the title "Five Germanys I Have Known”, Fritz Stern describes the moment of his arrival in New York’s harbor in 1938, a haven of freedom and security.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is wonderful that history willed that we should both – the twelve-year-old boy who was driven out of Germany and me, the Chancellor of reunited Germany who was born in the GDR – be here in this distinguished House. This fills me with great joy and deep gratitude.

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