Presentation of the Spring Fellows at the American Academy

Berlin, January 20, 2014
Ambassador John B. Emerson

Thank you, Gary.

Kimberly and I are very happy to be here.  We were amazed at the span of topics that are on the Academy’s agenda this winter and spring.  We have heard so much about the Fellows program.  You are a very impressive group.  Many of you we know through your work, but we can’t wait to get to get to know all of you better; and we look forward to working with you and the Academy.

Without a doubt, there is a unique spirit to this place, an atmosphere that makes the Academy a trans-Atlantic treasure.  It is a spirit of intellectual engagement across boundaries – international, intercultural, and interdisciplinary.  This is exactly what the founders of the American Academy envisioned when it was established 20 years ago.

I know that one of those founders, Richard Holbrooke, was passionate about the Academy.  I suspect that all of us know what it meant when Dick Holbrooke was passionate about something.  I worked in the Clinton White House in the 1990s and was part of the Oval Office discussion regarding his nomination to be Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany.  When he passed away, suddenly and much too soon, Hillary Clinton said that Dick Holbrooke’s “distinctive brilliance and unmatched determination made him one of a kind.”  Well, it was also obvious twenty years ago that he was ‘one of a kind.’  His vision and commitment live on here at the American Academy.

Over the years, as the Academy has grown and developed, it has set an example to all those who value the partnership between Germany and the United States – a partnership based on the conviction that a strong Germany, in a strong and unified Europe, is  key to a stable, prosperous, democratic, and peaceful global community.

Our common strategic interests make cooperation essential.  Our common political values, tried and true over the last six and a half decades, make that cooperation possible.  But in the end both are insufficient.  It is the fact that each of us brings something special to the relationship – from which the other can learn and profit – which makes the German-American partnership so valuable and the work of the American Academy so important.

We must continue to learn from one other, especially during this time of great change.  And staying abreast of change is not just up to government.   President Obama once said that the essence of what makes America special is our art, our culture, and our science; all of which are represented in the work of our Berlin Fellows who are here tonight.

History brought Germany and the United States together under very unique circumstances, out of which the extraordinary German-American partnership has grown and matured.  Our dynamic economies, shared military engagements, proactive diplomatic initiatives and use of “soft” power, innovative technology and the entrepreneurial spirit of our young people, and most important, our willingness to engage with the world, both challenge and enrich the special status of our trans-Atlantic partnership.  And regarding advances in technology, as we’ve seen with the NSA debate, we can face challenges to that partnership when our need to defend our people and provide for our mutual security is confronted by our equally mutual commitment to individual privacy rights.  All of these discussions are ripe for reflection and discussion – for which the American Academy provides a thoughtful forum.

Earlier I mentioned the need to stay abreast of change.  Well, the talented and thoughtful people we are going to hear from tonight are the Academy’s Berlin Fellows.  On the subject of staying abreast of change, change and the challenge of transformation are almost givens here in Berlin.  Just look at all the construction cranes around town.

Today, Berlin has the combination of toughness, glamour, creativity, experimental nightlife, and affordable cost of living that made New York the world’s cultural capital in the 1960s.  Of course, we Los Angelenos know that our city, Berlin’s sister city, is also a cultural capital.  Without a doubt, however, there is a current in the air here in Berlin that is almost electric, unleashing new ideas and sparking creative forces.  And this is the world in which our Fellows will be working.

Democracy and diversity, and openness and pluralism are essential elements of successful societies.  Berlin is a symbol of this process.  It is not only the capital of a reunified Germany; for decades, it has been a magnet for the adventurous and disadvantaged.  No city in Europe has changed more in the past century than Berlin.  And in this century, it has already captured the imagination of many creative thinkers.  This is the spirit of Berlin.  When Dick Holbrooke, Henry Kissinger, Richard von Weizsäcker, Fritz Stern, Otto Graf Lambsdorff, John Kornblum and others conceived the idea of the American Academy, so well executed by Gary Smith, that spirit was woven into the fabric of this fine institution.

I thank the friends and supporters of the American Academy for your commitment to a strong German-American relationship.  I thank the staff for their initiative in finding ways to help Germans and Americans learn more about each other.  And as I said, Kimberly and I are ready to do our part.

We both wish the Spring Fellows of 2014 a successful, productive and interesting time in Berlin.  As incoming Fellows, each of you has made the legacy and challenge of the American Academy yours.  May you catch the spirit and remain devoted to the Academy and to our German-American partnership long after you leave this wonderful and inspiring house here on the banks of the Wannsee.