Awarding the Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt Medal 2018

14. December 2018

Tribute by Antonia Rados

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

Those who spoke before me actually said everything that there is to say. And so there is only one more topic for me to discuss that has not been mentioned: Berlin’s weather.

Mr. Clay, you are lucky. Normally December here is much gloomier, more uncomfortable, greyer, and especially colder. So that you can better imagine it, the German capital in early December was about as icy as the mood in large parts of the Western world – and before global warming, which also causes surprising meteorological changes to Berlin.

In Europe we had pinned our hopes on only one man, Emmanuel Macron, and even he is experiencing a strong political chill in France despite the mild weather. On the other side of the Channel, in Great Britain, yet another step has been taken toward social downfall, which the British author Ali Smith described in the following scenario:
“God was dead: to begin with. And romance was dead. Chivalry was dead. Poetry, the novel, painting, they were all dead, and art was dead. Theatre and cinema were both dead. The book was dead. Modernism, postmodernism, realism and surrealism were all dead…” And so on. “Life,” she writes, “wasn’t yet dead. Revolution wasn’t dead. AND: Hatred wasn’t dead.”

Not to fear, this excerpt merely comes from the imagination of Ali Smith. Namely from one of her novels which Smith, naturally, titles Winter. I do not know if Brexit served as inspiration, but it would not surprise me!

Unfortunately this dark vision is shared by no small number of real, living people in Europe and America, or have they not heard in every conversation, across the full range of contexts, “The world we live in! What chaos! Nowhere is safe!”

It has never been that bad!

This verbal apocalypse is spread by many politicians, analysts, and of course journalists on both sides of the Atlantic. Thankfully, however, there are people like US historian Ann Applebaum. In November 2017 this expert on Communist terror, about which she has written award-winning works, wrote that it is a fallacy to believe that historical trauma or evil would ever disappear, much like people in many places had declared or hoped after the fall of the Wall. Applebaum reminds us that no lesson from history is ever fully learned. Everything and everyone can rise again at any time, even in the most stable culture or civilisation. Even, says Applebaum, in my own country, in the free USA.

I believe she is thinking of the election of Donald Trump exactly one year before her article appeared in the Washington Post. Trump is not the only figure to unexpectedly disrupt the deceptive tranquillity of the West, says Applebaum. Politician Björn Höcke of the AfD, writes Applebaum, does not believe that the constant reminders of the Holocaust are appropriate! In China in 2016, 17 million Chinese made the pilgrimage to the tomb of Mao Zedong, himself responsible for the death of many millions more. Applebaum speaks of the resurrection of old, Communist methods and ideas through Vladimir Putin.

Instead of learning from history, says Applebaum, history is simply being rewritten by them. It is being reinvented so that it can be easier to forget. It is not fully over!

The evil, the trauma of the past, the strong men are only coming back and so we are not living in particularly dangerous times, but rather in entirely normal times in which totalitarian ideologies are demonstrating their ability to survive. Of course they draw people to them just as they once did. Applebaum says that every generation must relearn history, not only that which has been rewritten but also the correct one. Nobody is spared from this. The youth must learn everything fresh.

Mr. Clay, I don’t know if your grandfather already told you extensively about the Airlift, but we are all very happy that you are with us today because the museum, the events that Mrs. Hildebrandt holds with charm and even more determination, are as invaluable as the history lessons from the past. That is why people are always so happy to go to them, no matter the weather.