German day brings memories of oppression, hope for great future
- In the year before Germany’s reunification, many brave citizens in East Germany had stood up against the regime.
This happened in November 1989, leading to a year of incredible change that paved the way to the political reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990.
Germans celebrate this day that brought freedom and many opportunities to East Germany.
Do you remember where you were 30 years ago? I do, and in my country, most others also remember: In 1989, the Berlin Wall was torn down in a peaceful revolution. This wall, topped with barbed wire and watched by armed guards, epitomised the separation of my country into two parts with opposing political systems. East Germany was so afraid of its own people’s desire for freedom that it had automatic weapons to kill its citizens when they tried to escape over The Wall.
In the year before Germany’s reunification, many brave citizens in East Germany had stood up against the regime and protested, risking harsh repression and imprisonment. You might have seen the historic images of ordinary citizens on top of the hated wall, chiselling at it with small hammers and tools, streaming through the holes to visit the West.
This happened in November 1989, leading to a year of incredible change that paved the way to the political reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990, opening the way for the political integration of Eastern Europe into the European Union.
Germans celebrate this day that brought freedom and many opportunities to East Germany. I grew up in East Germany. I experienced what it meant to live in a system that only gave you opportunities if you expressed the right thoughts, if you were in line with what the authorities wanted. But I always wanted to travel the world, and joining the Diplomatic Service was my dream.
However, I knew that under the socialist regime this would forever remain unattainable. Therefore, I did the next best thing to see the world: Study languages, in my case English and Farsi. That is how 30 years ago I found myself working on my doctoral thesis in Iran’s capital Tehran, anxiously following the news from home.
On my return, I swiftly applied to join the diplomatic corps of the new Germany — and got accepted.
The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Reunification changed my life and opened a new path for my future. My career as a diplomat has since led me to many parts of the world, arriving in Nairobi last year.
The historic events provided me and my country with opportunities and a different path. But looking ahead, I believe the message of freedom and opportunity that the fall of our wall signifies is as important as ever today. Kenyans in 2019 enjoy many political and social freedoms that we in East Germany in 1989 did not have. But many Kenyans, unfortunately, lack the economic opportunities to realise their full potential, separated by invisible walls from a better future.
This, of course, is something the Kenyan government is striving to change under the ‘Big Four Agenda’. And Germany is standing by you.
It never ceases to amaze me how many hard-working young people I see and meet here as my country struggles with an ageing population. And I see the opportunity here. In Germany, we have a system that has allowed us to create many jobs for young people by combining theoretical education with on-the-job training of practical skills in companies. As a result, we have one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in Europe.
Translating our experience to a Kenyan context is crucial to providing sustainable opportunities for Kenya’s youth. Together with the government and companies, we are working on a joint programme with technical vocational education and training institutions (TVET), as well as on the establishment of an East African-German University for Applied Sciences.
In fact, we have put our whole — and extensive — development cooperation agenda with Kenya under the theme, “Bringing youth into employment”.
The various scholarships we offer to young Kenyans, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), our cultural Goethe Institut and the German School in Nairobi — open to all students — are proof of our strong and lasting relations.
Today, I remember how life-changing our reunification was for me on our Day of German Unification. Tomorrow, I will continue my work here in Kenya to provide opportunities to many young Kenyans and strengthen the ties between our countries and peoples.
Mrs Günther is the German Ambassador to Kenya.