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President Roman Herzog Calls for a Renewal of Confidence (April 26, 1997)

In a much commented upon speech, Federal President Roman Herzog (CDU) calls for a change in the German mentality – that is, for inner renewal. He urges Germans to set aside their fears and to face the future with greater confidence in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century. In doing so, he expresses support for the government’s reform agenda.

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Berlin Speech by Federal President Roman Herzog at the Reopening of the Hotel Adlon on April 26, 1997

Germany’s Future: Moving into the Twenty-First Century

I am delighted to be speaking to you at the Hotel Adlon tonight. Ninety years ago, the original Adlon was christened by Kaiser Wilhelm II. I am not here to christen anything but rather to try the place out, so to speak, on behalf of the Republic. Nonetheless, I am no less happy that this celebrated hotel, with its rich history, has been rebuilt on the spot where it once stood.

In a way, the new Adlon also stands for the new Berlin. It was rebuilt on a site disfigured for decades by the gaping wounds of war. Pariser Platz, during the days of the GDR, was an eerily empty wasteland in front of the off-limits Brandenburg Gate. Today, the contours of the new German capital are emerging here in the center of Berlin, which has become Europe’s biggest building site.

The future is being shaped in Berlin. Nowhere else in this country is there so much that is new. There is a feeling here that we can shape the future and create real change. We can make a fresh start, one that is needed not just for Berlin but for all of Germany. It is my hope that Berlin’s experience will inspire the rest of the country as well. What cannot be achieved on the testing ground of Berlin will not be achieved in the country as a whole either.

[ . . . ]

In Germany, anyone who shows initiative or – above all – wants to do things differently is in danger of drowning in a morass of well-intentioned regulations. The German mania for red tape becomes instantly apparent to anyone who tries to build a simple single-family home. No wonder that – despite basically comparable wage levels – it is much cheaper to build the same house in Holland.

This bureaucratic sclerosis not only affects the average person who wants to build a simple cottage. It also hinders businessmen, big and small, and in particular anyone who has the bold idea of founding a new business here. Bill Gates started out in a garage and had already built a global corporation as a young man. The bitter joke going around is that if Gates had tried that here, the factory inspectors would have closed down his garage.

The loss of economic dynamism goes hand in hand with the ossification of our society. People in Germany sense that the growth to which they have become accustomed is now a distant memory. Naturally enough, they react nervously. For the first time ever, people who have never been threatened by unemployment are fearful about the future, for themselves and their families. The American news magazine Newsweek has even written about the “German disease.” That may be an exaggeration, but one thing is certain: our media gives the impression that pessimism is endemic in Germany.

This is terribly dangerous. Fear easily provokes the knee-jerk response that the status quo must be preserved at all costs. A society plagued by fear becomes incapable of reform, and can no longer shape its future. Fear stifles the spirit of invention, the courage to go it alone, the hope that problems can be overcome. The German word Angst has actually entered the vocabulary of the Americans and the French as symbolic of our mind-set. The words “courage” and “self-confidence,” by contrast, seem to have gone out of fashion.

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