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Amerika Haus Turnover Ceremony
Ambassador William R. Timken, Jr.
September 25, 2006


Governing Mayor Wowereit, honored guests, officials, colleagues and all the many friends of the Amerika Haus Berlin.

Thank you all for coming to the last official event that the Embassy will be hosting as “Hausherr” at the Amerika Haus.

Today’s ceremony is not really a closing but part of a transition that has been a long time in coming. Next month, we will all be meeting again for the topping off ceremony at our new Embassy on Pariser Platz. Before I leave Germany, there will be a marvelous new Embassy - befitting this reborn metropolis - on Pariser Platz in the city’s heart. I am proud of that, just as I am proud of what was done here at the Amerika Haus. We are moving on but we are not leaving behind that lively, spirit which marked decades of working together to keep the city’s freedom alive.

The Amerika Haus and our new Embassy beside the Brandenburg Gate – together these two buildings speak volumes about my country’s commitment to this city and to Germany.

For the last 49 years, this building has stood us in very good stead. This building was built in 1957 because we needed it. It was designed so that we could reach out to the German people, to show them what America was like, how we lived, what we stood for and what we imagined the future of this city could hold for all its citizens. There have been very memorable cultural events here. Thousands of students came to the Amerika Haus to find out about exchange opportunities in the United States. In our library, countless students and scholars were introduced to materials straight off the press from America that were hard or impossible to find in Germany.

All those needs were met here, in this building called the “Amerika Haus.” America seemed to live here and thousands upon thousands of Berliners came here to visit America. As German cultural and academic institutions were founded or re-established and began to flourish, as universities grew, as theatres and clubs opened their doors, as festivals celebrated film and music, the City of Berlin found a very willing partner in the Amerika Haus. We sponsored or co-produced programs. We brought over American artists and experts to participate in programs. We lent our support to one exciting project after another.

After the Berlin Wall went up in the early 1960s, the Amerika Haus became even more important as a refuge and as a solemn token of America’s promise never to forsake this city, no matter what. The best of what America had to offer -- in all fields -- came here to make good on that promise.

In 1968, there was a new mood in the German-American relationship. The Amerika Haus became the focus point of demonstrations. Dialogue between our two countries took on a different character, but dialogue and exchange continued. That was important. We learned then that friends do not always agree.

The Wall collapsed and the Cold War ended. Berlin became the capital of a much larger Germany. No longer an island, national and international affairs shaped the concerns of the day. The Amerika Haus kept pace -- finding new partnerships, new traditions to further ties and new ways to help create links between this city and America.

With the closing of the Amerika Haus, none of these activities will come to an end. We will still bring the best of what America has to offer to Berlin but we are doing it differently – and we have already started. We don’t really need a separate building to do it. We are using the Internet. We are visiting towns and cities all over the region. We are not waiting for people to come to us. We go to them – both virtually and physically.

When the Embassy brings a speaker or organizes a conference we continue to do it together with one of the many universities or cultural foundations who are represented here today -- and often we use your larger, and more convenient venues. A jazz concert earlier in the year, Mr. Mayor, took place in that splendid concert room at the City Hall, the Rotes Rathaus. We have had authors read at over a dozen locations in Berlin. We have co-sponsored exhibits and film showings at museums and small galleries alike.

Thousands of school classes once came to the Amerika Haus for a library tour. Now with our school outreach initiative, teachers can call us and we will arrange for one of our officers or an American exchange student to visit their school and talk with their students. Sue and I have also gone out and visited schools – and we love doing it.

We continue to counsel and advise students on study and exchange opportunities – but now we take advantage of the powers of the Internet. Our advisers answer questions via email, chat, telephone, mail and fax – and go to youth fairs, universities, and schools to brief students on application procedures. We have made it easier to obtain the information students and their parents need. We have also created a number of new exchange programs and have mobilized significant corporate support to do that. One of our new programs sends teachers from the east to the U.S. to visit Washington and also to get some hands-on classroom experience at an American school. Later today, Sue and I will be saying Gute Reise to a group of students who will visit the U.S. in October under the Windows on America program, a new initiative for a more diverse segment of young Germans, including immigrants and people who will be pursuing a variety of professions.

Our library is now a state-of-the-art Information Resource Center. We can access thousands of periodicals and newspapers online in a matter of seconds. Our America@yourlibrary program supports the creation and development of book and multimedia collections for young audiences at selected libraries. We think this program is so important that we asked First Lady Laura Bush to officially inaugurate one of our newest library partnerships when she visited Stralsund in July.

We are also working with libraries on a number of web-based projects, for example to provide online reference services via a multilingual web portal.

We are creating a digital library to record the ongoing history of all the good work that has been done in the name and spirit of the Amerika Haus. The posters you see here and other records of our programs will be available for researchers around the world because we are proud of our accomplishments. We will be putting that Amerika Haus spirit on-line and making it available to future generations.

We will be working on this project with Berlin libraries and city institutions. Mr. Mayor, please accept this check, made out to the Berlin City and Regional Library, as the first step towards building this new virtual platform which will showcase all the good things that were begun here in this landmark building and all that is yet to come.



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  U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany /Public Affairs/ Information Resource Centers  
Updated: September 2006