11/07/2014 06:30 pm ET Updated Jan 07, 2015

'We Are One People' -- My Speech Before the Ruins of the Frauenkirche


The key moment for me during the process of German reunification was my visit to Dresden on Dec. 19. As I landed with my companions on the bumpy concrete runway of Dresden-Klotzsche Airport, it immediately became clear to me: This regime is finished. The unification is coming!

Thousands of people were waiting for us at the airport, a sea of black-red-golden flags fluttering in the cold December wind in between an almost forgotten white-green flag of the Saxon State. Once the plane had taxied to a standstill, I climbed down the escalator and saw Hans Modrow, who was awaiting me about 10 meters away from the steps with a blank expression on his face. I then turned around to tell the Minister of the Chancellery Rudolf Seiters: "It's done."

Tens of thousands of people lined the streets as we were driving into the city, whole work forces had not gone to work, whole school classes stood there and cheered us on. The banners read: "Kohl, chancellor of the Germans" or "The State of Saxony welcomes the chancellor." Modrow, who sat next to me in the car, seemed very uneasy.

In front of the Hotel Bellevue, we were basically entrapped by a sea of people. People kept calling "Helmut, Helmut", "Germany, Germany" or "We are one people," but I was also supposed to speak to the people.

I originally had not planned to give a speech, but now it was clear to me that I had to talk to the people. Wolfgang Berghofer, the mayor back then, recommended that I talk in front of the ruins of the Frauenkirche.

While my office manager Walter Neuer, with the strong support of a few Dresden officials, prepared everything for my appearance, I conferred with the prime minister in private in the Hotel Bellevue. Modrow represented the official views of the GDR leadership, while I referred to the also well known position of the Federal government. We both agreed that the reform process was irreversible.

The most difficult speech of my life

Late in the afternoon I reconvened with Eduard Ackermann, Horst Teltschik and Juliane Weber in my hotel room, in order to prepare for my speech before the ruins of the Frauenkirche. Thousands were still standing in front of the hotel chanting: "Helmut Kohl to the windows -- without the ghosts."

I was very tense inside because I realized that this would be one of the most, if not the most, difficult speeches I would ever give in my life. In a respectively tense state, I jotted down notes for my speech, highly concentrated, because every word counted. Every wrong slip of tongue would have been construed as nationalistic in Paris, London or Moscow. I couldn't, under any circumstances, allow the emotions or mood of the tens of thousands to boil up.

Suddenly the question occurred to me: What would happen if the masses started to sing the first verse "Germany, Germany above all" instead of the third verse "Unity and Justice and Freedom" of the national anthem? The eyes of the whole world were on Dresden. Foreign journalists were there, and almost all television stations had sent their reporters.

Everything that could have been seen as nationalist enthusiasm would have caused great, if not catastrophic damage to the German cause. That was absolutely not allowed to happen!

Then the thought occurred to me to contact the vicar general of the court chapel, whom I met years earlier during a mass in Dresden. He immediately agreed to send us a choirmaster. He was supposed to start singing the old church song "Now Thank We All Our God," if anyone among the crowd was to start singing the first verse of the national anthem.

Emotionally-charged atmosphere in front of the Frauenkirche

With only a few notes in my pocket, I pushed myself through the crowd. My security guards had difficulty paving the way. One hundred thousand people had come to the square before the church ruins. A surging sea of black-red-golden flags surrounded me. It was an amazing, emotionally-charged, but definitely not fanatic atmosphere.

In front the small makeshift stage, I met the requested choirmaster Konrad Wagner, who had futilely tried to organize a trombone choir on such short notice, and was now distraught because he believed it would be impossible for him to make such a large number of people sing a church song with him.

As I was climbing onto the wooden stage, I felt the great hopes and expectations that the people had of me. I greeted my countrymen on behalf of their fellow citizens in the Federal Republic of Germany. These words already led to great cheering. With a gesture I signaled that I wanted to continue to speak. It became very still. Then I continued:

"The second thing I'd like to say is a word of appreciation and admiration for this peaceful revolution in the GDR. For the first time in German history, people have demonstrated peacefully, with earnestness and solidarity, for the future. For that I want to thank all of you very very much."

Again there was thunderous applause, and again it became very quiet when I continued. It had been a demonstration for democracy, for peace, for freedom and for the self-determination of our people, I said, continuing:

"And, dear friends, self-determination also means that we in the Federal Republic respect your opinions as well. We don't want to domineer over anyone. We respect whatever you decide for the future of this country [...] We won't abandon our countrymen in the GDR. And we know -- let me say this into this enthusiasm, which makes me so glad -- how difficult this path into the future will be. But I also call out to you: together we will successfully make it to a German future."

Then I delivered to the 100,000 the results of my negotiation with the GDR prime minister, that we will sign an agreement on the contract between the Federal Republic and the GDR this spring. Moreover, we have planned a close collaboration in all areas:

"We want to work together as closely as possible, especially regarding the economy, with the clear goal to improve the quality of living in the GDR as quickly as possible. We want people to feel comfortable here. We want people to be able to stay in their homes and find their happiness. It's crucial that from now on people in Germany are able to come together, and that the freedom of travel is guaranteed in both directions. We want to enable people to meet each other wherever they want to in Germany."

I had the impression that those gathered before the ruins of the Frauenkirche were already looking toward a unified Germany. This possibility thrilled them more than the results of my negotiation.

Thus there was a lot of applause when I talked about free elections, which were soon to be held in the GDR, but the enthusiasm of the people when I laid out the resulting prospects was nearly indescribable:

"You will have a freely elected government. Then the point in time will come for what I have coined con-federal structures -- which means common governmental committees, so that we can live with as much commonality as possible in Germany. And I also want to say this at this tradition-steeped place: My aim remains, if the historical hour allows it, the unification of our nation. And, dear friends, I know that we can reach this goal and that the hour will come when we will work together toward it, if we do it with reason, a sense of proportion and a sense of the possible."

This blog post originally appeared on The Huffington Post Germany and was translated from German.

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