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Retired German Army Brig. Gen. Johann Berger, German deputy director of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, speaks to a crowd of about 250 people at the Day of German Unity in a ceremony held in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Kongresshaus Oct. 3. For more photos, visit the Marshall Center Photo Gallery. (DOD photo by German Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Mark Winkler/RELEASED)

By German Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Mark Winkler
Public Affairs Office
George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, GERMANY (October 3, 2018) – Garmisch-Partenkirchen Mayor Dr. Sigrid Meierhofer and retired German Army Brig. Gen. Johann Berger, German deputy director of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies,  marked the Day of German Unity in a ceremony held in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Kongresshaus Oct. 3.

To mark this important day, U.S. staff and faculty were encouraged to attend in the spirit of the Marshall Center's German-American partnership.

The Partenkirchen Band performed and Berger was a guest speaker.

He spoke in German and his remarks were translated by the Marshall Center’s Language Service Branch.

Retired German Army Brig. Gen. Johann Berger’s Remarks

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, dear citizens of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the neighboring municipalities, dear holidaymakers and tourists, dear guests and friends from all over the world, dear American friends and colleagues, dear Friends of the Marshall Center, and dear members of the Bundeswehr!

Today, we are celebrating the 28th Day of German Unity. Why? Because thousands of courageous citizens started a peaceful revolution in the fall of 1989 and made the Berlin wall come down.

Then, our neighbors in Europe and our friends all over the world opened the way for a peaceful reunification. And, as incredible as it may seem, we have been able to live as a united people and to promote unity in Germany and in Europe ever since, sending a strong signal to the rest of the world.

In the meantime, after more than 25 years as a community of 16 federal states, as a European country and as a partner to many states, we have gotten used to the freedom and the unity, which was achieved back then. But there are no guarantees and we have to keep defending our freedom and unity: against tendencies, which seemed to have become a thing of the past, such as nationalism, isolationism and xenophobia.

Based on our experience, we, the German people, have a responsibility to help others to make walls come down, such as the one between North and South Korea, and to prevent the building of new walls, because they offer no protection against whatever it is that people fear. 

We, the people in Germany and in Europe, need to be aware of the fact that the only way to meet today’s challenges is meeting them together, side by side. For us in Europe, peace is being taken for granted. And some people are afraid that removing barriers and walls will expose them to danger.

Currently, there are two tendencies that characterize Europe’s relation to the rest of the world: withdrawal from external commitments and isolation from the rest of the world by building fences and drawbridges. Many politicians have fallen for populism and isolationist policies, failing to see that they are nothing but a dead end and definitely no solution to the problems of the 21st century, because those can only be solved transnationally.

Sixty years ago in September, six nations agreed on an ambitious agenda that would help Europe overcome differences and promote integration. In the Treaties of Rome, European leaders agreed to remove internal barriers and make Europe grow together into the European Union.

In 1957 people in Europe were optimistic and confident that more integration would lead to more prosperity and better security. The heads of state who signed the Treaties of Rome were convinced that removing barriers and reducing differences would be essential for their countries’ survival and the only way of making sure that the horror of two world wars would not repeat itself.

However, the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome seems to mark a point when public opinion in Europe seems to drift away from openness and freedom of movement. Liberal, democratic values are being challenged by new anti-European political parties. Many citizens worry that peace, prosperity and security can no longer be guaranteed.

Throughout Germany and Europe, confidence and optimism have become rare. But, it is not impossible to revive the spirit of openness of the Roman Treaties.

One step would be a reality check to make us understand that we are far better off than it may seem judging from the gloomy picture painted by the media.

The economy of the European Union is in its fourth continuous year of recovery. In some countries unemployment is still high, although no longer double digit.

Five of the 10 most competitive nations of the world are members of the EU; 13 EU nations rank among the top 20 of the prosperity index; the EU is the world’s largest trading block and the largest donor of development and humanitarian aid. All those data give rise to more optimism.

In Germany we will have to reduce the negative populist influence on politics and on our society. Preferably without pointing a finger at the new federal states and accusing our brothers and sisters of the former GDR of being ungrateful and nostalgic.

When people have grown up with certain values and adhered to them, they cannot be expected to simply throw everything overboard. When they have lived in a different society for decades, they will not change their lifestyle in five minutes. Human beings are the sum of their personal experience. This experience lies at the root of our opinions, attitudes and mindsets. So maybe the wall still exists in some people’s heads. But instead of condemning them we should help them bring down those walls.

Then there are a few other, minor problems. Let me quote from an anonymous letter on the internet: “Whatever you shove into some people, front or back, they will always be dissatisfied.” What makes people write such comments? Is that freedom?

Freedom combined with prosperity is highly desirable. But when freedom means uncertainty and insecurity, it seems much less attractive. Better then to have someone take care of everything, to have someone in charge. If things still won’t go according to plan, there is always the option of simply being against everything. That’s always the easy way out.

But when disapproval translates into blind, vocal hatred of everyone and everything, into dumb brainless protest and support for populist delusions, we should be alarmed.

In such cases we are no longer confronted with walls in the heads of “Ossies” and “Wessies”, but with the specter of the 1930s, which first reared its ugly head in the Weimar Republic. On this Day of German Unity we should remember to never ever discriminate against anyone again. No East German, no foreigner, no refugee, no Jew, no Bavarian, no Saxon or whoever.

I hope that we all, the members of German society and our democratically elected politicians, will take the time and think about this in more depth.

Our actions should be guided by humanity and charity, by the readiness - laid down in our constitution - to help those who suffer and are politically persecuted.

But this help must be granted in an organized manner on the basis of the rule of law, so people will not feel insecure. This will prevent the building of new walls in our hearts and minds.

I would very much like this day to mark a point when people in Germany feel more confident again, show more tolerance and appreciate the 3rd of October as a lucky day. And stop sulking like children in the sandbox whose toys have been taken away.

Let us take a look around, right here and right now, and state the obvious: “We are fine. We live under the best of circumstances in a beautiful place. This sublime scenery is inspiring, here we can relax and enjoy life. Let us be grateful for this, on the 28th day of German Unity and the 73rd year of peace in Germany.”

Thank you for your attention.