Forum at Tempelhof: Now Departing to the Neighbourhood!
European meeting at Tempelhof: “Demand for walls was sufficiently met.” (Photo: Verena Hütter)
29 October 2010
Two Germans, a French woman, a Pole and a Dutchman meet. The result: good neighbourliness. Or not? At the launch event of the forum Illusion of Nearness it almost seemed so. Yet it was also about sceptical citizenry, the euro and a Trabi in Amsterdam.
In big blue letters over the entrance, the sign says “Zentralflughafen” – central airport. A place from which to take off into the distance, one would like to think. Yet at Berlin-Tempelhof those days are over. Here, it’s not about far away places, it’s about the neighbourhood, at least these days while the Illusion of Nearness forum is being held in the former airport building.
This forum organized by the Goethe-Institut looks at neighbourliness from all sides and neighbourliness in Europe in particular. So, it is a conversation among neighbours when, at the launch of the three-day conference, the ambassadors of Poland and the Netherlands, Marek Prawda and Marnix Krop, and the envoy from the French embassy, Caroline Ferrari, meet with German minister of state Cornelia Pieper and Goethe president Klaus-Dieter Lehmann in the main hall for an informal “talk.”
How close are European neighbours today? Is nearness an illusion? What does nearness mean in the relationship between nations? The questions can, admittedly, be merely touched upon. The discussions focus on the changes since the fall of the Iron Curtain and German reunification. For instance, Krop recalls the first Trabi he saw two days after the fall of the wall as he was on the way to the bakery in Amsterdam. “The Dutch reacted to the fall of the wall with enthusiasm.” Yet, there were other reactions, too, of course. The group recalls Margaret Thatcher’s scepticism, for instance, or the Italian prime minister at that time, Giulio Andreotti, who is said to have quipped that he liked Germany so much he’d rather have two.
What are things like today? Have the cultural and mental rifts in Europe finally been overcome in Europe twenty years after the opening of the borders? “We certainly still need a wall in our minds to fall,” Prawda admits. Yet, he shares the others’ optimism. There are plenty of examples that things are changing. “Our demand for walls and borders was sufficiently met by Communism.”
His Dutch counterpart backs him up, “There was no alternative to eastern expansion of the European Union.” But policies need to take care that they don’t leave society behind on the way to a united Europe. “What Europe has achieved is miraculous, but it’s still not caught on enough.” Hence, the great sense of enthusiasm that dominated in the early 1990s gave way at the turn of the century to increasing scepticism. The people were asking, “And what about us?” This, in turn, was expressed in the negative results of the referendum on the European constitution in France and the Netherlands, for instance. Lehmann, too, emphasizes the importance of civil society: “As citizens, we need to take up more active roles.”
FDP politician Pieper also stresses the success story of European neighbourliness. “There has never been peace on European soil for so long a time.” Adding that it is thanks to the euro that we have survived the financial crisis to some degree; “It would have been disastrous with the deutschmark.” Nevertheless, fruitful neighbourliness requires that we also talk with smaller neighbours at eye level.
And yet, the debaters agree that good neighbourliness takes work. “Our greatest risk,” Krop warns, “is to begin taking how well we are doing for granted.”
Over the next two days, the forum will ask whether it always goes so well, where work needs to be done and where huge walls still divide us in events examining the neighbourhood culture of remembrance as well as with the power of language and the difficulties of neighbourliness between Muslims and the Christian/western majority in our societies.
You can follow the entire forum at blog.goethe.de/nachbar where five bloggers are observing all of the events of the conference for you (in German).