Sehr Geehrte Damen und Herren,
Es ist eine große Ehre für mich, Heute hier sprechen zu dürfen. Diese Veran-stal-tung hat für mich eine ganz besondere Bedeutung. Sie vereint meine grund-legen-den Interessen mit dem, was mich wirklich begeistert.
From a young age I have had a special interest in the Cold War and studied its history, particularly in the German arena. That is combined with a long standing admiration for German culture as well as an interest in sociology and, in particular, how ideology affects society and the fundamentals of democracy.
Today‘s event also adheres to how freedom and democracy, despite all the hindrances they face, have throughout history again and again proven themselves as the best way to preserve prosperity and fuel progress.
I still remember the evening in 1986 when I was sitting in the kitchen and heard a special news-report on the radio where it was announced that a meeting between Ronald Reagan and Michael Gorbachev would be held in Iceland in October of that year. I followed the run-up to the event and the Summit itself with great enthusiasm, hoping, like so many others, that it would mark a turning point in the easing of the tensions, and the dangers, of the Cold War.
I, like many generations before me, had grown up fearing a war between East and West. At school, we learnt how to crawl under the table and cover our heads in the event of a nuclear war and the regular civil emergency exercises, when sirens echoed, including from the roof of my elementary school, always made people slightly worried.
In 1988, I had the opportunity to go to East Germany with my parents. I will never forget that experience. We went to Berlin through one of the so-called runways – autobahns from West Germany to Berlin where stopping was forbidden. Therefore, one had to make sure, beforehand, that the fuel tank was full, nobody hungry or in need of using the restrooms. We were informed that if a car broke down on the way it wouldn't be long before police arrived to take you away.
We made it, however, to Berlin without problems but once we arrived it was striking to see how the Wall had cut the city in half and, in particular, to see the crosses which had been placed on a fence to commemorate people, civilians, who were shot trying to pass the Wall - those few metres that divided the city between East and West. These were mostly young people and I remember the latest cross erected was only a few weeks old.
When we had crossed the border control at Check Point Charlie into East Berlin I discovered a different world; grey, gloomy buildings – some still with bullet marks or shrapnel damage from the Second World War. It was almost like the weather was different on the eastern side of the Wall.
The people, however, I remember most vividly. They seemed sad and I imagined that it was not only because of the rather murky surroundings, but also the result of living under a constant and overwhelming threat. I felt like a guest in a large prison where the inmates were all innocent. It was a feeling that made me sad but also angry at the situation I was faced with.
We had been warned not to associate with the people of East Berlin. We were also advised against leaving newspapers and magazines from the West in the car as this could get us into serious trouble. Everywhere we witnessed the poor conditions of the people of this People's Republic.
We went to a special currency store - Intershop, which was based in the TV-tower near Alexanderplatz. Few people were around but two children were sitting outside the store – probably siblings. I remember I could buy a pack of Haribo candy, strawberry flavour, for one Deutschmark. East German Marks were not accepted. When we came outside my father felt sorry for the children and wanted to give them one West-German Mark so they could buy some candy. The girl, who was older, and had probably learnt in the Party´s Junior Movement not to talk to foreigners, politely declined but the little boy, her brother, grabbed the money and ran. I remember hoping that we would be able to buy some candy without getting into trouble with his parents or the authorities.
When the Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago, I remember thinking about these children and the sad-looking people I had seen in East Berlin, and I rejoiced wholeheartedly thinking that now they were free. I had never felt as strongly that justice had prevailed. And I was also glad that the little guy could buy which ever candy he wanted.
The thought of the fall of the Berlin Wall still brings me joy and inspiration and this remarkable and historic event should serve as an encouragement for the still on-going battle for human rights and freedom around the world - the breaking down of barriers and giving people the chance to fulfil their hopes and dreams or state their opinion without fear. Societies must resist the urge to give a new Zeitgeist overwhelming power once the old one falls out of favour.
Since the reunification of Germany I have regularly travelled to Berlin and experienced the atmosphere in the city and observed the rapid changes. I have also followed closely the developments in a united Germany – socially, politically and economically. It is somewhat striking to see, despite enormous changes during the course of 25 years, how -economically, in terms of unemployment, population growth and even perspectives on life - a line can still be drawn where the boundaries between East and West Germany previously existed. It is frightening to witness how devastating and long-lasting an impact can be inflicted on a society with unjust and dangerous policies. But it is also an important reminder to politicians and others who care for the well-being of their society – to be guided by sensible policies and fundamental freedoms of deeds and words.
The experience of German reunification also shows us the importance of a common history and strong infrastructure. It shows us how vital it is to preserve culture, the beautiful things in our surroundings and our bond with previous generations. I´ll name an example: Even though most of the cities of Eastern-Germany have suffered from a decline in population numbers, we see a remarkable difference where cities, that have been able to preserve or restore their historic fabric, after the war, are more successful in retaining their citizens. The cities that were rebuilt with cold practicality and standardised block buildings lost more of their inhabitants than those which were guided in their reconstruction by the beautiful historic architecture which Germany has created over the centuries. The Altstadt turned out to be one of the most important factors in limiting population decline.
It still worries me how much cultural, societal and economic damage is not yet compensated for in the eastern part of Germany – an area which not only significantly contributed to progress in Germany but to the whole world in the fields of culture, science, philosophy, engineering and commerce.
I hope that eastern Germany will in time reclaim its position. I also hope that we will all learn from the history of the Cold War and East Germany – a story that teaches us the importance of freedom, democracy and good governance.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The fall of the Wall also testifies to the characteristics and resilience of the German nation. How peacefully it came about, but also the aftermath, where people of two states became one nation in one nation-state.
It was neither simple, nor without pain – to break away with the past and look towards the future. But Germany succeeded and only year later became the World Champions in football and has dominated the pitch ever since… The reunification of Germany was a unique political achievement and, today, Germany is the engine of Europe and looked upon for guidance and leadership.
Germany is also a true friend of Iceland. Our countries enjoy particularly close and amicable relations. There is a level of affinity between our people. It is good to be an Icelander in Germany. We always feel welcome there and I am sure the feeling is mutual.
Our relations affect most fields of society – politics, trade and commerce, culture, tourism and sports. As you mentioned Ambassador, both nations are football fans and we both love beating the Dutch - on a regular basis. We share enthusiasm for the Icelandic horse and we both like your beer.
This is the way it should be, and we would like to continue to strengthen the already strong bond that exists between Iceland and Germany.
The Icelandic nation rejoiced with Germany 25 years ago. We rejoice with you now as you celebrate the Day of German Unity and commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall - a defining moment in world history, which changed the political landscape in Europe and beyond – and of course a defining moment for a Germany reunited.
Lassen Sie mich einen Toast aus-sprechen auf Deutschland - und auf die Freund-schaft zwitschen Island und Deutschland!
Skál / Zum Wohl / Prost.