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April 5, 2022

Zeitenwende and the Renewed U.S.–German Relationship

Free University of Berlin Berlin, April 5, 2022
Ambassador Amy Gutmann

– As prepared for delivery –



Thank you, President Ziegler.

Today, I would like to talk with you about turning points, about Zeitenwende, about the world we live in now and how it has changed, about the difficult road to peace and democracy that we often take for granted – and about what these times of great challenge require. As Chancellor Scholz said so credibly and forcefully three days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “If we want the last thirty years to be more than a historical exception, then we must do everything we can … to forge even closer relations with our friends, our partners and all those who share our convictions worldwide.”

On February 17, I presented my credentials to President Steinmeier as the new U. S. Ambassador. The next day, I joined the Munich Security Conference. The main discussion topic was the potential consequences of a Russian invasion. Days later, Russia invaded – with a brutality that has shocked decent people worldwide.

There have indeed been consequences; for President Putin, unforeseen consequences. He banked on NATO being split. NATO has never been more united than it is today. I see that unity in our work with partners at all levels of the German government and German civic society for which I am greatly appreciative.

That unity is also reflected in the three key goals that will guide my team’s diplomatic work moving forward: Advance Our Alliances, Innovate Inclusively, and Defend Democracy. These goals sound simple, short, and to the point. But in fact, they represent the complex and difficult challenges we face in the United States, Germany, and all around the world.

These goals will direct the work of our Embassy and our five Consulates. I have already visited our Consulates in Frankfurt, Leipzig, and Hamburg. My travels in the next few weeks will take me to Munich and Duesseldorf, and other destinations around Germany.

I am especially looking forward to visiting Feuchtwangen, a town in Bavaria where my father was born and brought up. In 1934, he was forced to leave his apprenticeship and flee Nazi Germany. Why? Because he was Jewish. His courage and foresight saved the lives of his entire family—and instilled in me the importance of standing up strongly against all forms of hatred, bigotry, and discrimination.

As the first-generation daughter of a refugee, I never dreamed that I would one day become the president of the University of Pennsylvania, among America’s oldest and the world’s most innovative universities. I also never dreamed President Joe Biden would one day call me personally and ask me to be Ambassador to the very country my father fled. Yet so much of my life’s history and work has led me to this moment. A journey like mine is not only possible in America, but it is part of what makes me proud of my country.

The journey started almost ninety years ago when my father fled Nazi Germany. He later found a new life in the United States, but did not live to witness a united, democratic Germany. The Holocaust, World War II, the Cold War, the fall of the Wall – these were critically important eras in world history.

Today, we are at another critically important juncture in history – eine Zeitenwende. Our coordinated response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine demonstrates a new unity of purpose and action, a new period in transatlantic solidarity. As we confront dangerous new threats to global peace and security, the U.S.-German relationship could not be more important.

Mission Germany – the Embassy and our five Consulates – has a vital role to play in ensuring our revitalized transatlantic relationship goes beyond ending Mr. Putin’s brutal war. It is more than an honor to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, and to lead this great Mission, in a new era. Given my family’s history, it is my duty to serve.

My number one priority in Germany – one shared by President Biden since his first day in office– is to advance our Alliances.

What does this specifically mean for the U.S.-German relationship?

We will strengthen our defense and security cooperation. Germany’s recent decision to bolster the armed forces is bold and historic. We applaud you. The complementary capabilities that arise from this modernization will be part of the effort that sustains the international, law-based order. Germany’s decision to purchase F-35s is only one example of how the U.S.-Germany partnership reinforces our collective commitments to NATO.

We will continue our unwavering support for Ukraine through our Stand with Ukraine campaign. Together with partners and Allies, we will impose on Mr. Putin increasingly high costs for his brutal war of choice. Our coordinated and complementary sanctions are already having an effect. The United States and Germany are the two biggest donors to Ukraine and will continue to provide economic, military, and humanitarian support. We will also help Ukraine’s neighbors, including Poland and Moldova, as they welcome millions of refugees escaping Putin’s vicious attacks on the civilian infrastructure of a free, independent, and democratic country that undoubtedly wishes to stay that way.

The United States and Germany also can work together to address China’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy, unfair trade practices, and human rights abuses. China has a choice –

to be a competitive partner that plays on fair ground with the West or an adversary to our values and ideals. But as Russia’s war has shown us, a coordinated response is the most effective way that the EU, Germany, and the United States can address authoritarian countries.

We will look at new ways to combat climate change. The Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue last week was an excellent example of how we can work together to create energy independence, while increasing our security. Our Embassy hosted an LNG Roundtable last week that brought to bear the combined will of the private sector, the German government, and our diplomatic Mission. Through our Climate and Energy Partnership, the United States and Germany will raise global climate ambition. We will develop and deploy critical energy technologies, and enable emerging economies to accelerate towards a net-zero future.

Together with our European partners, we will use the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council to demonstrate to the world how market-based financial, trade, and tech policies can improve the lives of our citizens and be a force for propelling shared prosperity. The Trade and Technology Council will increase the competitiveness of the transatlantic economy. Our joint leadership can help set global norms for critical technologies based on shared democratic values.

Our second goal is to innovate inclusively. To leverage our alliance to address global problems, we will need out-of-the box thinking, new solutions, powered by the next generation.

Later this month, we will celebrate Transatlantic Innovation Week across Germany, highlighting how German and American schools and universities partnering with businesses and entrepreneurs can work most productively together.

We will promote inclusive innovation by dealing with problems openly, reaching rules transparently and applying them fairly, allowing goods, ideas and people to move more freely

and productively. Defending a rules-based order means protecting the right of all countries to choose their own path, free from coercion, free from intimidation.

Against those actively working to make the internet less secure and more closed and fractured, we will defend an open, interoperable, secure, and reliable internet. The technologies that we are all dealing with every day – the cell phones that we all have in our pockets –can be designed either to advance the good in humanity or they can do the opposite.

Last month, President Biden and European Commission President Von der Leyen announced a Transatlantic Data Privacy Framework. This deal reflects a shared and principled recognition of the importance of trusted data flows and a common commitment to the rule of law and data protection. A reliable legal basis for transatlantic data flows paves the way for a more inclusive digital economy, one that will benefit consumers and small businesses alike. The framework builds upon constructive negotiation and lays the foundation for further economic cooperation.

Being inclusive also means engaging the next generation. We all need to work so that decision making forums reflect our diverse communities, whether in the United States or in Germany. Inclusivity means not only mentorship but sponsorship – actively bringing to the table those who previously have been denied access. I challenge all the leaders in this room to think about what you are doing to mentor and to sponsor the next generation. I have asked my whole team to engage in this uplifting effort. History shows that new voices bring innovative solutions to the fore.

Our third big goal is the heartbeat of this historic Zeitenwende and something I have been fiercely committed to my entire life: we will defend democracy. Democracy is under attack in Germany, in Europe, in the United States and globally. Calling the defense of democracy “the

defining challenge of our time,” President Biden convened world leaders in the first-ever Summit for Democracy last December. That forum for dialogue also initiated concrete action toward global democratic renewal.

As Russia’s disinformation campaign so chillingly demonstrates, we must constantly advocate for our core democratic values; the best defense is a good offense. Freedom and prosperity, inclusion and equity, human rights and the rule of law – this is what sets us apart from authoritarians like Mr. Putin who rule through violence, fear, and lies. United by our common democratic values, we will defend our liberty, security, and prosperity against Putin’s aggression, an adversarial PRC, and other malign actors and actions.

I have been asked more than once: can Germany depend on American democracy? My answer is a resounding YES. YES, because millions of Americans are working every single day to make our democracy stronger. YES, because in the United States, the constant striving toward a more perfect union is built into our Constitution. It is part of the ongoing project that defines the United States of America. YES, because along with our partners, we are staunchly supporting Ukraine to defend democracy on the battlefield. For as President Biden says, “Democracy does not happen by accident.” We all need to work hard for it. Together.

This is my first official speech, and I speak to you at a university closely tied to the re-set of the German American partnership after World War II. The U.S. government through the Marshall Plan played a crucial role in the diplomacy of that era, helping to launch a partnership based on a commitment to common values. Among the most fundamental of our shared values is the free and robust exchange of ideas that must take place in universities. Fittingly, the Marshall Plan was announced at a university – by Secretary of State George Marshall in a commencement address at my alma mater, Harvard.

Seventy-five years later, let us remember that the Marshall Plan went against all traditions of foreign policy. In a pathbreaking show of inclusive innovation, President Truman persuaded skeptics on both sides of the Atlantic by arguing the Allies had an obligation to rebuild and play a positive role at the outset of a new Germany. He placed the initiative within the framework of American values as an essential means to maintain freedom, democracy, and security. It asked Europeans to handle their own recovery, to sit down together and come up with a coordinated program for using the assistance offered by the United States. It was an example of the vision, openness, honesty, courage, and respect across divides that leadership requires. Here too, lessons learned from the Marshall plan are reflected today in the unity of our shared commitment to addressing the challenges of our times.

Not only did Germany emerge from this era with fabulous universities like this one, but it also emerged from that era with lessons that still resonate with us today: about seizing new beginnings to redefine a better future; about finding common ground to move forward; and about ceaselessly taking step after step to make certain that the horrors of the Holocaust are not repeated anywhere in the world.

I began my remarks with a reference to Chancellor Scholz’s historic speech, marking a Zeitenwende. More recently, he described the readiness of the German people to help and their open heartedness towards the people in and from Ukraine as an example of “the glue that holds our country together.” It is “a ray of hope in these dark days,”— “ein Lichtblick in dunklen Tagen.”

Speaking of rays of hope: I often hear rather despairing talk that younger generations of Germans and Americans do not understand the importance of the transatlantic alliance because they did not live through the many experiences of the 20th century that bonded our two nations together.

I have spent a good part of my career closely observing and supporting the commitment of our young people to addressing the challenges in this new era. I am the opposite of despairing. I am impressed by their creativity and commitment to stand up for the values that will determine their future and the future of our entire planet. Whether it be in defense of a green economy, human rights, or humanitarian aid, younger generations of Americans and Germans alike are not reluctant to talk about – and aspire to – leading.

This is yet another important reason to be hopeful as we stand today at a Zeitenwende, a turning point in history, that requires creative and vigorous defense of our deepest values. My colleagues and I pledge that we will do our best to reinvigorate a robust transatlantic exchange and dialogue, with a focus on the generations who are the greatest hope and the future of our democracies. I am eager to hear from you—starting here and now—about what we can do together to make the hard, good work ahead maximally constructive. Vielen Dank.