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Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker on the Meaning of Being German (1986)

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German history did not end in 1945. For four decades there has been a liberal democracy on German soil. This, too, is part of our history – a good part. When Germany is spoken of today, then freedom, a social welfare state under the rule of law, and democracy are attendant.

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Our division is an especially heavy burden. The people in the GDR bear the brunt of it. They live under a state and an alliance of “real existing socialism” that determines their experiences and their lives. The term German is significantly marked by the political fate of division, but it did not undergo division itself. The people in the GDR are Germans, just as we are.

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Despite its being at the periphery of both East and West, Germany remains influenced by the conditions of its location at the heart of Europe. Although this center is divided, it remains the center. There are two key factors that have a special effect on this situation.

The first is the western connection of the Federal Republic of Germany. We are part of the group of western democracies. This western connection to our liberal and social state under the rule of law is absolute and irrevocable. It is the inner value-system that binds us to the other states that are committed to the same inner principles.

The second key factor is our sense of belonging together with the Germans of the GDR. From this comes our goal, which is especially underscored by the centrality of our geographical location: to live in peace with all our close and more distant neighbors in the East, despite our differing inner systems. The center of the continent should not foment conflicts, but instead strengthen forces that promote peace across political blocs. For Germans, this is more urgent in this time of division and this nuclear age than it was in the days of Bismarck or even King Heinrich.*

The situation that results from our ties to the West and our will for balance with the East often makes Germans, as well as our neighbors, feel uncomfortable. It is true that the division has placed a huge burden on the people and denies them their human rights. It is also true that there is a German Question that is both open and uncomfortable.

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* King Heinrich I was a tenth century monarch of the eastern Frankish realm and thereby an ancestor of what was later to become Germany – ed.

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