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Europe as Homeland (retrospective account, 2004)

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Between the historic dates, one must see the faces of the people who lived in these times of bitter distress. We suffered from our border position and from France’s campaign to the Rhine. Every generation erected new war memorials and military cemeteries. It caused people to develop a special feeling toward life. They are neither averse to the joys of life nor inclined toward dogmatic thinking. We Palatines have a sense of freedom and a healthy skepticism for ideologues and ideologies. The human being is more important than any ideology. Live and let live is the Palatinate principle of tolerance, and our openness and our lifestyle are certainly linked to the Mediterranean climate and French influences.

Today, the Hambach Festival of May 1832 is still considered the awakening point of German democracy. At the time, roughly 30,000 people, including Poles and Frenchmen, came together at Maxburg*, which overlooks Hambach near Neustadt in the Palatinate, to demand a free and united Germany and a confederation of European nations. The speakers enthusiastically celebrated a common, liberal Europe. Very few Germans today know that it was here, at the Hambach Castle, that the black-red-and-gold national flag was waved for the first time as a symbol of democracy and fatherland. During my tenure as Minister President of Rhineland-Palatinate, I had an original flag from 1832 hung in the plenary room of the state parliament in Mainz.

[ . . . ]

It was especially important for me to be spiritually rooted in my regional homeland. I was raised in Ludwigshafen; I learned to walk and had my first experiences in the Palatinate, and it will always be my home and is where I will be buried. This love for my home has given me much strength. Connections to one’s roots – for example, Konrad Adenauer’s ties to the Rhineland or Theodor Heuss’s to Swabia – are fundamental. A regional consciousness is not provincial. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was hardly understood in Weimar on account of his Frankfurt dialect. Homeland and fatherland belong together. This is why I often said: “The Palatinate is my homeland, Germany is my fatherland, and Europe is our future.”

[ . . . ]

* A colloquial name for the Hambach Castle – eds.

Source: Helmut Kohl, “Heimat Europa” [“Homeland Europe”], in Erinnerungen, 1930-1982 [Recollections, 1930-1982]. Munich, 2004, pp. 25-29.

Translation: Allison Brown

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