Dear Minister Hanse-Himarwa,
Dear Members of the Namibian delegation, dear Chiefs,
Dear representatives of the churches in Germany and Namibia,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me to offer you a warm welcome to Berlin, here at the official guest house of the German Foreign Minister.
This place is reserved for special guests – and for our young German diplomats during their training.
Ladies and gentlemen,
You are special guests for us. Namibia and Germany share a long and painful history – and today, fortunately, also a history of close relations and personal friendships.
We shall, over the next few days, call to mind the darkest chapter in the history of our relations – and I’ll admit that this is not a normal diplomatic event and exchange that can be taken for granted.
I have given a great deal of thought in recent weeks to what it means to meet you all in person, Madam Minister, esteemed Chiefs, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.
Above all, I asked myself what it must mean to you to set out on this long journey to Germany to receive the mortal remains of your ancestors.
Ancestors whose remains were taken to various institutions in Germany under horrific circumstances – for so-called scientific research, which had nothing to do with science, but was part of a racist ideology – and who will hopefully now find the peace that they were denied in such a shameful way. When I consider the actions of Germans during the colonial period, then I stand humbled and ashamed before you.
And so I recently went to the archives of the Federal Foreign Office in order to gain a first-hand impression of the historical records from this time.
Our archive with its wealth of diplomatic treaties and files is located behind the thick doors of the former Reichsbank. When you open the files that are stored there from that period, then you find a language that testifies to the imperialist, nationalist and racist lust for power that was widespread throughout Europe at the time. For all the disgust that this inspires in me, it is encouraging today to see that some things have changed for the better.
Over the next few days, our attention will be clearly focused on one thing in particular, however, namely remembrance and respect for the dead. This is the third repatriation of human remains from Germany to Namibia. It is taking place under very different circumstances. Both of our Governments are engaged in a dialogue on how to deal with the shadows of the colonial past. The two Special Envoys are with us, and I am delighted that further talks are scheduled to take place as soon as this Friday.
I know that a number of you will be taking part in these talks while others of you will not, and how difficult the path to such negotiations can be. I am therefore all the more grateful that you have all agreed to join the delegation led by Minister of Education, Arts and Culture Katrina Hanse-Himarwa on this solemn and dignified occasion. And I am very much looking forward to talking to all of you in person.
The Protestant Church in Germany and its partner churches in Namibia have done much to ensure an appropriate spiritual framework. The traditional Chiefs will have the space that is required for the rituals.
I am very confident that this repatriation of human remains will be a further step among the numerous efforts of state and civil society actors to build bridges between our two countries and to invest in a better future.
The Minister and I will also speak in church, and I don’t want to pre-empt this part of the ceremony too much today.
Allow me, however, to say one thing to you now, which is that, after everything that I have read, learned and experienced, and as a representative of the Federal Government, it is an important political priority and most personal matter for me to accompany the remains of the departed to their home country together with you.
German society must also learn more about this chapter of history. It is up to us to ensure that present and future generations remember so that they too can take responsibility for a common future. Our meeting here and over the next few days is also intended to contribute to this.
May I conclude by saying: The fact that you are here in Berlin today, which is a holiday in Namibia because of “Heroes’ Day”, is a great honour for me. I feel privileged and honoured to warmly welcome you here this evening.