Allied Museum Exhibit Opening: “Tempelhof Airport – the American Story”

Berlin, July 8, 2014

Ambassador John B. Emerson

 Frau Dr. Bavendamm; Ministerin Grütters; Herr Weiss; Excellencies; Colleagues; meine Damen und Herren –

meine Familie und ich waren schon häufig im Alliierten-Museum. Ich möchte Ihnen und Ihren Mitarbeitern meine Anerkennung aussprechen. Ihr Museum dokumentiert auf einzigartige Weise die Geschichte der außergewöhnlichen transatlantischen Partnerschaft.

Liebe Staatsministerin Grütters, ich möchte mich bei der Bundesregierung für die Unterstützung dieser außergewöhnlichen transatlantischen Institution bedanken.

My predecessors and colleagues at the Embassy have been friends and fans of the Allied Museum since 1991, when the German Historical Museum started work on an exhibit on the history of the Allied forces in Berlin.  The exhibit opened in 1994 and it had a wonderful title – “Mehr  als ein Koffer bleibt.”  That was true then – and it still is.

That first exhibit was more than a historical documentation.  It told a human story of passion, struggle, hope and despair; a story marked by moments of high drama and suspense.  Most important, it was a story with a happy ending that was full of promise.  It made people think about the relationship of Berlin – and Germany – to its trans-Atlantic partners in very real terms.

That exhibit, I am told, also brought substance to the idea of a permanent museum; and in 1998, fifty years after the start of the Berlin Airlift, the Alliierten Museum opened its doors to the public at this location in Dahlem.  Since then, as I said, the Embassy has worked closely with the museum.  And again, Professor Grütters, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the German government for its ongoing support of the idea behind this museum.  The stories that are told here are not just about the past.  They are about the present and the future and they are very relevant.  The exhibit that opens today is no exception.

We just received a brief tour and I will leave it to curator Florian Weiss to say more about the legacy of Tempelhof Airport.  It is clear, however, from this exhibit that Tempelhof is much more than a physical landmark.

The Berlin Blockade was one of the defining events of the 20th century.  As the Iron Curtain descended around Berlin, the last battleground of a World War turned into the first battleground of the Cold War.  And the pilots and all those who were part of the Airlift effort turned some of freedom’s darkest days into one of its brightest triumphs.  Here at Tempelhof Airport, a city, threatened by hunger and cold, received sustenance.  And Tempelhof Airport was  where enemies learned again to be friends.  That required trust and commitment.

Since those difficult days, Germany and the United States have together shared many tests and triumphs; and alongside our other trans-Atlantic partners, we are taking the lead in facing the challenges of this century.  We learned all about commitment and political resolve, even in the face of what seemed to be the impossible, during the days of the Airlift.  That lesson is one we dare not forget – and it what this exhibit is all about.

Last Friday, on the 4th of July, we celebrated Independence Day at Tempelhof.  It was probably not the first time that Americans celebrated the signing of our Declaration of Independence there, but it was the first time for our official celebration.  And hopefully, it will not be the last.  Tempelhof is a symbolic landmark in the shared history of our partnership and is an ideal location to commemorate the values that define our partnership.  I am delighted to hear about the initiative to move the Allied Museum to Tempelhof.

Americans like to say that our country was founded on an idea, an idea of freedom and democracy that crossed the Atlantic with the first European settlers.  Through centuries of struggle, of repression and revolution, a set of ideals had begun to emerge in Europe:  The belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose.  The belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed, and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding.  The belief in free assembly, free speech, a free press, rule of law, the right to self-determination, and the need for free and fair elections.  Those ideas – and the values upon which they are based – inspired a band of colonialists across an ocean.  And they wrote them into the founding documents that govern America to this day.  Nearly two centuries later, those ideas were incorporated into Germany’s Grundgesetz and the common commitment to these universal values has shaped our partnership and our friendship with Germany.

The timeline of the history of both of our countries has shown many times over and in many different ways that it takes hard-working and dedicated citizens to hold true to those values, and to turn the vision they represent into a reality.  The challenge is ongoing and the ideals at stake have been tested many times over.  They are being tested today, in places like the Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq.

One of my greatest concerns, however, is that many young people in this country today question the value of the trans-Atlantic relationship in addressing the 21st century challenges the world faces.  What’s more, they question the values of America.  The disclosures regarding the NSA have not helped.  Nor has the story about the BND employee now under investigation.  We must acknowledge that the German American relationship is now undergoing a difficult challenge.  I will not get into this particular issue tonight, but we need to remember that our relationship is too important to be derailed at this time or any time in the future.  Germany and the U.S. are inextricably linked.  Our pasts are bound up with each other, and our futures are, too.  We are interdependent, whether in the fight to protect innocent civilians from extremists and terrorists, or in protecting the rights of minorities from the currents of xenophobia and bigotry that drift across borders.  The fundamental values we share, as leading democracies, of the unassailable dignity of all people and the need to protect individual freedoms, will trump the growing pains of the maturation of our complex relationship.

But I believe it is crucial for young people to understand that while every country has a history of going over the line and ours is no exception – our democracy is self-correcting.  And we stand up, together, for democracy, free expression, and the rights of individuals everywhere –just as, here in this city, 66 years ago, supported by an airlift of hope, together we carved out an island of freedom against the greatest of odds.

That story of Tempelhof is not just an American or a German story; it is part of the broader human story; and that’s why this exhibit is so important.

Frau Dr. Bavendamm, Curator Florian Weiss, congratulations, thank you and all the best to you and your colleagues.