German-American Relations – A Unique Partnership
Tenth Anniversary of the American Space Leipzig, February 7, 2024
Rector Obergfell, Dr. Lipp, thank you for hosting this anniversary celebration—and thank you for your ongoing commitment to this unique and very special collaboration between Leipzig University and the U.S. Department of State.
Mayor Hörning, we are proud to be present in Leipzig and to be an integral part of the social fabric of this great city. Thank you for your commitment to the German-American relationship – both through your partnership with our Consulate here and your support for initiatives such as the American Space Leipzig and the German-American Institute-Saxony, or DAIS. I want to give a shout out to my friend, Consul General John Crosby, for his and team’s work here in Leipzig.
Eric Fraunholz, Erica Larson Bautze, I’ll have more to say a bit later about the great work you are doing. Congratulations to you both and your team.
Professor Schneider, Professor Kanzler, when Crister Garrett came to you with an idea of how the University Library and the Department of American Studies could deepen their connection to partners in the United States, thank you for listening. I have heard how persuasive he could be and also what a great friend and supporter of this university, this city, and this region was. He touched the lives of so many students – through initiatives such as this.
When the American Space was launched here at the Albertina Library ten years ago, it became a member of the network of German-American Institutes that were established by the U.S. government in the post-World War II years in multiple cities in West Germany.
These centers were “windows to America,” designed to foster learning about the United States, but most importantly, to re-establish connections and promote dialogue between Germans and Americans.
The American Space Leipzig also became a member of the U.S. State Department’s global network of some 600 American Spaces. These centers are vital elements of our public diplomacy initiatives. Public diplomacy is all about establishing, building, and strengthening relationships between people.
It comes down to the simple recognition that, as President Biden often says, people are what both foreign policy and domestic politics are all about.
Nowhere is that lesson of history more obvious than right here in Leipzig, where 35 years ago, people power changed history. What happened in Leipzig and Berlin and across the GDR 35 years ago reminds us what people can achieve when they join together in common cause; what we see Germans doing today. Looking back from the vantage point of 2024, it’s remarkable that such a strong and vibrant democracy has emerged from the ruins of dictatorship.
The United States has close, cooperative ties with many allies, but its relationship with Germany has been unique. A spirit of cooperation and trust emerged in the years after the end of World War II that has positively influenced all spheres of our economic, political, and cultural ties.
And 34 years ago, we were able to build on that spirit of cooperation and the depth of that relationship when five neue Bundesländer completed the picture and made the vision to define a post-Wall world a reality.
The German-American network we enjoy today of personal, cultural, political, and economic ties is unique in the world.
Before the Wall came down, of course, personal and professional ties between the United States and the GDR were already being painstakingly developed and maintained.
In 1986, what we as Americans knew as the “other Germany,” the German Democratic Republic, established an intergovernmental academic exchange program which adopted the Fulbright principles. The establishment of a Fulbright program in the GDR was part of the undercurrent of change that was going on through Eastern Europe.
The American Embassy in East Berlin was tasked with managing this start-up Fulbright academic exchange program on behalf of the United States. U.S. diplomats traveled throughout the GDR, exploring aspects of the political and economic relationship between East Germany and the West. They attended theatre performances to meet directors and art exhibits to meet painters. They had careful conversations with students and their dedicated professors at large universities or with interested readers at the Leipzig Book Fair – and less guarded conversations with committed and passionate reformers in church basements. They picked up on the change that was happening. As we all know, history could have gone another way. In some parts of the world, it did.
This was a crucial period in Germany’s history – and an exciting time for diplomacy. Full disclosure: In 1989, I was an intern at our Embassy in Bonn and that excitement inspired me . I joined the Foreign Service and have been a diplomat for more than three decades. It would not have happened without Germans and Germany.
One of the Embassy’s first initiatives after reunification was the re-opening of the U.S. Consulate in Leipzig, which had been closed since 1941. A range of new cultural, educational, political, and economic programs were launched. We were convinced, for example, that one day eastern Germany would once again become an economic engine. Indeed, American business is very present today throughout Mittel-Deutschland.
But our partnership with Leipzig University, among others, was one of the essential elements in helping us to build the people-to-people connections that are so crucial to intensifying our transatlantic relationship.
Success often depends on finding the win-win in a partnership. The synergies represented here, among the Institute for American Studies, the University Library, and the American Space-Leipzig were the start of something big. It certainly has been a win-win for us.
Ambassador Gutmann is in the United States this week. She sends her best wishes. Speaking for the Ambassador, for Consul General Crosby and his fantastic colleagues, and for our Public Diplomacy team at the Embassy, please know how grateful we are to the University of Leipzig, the Leipzig University Library, the Free State of Saxony, the City of Leipzig, and the Europäische Stiftung der Rahn Dittrich Group für Bildung und Kultur, all of which co-fund the American Space and DAIS. Thank you for your partnership, your commitment, and your support.
Since the end of World War II, and in particular since the fall of the Wall and reunification, Germany and the United States have developed a common understanding that our security and our prosperity depend on working together for a world that is free, open, secure, and prosperous, and specifically a Europe that is whole and free.
The European project was never simply a security or an economic initiative; it was a project based on common values. When we talk about the values that our two countries share, it all comes down to a respect for democracy and human dignity.
Those of us lucky enough to live in strong democracies have the responsibility to use our rights of citizenship wisely. Democracy is hard work. We dare not take it for granted.
In the past few weeks, all over Germany, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets – in east and west – demonstrating their commitment to democracy. They are standing up against hatred and right-wing extremism, and for freedom and democracy.
We are at an inflection point. This moment in our shared history calls upon all of us to make every effort to model, in our own words and our actions, the world we want.
Over the past century, the most obvious inflection points were two world wars, their aftermaths, and the end of the Cold War. What have we learned?
One important lesson is that the costs of inaction are generally greater than those of action. That’s why the United States continues in concert with our Allies and partners to support Ukraine in defending itself against Russian aggression. Our ongoing commitment to the people of Ukraine is underlined by a simple lesson of history. When dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause further chaos, death, and destruction.
The conflict in the Middle East also threatens global security. Our common goal is not simply to stop the war. We must work to break the cycle of unceasing violence, and to advance an enduring peace with a path towards the creation of a secure Israel and an independent Palestinian state.
Our world faces many challenges. If we care about basic human rights, climate change, AI regulation, gender and LGBTQAI-plus rights, equal pay for equal work, food security, global peace, and other challenges, we need to work together.
That is why I am so gratified to learn about how DAIS and the American Space Leipzig are using their combined platform to address the challenges of our times.
On my tour of the Albertina a bit earlier this evening, I saw the University Library’s current exhibit “The Dictionary of War,” in which a Ukrainian author examines how war impacts the way we speak and the meanings we ascribe to words.
Last fall, DAIS and the American Space Leipzig explored Ukrainian literature’s subversive power and the challenges of teaching during war time with a number of events during their “Ukrainian Week.”
DAIS and the American Space Leipzig have also addressed topics ranging from climate change and diversity to combatting disinformation and esports. Eric Fraunholz and Erica Larson Bautze and their great team have pressed the button and put DAIS in “fast forward” modus. They have taken the lead in the development of programs that other German-American Institutes – all much older and more established – have adopted. Their programs on combatting antisemitism and Holocaust remembrance stand out.
Most important, DAIS and the American Space Leipzig have established connections to a new generation of students.
I spoke earlier about how the events of 1989 inspired me to become a diplomat. The first alumni – both German and American – of the first Fulbright program in the GDR have told me about what they learned from those first expeditions to societies on opposite sides of a wall – and how the experience changed their lives.
One way we would like to inspire and connect with young people today is through a new initiative that we have launched at the Embassy and our five Consulates: our “Stand Up, Speak Out for Democracy” campaign. We are working with audiences and partners across Germany to reflect on what it means to be active participants in our democratic systems and to embolden the voices that will continue to push us toward more perfect visions of those democracies. We would like to work with you.
The challenge for us all at this new inflection point in our shared history is to stand up for democracy and stand up against bigotry, intolerance, and prejudice.
As Ambassador Gutmann frequently says: Everything we do makes a difference. And everything we do not do also makes a difference.
Together, let’s make 2024 the year we do more than ever to make our world a better place.
Thank you again for your commitment to this wonderful American Space Leipzig and to the German-American Institute Saxony.