The German-Israel relationship grows stronger

The mayor of Berlin explains why he is in Israel this week.

brandenburg gate 88 (photo credit: )
brandenburg gate 88
(photo credit: )
I am delighted to be the guest of the State of Israel and its citizens. It is my first visit here as mayor of Berlin, although I have been to Israel several times before on vacation. Each time I was impressed by the openness and the hospitality of the people in this country. Wherever I went I was always given a warm welcome and found very receptive conversation partners. However, during these earlier trips I also became aware of the concern that reunified Germany might try to escape its responsibility for the Shoah. As the governing mayor of Berlin I would like to repeat what I said then as a private citizen: The Germans face up to their historical past. And I can also say that 60 years after the end of the war, there are no arguments about this in Germany. On February 2, Germany's federal president Horst Koehler quite rightly said to the Knesset: "Responsibility for the Shoah is part of German identity." Only if we Germans acknowledge our past will we find the power to shape a future marked by peace and freedom, and can we expect to be a respected member of the international community. This marks the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel. The clear acknowledgment of Germany's responsibility is an important pillar of the close and friendly ties between our two countries. Israel's right to exist is incontestable. Especially against the backdrop of the statements recently made in Iran, this has to be stressed again very clearly. The Jewish state has the right to protect its territory. That Israel should be able to live free from fear and terrorism within its internationally recognized borders is an unalterable maxim of German politics. DURING MY visit to Israel I especially want to build bridges between the younger generation of Germans and Israelis. I will be meeting many young Israelis during my trip, and I will tell them: Continue the process of reconciliation and understanding between our two peoples. Benefit from the many opportunities for exchange. Come to Germany's capital city. The younger generation, for which the Shoah is history, bears responsibility for keeping the memory alive. And I am firmly convinced that this history must never be allowed to repeat itself. We must therefore never forget what the Germans did to the Jewish people. More and more Israelis, especially young people, are visiting Berlin these days, and the people of Berlin are happy to welcome them. What draws them to the city is the exciting Berlin, the Berlin in which history and new beginnings can be felt at every step. Those who come to Berlin today find a tolerant and cosmopolitan metropolis where people from 180 different nations live together peacefully. Berlin has changed dramatically since reunification. Where the Wall and its no man's land once severed the city's lifelines, new city quarters have been built, and they attract people from all over the world. Berlin's citizens look to the future with optimism. Today's Berlin is a cultural metropolis with enormous charm. We are proud of the fact that Jewish life and Jewish culture play an important role in this context and that they are again clearly visible in the city in, for example, Germany's largest Jewish community, Jewish schools, kindergartens, and homes for senior citizens. One of Berlin's major cultural attractions is the Jewish Museum with its distinctive design by Daniel Libeskind. Cooperation between Israel and Berlin is especially active in the cultural sector. The 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany was celebrated with some cultural highlights in Berlin. I, for example, have very vivid memories of the guest performance of the Tel Aviv Opera and the exhibition "The New Hebrews: A Century of Art in Israel" at the Martin Gropius Bau. HOWEVER, a positive future cannot be built if you repress the past. Berlin therefore has many places that recall the National Socialist era. One example is the newly erected Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe with its very impressive information center documenting historical events right in the center of the city, very close to our national symbol, Brandenburg Gate. The memorial triggered a long and extensive discussion within German society, and this discussion has become an important part of the overall project. I am happy to be able to say that the memorial, and especially the information center, have by now become a fixture of the culture of remembrance in Berlin and in Germany. But there are also some less conspicuous forms of remembrance in our city. Here I would like to mention the "Stolpersteine" or "stumbling blocks." These are small plaques embedded in the pavement giving the names of and information about people who were living at this address when they were taken away by the Nazis to be killed. You virtually "stumble" over them in many parts of the city, you bow down to read the inscription and, by doing so, you bow to the victims of National Socialism. Among the victims were also many Jewish citizens who had to flee the Nazis and find a new home in other parts of the world. We are happy and grateful that many of them have accepted our invitation to visit their old home town as participants in our "Emigrantenprogramm," a program for former citizens of Berlin. Exchange between Berlin and Israel takes place on many different levels. Berlin's boroughs have maintained partnerships with Israeli cities for 39 years. Especially important to me are the 12 partnerships between schools in Berlin and in Israel. Berlin's universities also have close ties to Israeli partner institutions. The main goal of my visit to Israel is to foster our good relations and possibly initiate some new projects. I am happy to be visiting your country. The State of Israel is a very important partner for Berlin, and it is our biggest wish that one day not too far in the future the State of Israel and its citizens will be able to live in peace.