Dealing with our history in a way that is responsible, reflective, and avoids one-sided lecturing is possible only if history is presented as objectively as possible according to the proven standards of serious scholarship. In planning the establishment of the German Historical Museum, the federal government allowed itself to be guided by this conviction. Therefore, it commissioned a panel of experts comprised of highly qualified, independent scholars and museologists to work out the museum’s conception. [ . . . ]
To be sure, a museum cannot be a substitute for the direct observation of cultural landscapes conditioned by history and for historically significant sites. But it can provide a stimulus that awakens curiosity and the joy of discovery. I would therefore like to encourage our young citizens especially: Use the opportunities afforded your generation to encounter our history in the places where it is manifested in landscape planning, architecture, and the fine arts.
In particular, make use of the chance to travel to the GDR. In doing so, you will broaden not only your horizons but also contribute to greater human understanding within our fatherland. You will experience first hand the extent to which all Germans’ sense of togetherness derives from the irrepressible sources of language, culture, and also history.
The German Historical Museum gains its political significance as a national task on a European order especially against the background of the division of our homeland. There is only one common history of the Germans: a long, varied, and above all continuous one. By dealing with our history, we are keeping alive the consciousness of that which links all Germans to each other. The German Historical Museum will at the same time show us how diverse our common cultural and historical heritage is.
I would like to stress the significance of the museum with the gift that I will later present to you, Dr. Stölzl, as Director of the German Historical Museum. It is the first printed edition of The Song of the Germans by Hofmann von Fallersleben.* His passionate call for “unity, justice, and freedom for the German fatherland” has since proven to be the decisive leitmotif in German history up to the present day. People’s desire for freedom, self-determination, and unity has remained unbroken. It cannot be stifled, not even in such a long period of non-freedom [Unfreiheit] and heteronomy. This alone justifies our confidence that the present division of the country cannot be permanent.
* Hoffmann von Fallersleben was a nineteenth century romantic poet who wrote the German national anthem from which this quotation stems – eds.