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My Germany
Konrad Adenauer Foundation Series Opening: Pictures of Germany
Ambassador William R. Timken, Jr.
Berlin, March 31, 2008


State Minister Mueller,
Friends of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation,

Thank you very much for inviting me to participate in the opening of this new series about images and perceptions of Germany.

We all know the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, that doesn't mean everybody would agree on the same one-thousand-word description. This evening, I am going to give you my 1,000 words on two of the images that the Foundation selected.

Let me say that the images of Germany you have chosen to highlight in this series communicate a sense of the vitality of this prosperous and dynamic country.

Both of the pictures that I have chosen are historical. They depict events that took place, in the first case, sixty years ago, and in the other, twenty years ago in 1989. Why? Because the history of where we have been shapes the road to where we are going.

National perceptions are based on experience and knowledge. I know that the Konrad Adenauer Foundation places great importance on exchanges. We at the Embassy commend you for that. It is important to communicate to young people the enthusiasm that I believe all of us in this room share for a close and productive relationship between our two countries. To do that, we need to provide more opportunities to share experiences and acquire knowledge. I hope this exhibition does just that.

Let me tell you why the two pictures that I chose speak volumes about America’s feelings for Germany. Then I would be interested in hearing your comments.

The first picture commemorates the sixtieth anniversary of the Berlin Airlift being celebrated this year. It shows the people of Berlin, more specifically the children, waving to a C-47 cargo plane on one of the quarter million flights that were made during the course of the Airlift, as the last European battlefield of World War II became the first battlefield of the Cold War.

Think back with me to 1948. World War II had left Europe devastated. Nowhere was the crisis more acute than in Berlin. People were hungry and homeless. In June 1948, Soviet authorities halted all traffic by land and water into or out of the western-controlled section of Berlin. The only remaining access routes into the city were three air corridors across the Soviet zone of Germany. Joseph Stalin had decided he could cause the allied forces to withdraw from Berlin leaving free Berliners to the fateful clutches of the Russian Bear. What he couldn't do with tanks he intended to do with a blockade. He simply did not understand American resolution. The blockade confronted the British, French and American allies with a stark choice. Many did not believe that it was possible to supply a major city by air but more than 2 million German lives and the fate of free Berlin were hanging in the balance.

A few, however, were convinced it could and must be done – including the President of the United States. On June 28, in a meeting at the White House, President Truman made it very clear that the United States was staying in Berlin, period. Between June of 1948 and May of 1949, planes flew around the clock, in good weather and bad. At the height of the Airlift, a plane landed every 90 seconds. But the most precious cargo did not come in the well-named care packages or in Colonel Halvorsen’s candy parachutes. It was the gift of hope and the reminder that Berlin was not alone.

The blood of many American and British pilots was shed in airplane crashes. But their sacrifices kept the people of Berlin from Russian slavery. German reunification brought their sacrifices full circle. Had Berlin fallen to Stalin, reunification would never have happened.

That brings me to my second photograph: the celebrations in Berlin on November 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall fell. It was a great day for Germany, but it was also a great day for America. Throughout the 20th century, American foreign policy goals had been defined primarily through our engagement in European conflicts. This event validated our strategies. Our own home country's health and vitality could not be assured unless Europe was also peaceful, democratic and prosperous. The events of 1989 meant that America, too, would never be the same.

This picture reminded us of other events that had become an integral part of the history of American foreign policy: such as the steady stream of airplanes feeding Berlin during the Airlift; but also, American and Soviet tanks in a face-off at Checkpoint Charlie; the dramatic words of reassurance offered to Berliners by President John F. Kennedy; and President Reagan's final challenge to the Soviet Union at the Brandenburg Gate to tear down the Berlin Wall.

Ronald Reagan’s challenge to President Gorbachev was an electric statement. It prompted Erich Honecker to respond, “This wall is going to stand another hundred years.” But things were starting to move. Freedom was on the march and a brighter future for Europe was on the horizon. When German reunification finally seemed to be within reach, the United States reacted immediately. President Bush understood the historic moment that was at hand.

Without hesitation, America stood by its German friends to help overcome the division of Germany and of Europe. President Bush bluntly told the English and the French that America believed all Germans should have the right to true democratic freedom - there must be reunification!

For four decades, through strong defense, support for democracy and economic cooperation, the United States had helped maintain the strength of its Western European allies and other democratic countries in Europe. The NATO Alliance became a shield of democracy. The European Union became its workshop. The United States also pursued consistently a program of engagement, negotiation, and agreement in areas that could reduce the threat of conflict and ease the humanitarian burden of the division of Europe.

German reunification was the seal on one of the greatest success stories of modern diplomacy. It was also the beginning of a new post-Cold War era in which Germany was at the center of a rapidly changing, democratic Europe.

The relationship between the United States and the nations of Europe is still America’s most important foreign relationship. No two regions of the world share a history, a common set of values and a global vision as much as do the United States and Europe. We are no longer protecting Berlin and Western Europe against threat. We are now partners in defining and implementing a new strategic global vision -- a vision of a world united through the same methods and beliefs of democracy; a world in which peoples are empowered to seek their own futures.

If we are looking for the results of vision, we need look no further than Berlin. The completion of Europe began in this city 60 years ago. In the long struggle to free Berlin, no one ever knew for sure when the day of liberty would come. But what would have happened to freedom in Europe and the world had Americans and Germans wavered in Berlin? That’s what these two photographs mean to me.

In closing, let me repeat that I think this series is an excellent idea. May I suggest that if the Foundation decides to do an update at some point in the future, you select a picture of Brandenburg Gate, as it is now. In a very short time, we will be moving into our new Embassy, returning to our pre-World War II location on Pariser Platz. Our Embassy is the last piece of the puzzle of the newly rebuilt square. I think of the opening of our Embassy as the closing of a circle that extended back to the time when we were enemies at war, through the long Cold War years of division and the process of unification to the state where we are today as true global partners. Our new Embassy is not just another building. It demonstrates the commitment of the United States to partnership with the nation of Germany and the people of this country.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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Updated: June 2008