Navigation and service

Inaugural speech by Federal President Christian Wulff - address after taking the oath of office in the German Bundestag

Bundespräsident Christian Wulff German Bundestag, Berlin, 2 July 2010 Bundespräsident Christian Wulff © Jesco Denzel

I'm sure no-one will find fault with me if I say that this is an important and moving moment for me. It fills me with joy and earnestness, with confidence and humility at the same time. For I'm aware of the great responsibility which comes with the office of Federal President. I'm grateful to be able to serve in this office: to serve Germany and the Germans, as well as everyone who lives in our country.

Once again, there was a genuine election for the office of Federal President. I'd therefore like to take this opportunity to expressly thank Luc Jochimsen and Joachim Gauck for conducting themselves fairly during the last 30 days. For every fair contest benefits our democracy. You both played a major role in this, thus rendering a great service to our country. For that I would like to sincerely thank you both!

Joachim Gauck, your voice has reached considerably more people during the last few weeks than ever before. We all ask you to continue telling us about your experiences with the SED dictatorship. Please also keep on telling us about your love of freedom. For that helps us to understand. That's particularly good for those who suffered injustice at the hands of the SED and whose efforts helped ensure that people in the GDR were able to gain their own freedom. Moreover, it's extremely important so that young people listening to you can better understand what happened.

Mr President, Horst Köhler, I too want to sincerely thank you for everything you did for our country during your term of office. The sadness surrounding your resignation highlighted in an especially moving way your close bond with our fellow citizens. You listened to people. You took their worries and problems seriously. You provided encouragement and often spotlighted and provided active support for the many good ideas in our country. You spoke out whenever you weren't happy with the outcome of political, legislative or even media processes.

Together with your wife, you represented Germany in the world with dignity and great success. As has been rightly pointed out, your commitment to Africa in particular has had a great impact. You made us aware how much the fate of our neighbouring continent is linked to that of our own. So many people in our country now have a better understanding of how important it is to think of others, indeed of everyone in this One World, because we will only have a future if we stand together. We're beginning to understand how much we can learn from the dignity and optimism which people in Africa have maintained under very different conditions to our own, indeed in the direst poverty. Your commitment to Africa is remembered by us all and, at the same time, engages us all.

Mrs Köhler, you have also been sincerely thanked for your great commitment. For you listened to many people who needed attention and assistance. As Bertolt Brecht said: "And you see the ones in brightness. Those in darkness drop from sight." You gave your attention and assistance and listened to many people. Particularly as patron of ACHSE, the German Alliance for Rare Diseases, you made a key and lasting contribution. We will continue to do everything we can to support this.

I would also like to say that you, Eva Maria and Horst Köhler, demonstrated and cultivated close relationships within your entire family, with your children and other members of the family, in a way which not only deeply impressed others but encouraged many families to always stand together in difficult situations. I therefore want to wish you and your entire family all the very best and God's blessing. I, too, would like to express to you my personal heartfelt thanks for the service which both of you rendered to our country!

Ladies and gentlemen, 15 years ago today the Reichstag building was wrapped in silver fabric. Hundreds of thousands came to marvel at how strange yet beautiful this momentous site of German democracy seemed at once thanks to creative power and technical know-how. At that time, the work of art aroused a feeling of community among people of all ages, nationalities, origins and walks of life. It helped lend a new and happy face to our country in the world. In turn, the decision to wrap the Reichstag showed us all how exciting political debates can be if they are conducted in earnest and with passion. That showed that we Germans live in a solid, in a self-confident and relaxed democracy. Moreover, Christo and Jeanne-Claude's project showed that a great success often requires time and patience. The two of them were convinced of their idea and enthusiastic about it for almost a quarter of a century, and in the end nearly everyone was convinced. But it took 25 years.

Today the Reichstag building and the German Bundestag are at the heart of our parliamentary democracy and an absolute must-see for every visitor to Berlin. Throughout the world, its silhouette is a symbol of our successful efforts to attain unity in freedom. In this building where we are gathered today, and where we gathered on 30 June, the spirit of parliamentary democracy prevails, just as the authors of the Basic Law hoped and envisaged - peaceful and able to defend itself, diverse and informed by solidarity, built on majorities which respect minorities. This spirit of democracy is also founded on a sense of community and enthusiasm, on determination and perseverance, on bold ideas and their successful realization.

The speech just delivered by Jens Böhrnsen, the President of the Bundesrat, demonstrated to me once more what message we can send when we treat each other with respect. I'm thankful to you for the friendship between our Länder.

Our country's greatest asset are the people who live here. Their diversity and their talents make Germany such a great place to live. For me it's important to establish connections: between young and old; between people from the East and the West; native Germans and immigrants; employers, employees and the unemployed; people with and without handicaps. Of course, that's not easy. There are different interests, there are prejudices, complacency and entitlement mentalities. I'd like to help to build bridges because we have to approach each other free of preconceived notions. We should listen carefully to each other and talk to each other.

There are countless success stories in our country. I think you'll understand if this year, 2010, I single out my meeting with the father of Aygül Özkan, the first Muslim minister at Land level in Germany, a man who worked hard for almost 50 years - indeed he is still working - who placed great importance on the education and commitment of his children and who has now seen how successful and respected his daughter is in our society. His eyes shone with happiness. Sometimes that generates more empathy than much of what we've experienced, and will continue to experience, here in the form of legislative debate.

The question as to whether we help to ensure that many more people in our country - many more parents - feel the happiness of being here and accepted and being treated as equals, is of great importance to me. But I know that there are not nearly enough of these success stories. When will it finally be considered only natural for everyone in our country to have the same education opportunities regardless of their origin or level of prosperity. When will it be considered only natural for everyone not only to have the same education opportunities regardless of their origin or level of prosperity but for all children who grow up here to be able to speak German, to be able to speak German well in addition to their native language? When will it be considered only natural that someone with the same grades has the same chances when applying for a job, regardless of whether they're called Yilmaz or Krause, or something else. Studies on this have shown there's no room for complacency, because there's a great need for action here and because, perhaps also due to ignorance, some inequalities have simply been accepted in the past.

My response to such questions is: If we're less concerned about where someone comes from and more about where they want to go, if we no longer ask what divides us but what connects us, including the monotheistic world religions, then life in our country will be more humane as well as more successful. If we stop looking for the advantages we have over one another and start looking at what we can learn from each other, then new and good things will emerge, for example from German discipline and Turkish dribbling, from the Prussian sense of duty and Anglo-Saxon nonchalance, from Swabian thoroughness and the Italian attitude to life, in future perhaps from the Rhineland's light-heartedness and the Chinese enthusiasm for education.

Germany will also gain something if we spend less time asking how old someone is and recognize how young many have remained. At any rate, I'm impressed time and again by the zest with which senior citizens take on responsibility in our country and do good, for example by advising those starting up new businesses, reading stories in schools and kindergartens or as reliable members of church congregations or countless clubs and associations in Germany. These mature people already know what the young generation still has to learn: it's worthwhile being active; it enriches, not in the economic sense but in terms of friends, not in the monetary sense but in terms of happiness. It give us a sense of purpose, and we all need that.

That's why it's so important for our country to offer many opportunities to assume responsibility and to be there for others. In Germany the freedom to establish associations and civic initiatives is guaranteed. However, this freedom is nothing without the drive of a countless number of citizens to actually take advantage of it and put it into practice on a daily basis.

I'm firmly convinced that this also applies to political parties and their youth organizations. Both here in this House and outside, they are all much better than their reputation. They offer a home to those interested in politics and strive to find the best solutions for our country. Nevertheless - and this has been very much on our minds - there is a widespread feeling that the parties are closed shops and tend not to look challenges square in the face, that they keep quiet about their magnitude and that they reach agreement on political issues more or less among themselves.

Let's not forget that, as envisaged by our constitution, the political parties participate in the forming of the political will of the people. If an increasing number of political decisions are prepared and made by a decreasing number of party activists, then we shouldn't criticize these active members. Rather, we should encourage and commend them more. And we should try to encourage others to engage in the task of political self-determination and get them involved in this process.

That can be done in many ways and at all levels of our society: from holding local referenda to setting up civic fora in the Internet and allowing voters to exert more influence on electoral lists. The forming of the people's political will requires the greatest possible number of channels through which new ideas, arguments and majorities can spread from the grassroots level to parliaments and cabinet offices. Even those citizens not involved in political parties must be able to experience how exciting being involved in political work can be, how difficult this work often is and how satisfying it therefore is to work out good and fair solutions in peaceful debate.

That's exactly what happens day in and day out. Let's take, for example, an issue of great concern to you, namely the financial and economic crisis, which we've been dealing with for more than two years. The previous and present Federal Governments have had an especially heavy responsibility to shoulder in this context. Through swift and prudent decisions, it has been possible to better cushion the impact of the crisis here than in almost any other industrialized nation in the world. Economic growth has plummeted everywhere, also in Germany. Unemployment has shot up everywhere, but not in Germany. The political class, admittedly not on its own, including the previous and the current Federal Governments, can be proud of this.

Many have contributed towards this: employers and employees, forward-looking companies and responsible trade unions. I've no problem admitting that I learned a thing or two when dealing with Volkswagen and IG Metall and had second thoughts about some things; even the Federal President is allowed to be self-critical. I'm grateful to the dedicated employees who've shown a considerable sense of responsibility and great courage by tackling this crisis together with us, in a spirit of collaboration rather than confrontation. This is the foundation of our social market economy, of which we can be proud. For it's not just about profit but about responsibility, about ethics and morality, responsibility for one's own employees, their families, the products and their production processes, and for the city in which one works, the region in which one manufactures, and the country in which the company is based, namely here in Germany. This all-encompassing responsibility is what we associate with the social market economy. This distinguishes us from a dog-eat-dog society, from predatory capitalism and other forms of society, none of which we want to see here in Germany.

We now have to ensure that crises of this nature and magnitude don't happen again. That's why it's important to hold those responsible for the bank crisis accountable and to finally give the financial markets good rules. That can and will only succeed through European and international cooperation. That makes the task extremely complex. That's why I want to say: no-one envies you. But who should tackle this task if not the German Bundestag with the Federal Government and the help of the Bundesrat?

United Germany is more networked with its neighbours in Europe and other parts of the world than ever before in its history. Our business community is active on a global scale, our citizens have social and cultural contacts around the world, while many people from other countries come to us, either for a short period or on a permanent basis. I firmly believe that globalization offers Germany great opportunities. 82 million people in the heart of Europe and respected around the world - that's a good basis for ensuring that our economy benefits from the European internal market, from the euro, from international markets and from trade. Our citizens travel around the world, and we like having guests from the around the world.

At the same time, we are faced with gigantic global problems which Germany won't be able to resolve on its own, such as climate change, the economic and financial crisis, migration, threats to our security from terrorism and organized crime and other issues, and we have to be prepared for constant change in the international sphere.

The population is rising in many parts of the world, while it is falling in Europe and especially in Germany. We have to discuss more intensively what we can do to reverse this trend. Emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India are growing at a dynamic pace. Many countries are developing a democratic system, the rule of law and raising their population's standard of living. However, in many parts of the world there is poverty, underdevelopment, fragile states, a lack of resources, natural disasters and crises.

We need a solid base from which to shape the globalizations process. In my view that can only be the European Union. It is a unique peace, values and prosperity project which impressively demonstrates that the peoples of our continent have learned their lessons from the centuries of war and destruction. Here in the Reichstag, in our capital, we must never forget the lessons Europe had to learn and what consequences it drew from this. It is a great peace, values and prosperity project. Germany should continue to participate in this European project as a fair partner and supporter.

Even though the current financial and debt crisis has revealed a great need for adjustment, there's no doubt that with the Lisbon Treaty we have achieved a degree of political and economic integration which will allow us Europeans to act together with vigour to tackle the challenges of the 21st century. We Germans are willing to enter into cooperation with all other parts of the world on a basis of mutual understanding and trust. To this end, we have to get to know and understand other cultures. Here, too, we have to approach others and intensify our exchange.

We have to further internationalize our country. We can start here in Germany, in our colourful Republic of Germany. Although our diversity is sometimes trying, it is ultimately a source of strength and ideas, and a way of seeing the world through other eyes and getting to know it from different angles.

We should be curious and enter into dialogue. I want to contribute to this in particular in the coming years. If many can get enthusiastic about this vision, then we will rediscover our country and its potential. I'm convinced that then we'll experience often in the future this powerful sense of joy and amazement when we look at what you, at what we together, have achieved - just as we did fifteen years ago when we saw the Reichstag wrapped up.