Speech by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel on receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the State Dinner

Mr. President, dear Barack,
Dear Michelle,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The first political event from my childhood that I remember distinctly is the building of the Berlin Wall 50 years ago. I was seven years old at the time. Seeing grown-ups, even my parents, so stunned that they broke out in tears, shook me to the core. My mother’s family, for example, was divided by the building of the Wall.

I grew up in the part of Germany that was not free, the German Democratic Republic. For many years I dreamed of freedom, just as many others did – also of the freedom to travel to the United States. That was what I planned to do on the day I reached retirement age, which was 60 for women in the GDR, but 65 for men – so we women were privileged.

But imagining that I would one day stand in the White House Rose Garden and receive the Medal of Freedom from an American president, that was beyond my wildest dreams. And believe me, receiving this prestigious award moves me deeply.

My thanks for this extraordinary honor go out the American people, who have done so much for us Germans. And I thank you personally, Mr. President, because you are a man of strong convictions. You touch people, also in Germany, with your passion and your vision for a good future. Time and again you have been able to spur the international community on. I’ll mention only the topic of disarmament, the question of our countries’ relationship to the countries of the Middle East, and, not least, the Peace Process in that region.

I see the Medal of Freedom as an expression of the excellent German-American partnership. Our countries stand up together for peace in freedom.

History has often shown us how much power the longing for freedom can unleash. It has moved people to overcome their fears and openly oppose dictatorships, just as it did in East Germany and Europe around 22 years ago. Some of those courageous men and women are with me here tonight. The Medal of Freedom that is bestowed on me is bestowed also on them.

The longing for freedom cannot be contained by walls forever. It was this longing for freedom that brought down the Iron Curtain that divided Germany and Europe, even the whole world, into two blocks. America stood resolutely on the side of freedom. It is to this resolve that we Germans owe the reunification of our country in peace and freedom.

Even today, the longing for freedom can shake the foundations of totalitarian regimes. With great interest and empathy we have followed the profound changes in North Africa and the Arab world. Freedom is indivisible. Everyone in the world has the same right to freedom – be it in North Africa or Belarus, Myanmar or Iran.

But the struggle for freedom still claims far too many victims. My thoughts are with our soldiers, our policemen, and the countless others who have offered their help. I humbly salute all those who risk their lives for freedom.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the horrible attacks of 9/11. In these ten years we have stepped up our joint fight against terror and for freedom in many ways. We see that having freedom and defending freedom are two sides of the same coin. For freedom, as precious as it is, cannot be taken for granted. It must be fought for and nurtured continuously.

Sometimes this might seem like an endless fight against windmills, but it is my personal experience that what we dare not dream of today may well become reality tomorrow.

Neither the chains of dictatorship nor the fetters of oppression can keep down the forces of freedom for long. This is my firm conviction that shall continue to guide me. And this, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, shall serve to spur me on and to encourage me.

Mr. President, thank you for honoring me with this prestigious award.