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The City of Berlin, on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall

Prince of Asturias Award for Concord 2009

Speech by Klaus Wowereit, Governing Mayor of Berlin:

[Your Majesty,]
Your Highnesses,
Esteemed Jury Members,
Esteemed President of the Prince of Asturias Foundation,
Esteemed Laureates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of all the men and women of Berlin, I wish to thank the Jury for the great honour of receiving the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord.

This year Berlin commemorates the dramatic autumn events of 20 years ago. At first, only a few faced up to the dictatorship with courage and determination. Then they became many more. In the autumn of 1989 millions of people came out onto the streets of Berlin and other cities in the GDR to peacefully demonstrate for their rights to freedom.

On the 9th of November 1989 they brought down the wall that had divided the city for three decades. The images of people dancing on the wall were seen worldwide and aroused great interest. It was the happiest moment in Berlin’s history.

A year after the wall fell, Germany and Berlin celebrated reunification in peace and freedom.

The peaceful revolution of the people of Berlin and other cities in the former GDR would have been unimaginable without the prior events in Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union. The reunification of our country would not have been possible without the support of many friends abroad, not least among these Spain and its prime minister, Felipe González.

We remember all this in Germany with gratitude.

Many people in Berlin gave their utmost in the weeks of the peaceful revolution. It is well known that faith in a better future is capable of moving mountains and it engendered a great deal of confidence that encouraged Berliners to overcome the problems of unification. The wall had severed Berlin’s life vein. The challenges in urban planning, infrastructure, economic and social policies were beyond compare. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost and it took time to create new ones. What’s more, reunification implied losses for many people. And in daily life it was also necessary for the people of the East and the West to meet up again.

Among us here today are two of my predecessors in the post, Walter Momper and Eberhard Diepgen. Thanks to their actions, aimed at unifying the city, many judicious guidelines were established in the days of reunification.

But Berlin was not only looking to the future. Berlin is ever aware of its history and of its historical responsibilities.

Berlin was the capital of Nazi Germany, the place from which the criminal Second World War was unleashed.

Berlin was the place where a racial policy whose atrocious culmination was the murder of six million European Jews was planned and executed. Two years ago, the Award for Concord was conferred on the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, which recalls those crimes, as does the Holocaust Monument in the heart of Berlin and many other commemorative sites in the German capital.

Berlin acknowledges its history.

But, at the same time, Berlin is proud of what it has achieved in the two decades since the fall of the Wall. We wish to celebrate this in a few weeks now (on 9th November) when we come together at the Brandenburg Gate with many international guests.

Berlin is a city of change with great creative energy. People from over one hundred and eighty countries create an open, tolerant atmosphere.

We are also proud of the fact that more and more people from all over the world are guests in Berlin, particularly numerous among whom are those from Spain, who form the third largest contingent of foreign tourists.

Still existing gaps in the urban outlook symbolize free space for people who feel attracted to Berlin. Artists, scientists, creative brains come to Berlin because the city offers them unique opportunities. They enrich the city and contribute to Berlin’s transformation.

The conferral of the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord spurs us to continue along this path. The Jury has prized Berlin’s efforts in “building… a nexus of concord in the heart of Germany and of Europe that contributes to understanding, coexistence, justice, peace and freedom in the world”.

Berlin is committed to this ideal.

The Prince of Asturias Award for Concord fills us with pride.

Berlin says: Thank you, Asturias! Thank you, Spain!

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