In response to question from DW’s Berndt Riegert on whether the the other 26 EU Member States would be worried that the bloc was becoming too German, with both Merkel and von der Leyen at the helm, the two said that being a European is more important than being a national citizen.
Merkel said: “I think if there are two convinced Europeans, then maybe that is even more important. Of course I will not forget my German interests, which we have to bring to the negotiations. But we already know that the presidency is giving us an additional responsibility.”
Von der Leyen said: The good thing is that we have known each other for a long time, we trust each other deeply. And the good thing is that when you know each other very well, you can also speak very efficiently, very plainly, because we know that we can go into the depths in great detail and therefore achieve a lot.”
“I also always remark that this is the beautiful thing about Europe, when you consider that both of us have a very different bibliography, where we spent our childhood and where we grew up, but we are both deeply convinced and we are both deeply European. And that actually reflects the beauty of Europe.”
Zolgensma, a gene therapy medicine for treating spinal muscular atrophy in children under the age of two, is now available in Germany. However, a single treatment of the drug, which is produced by Swiss pharmaceuticals company Novartis, comes at the steep price of €1.9 million ($2.1 million).
The manufacturer argues that this is a reasonable price considering that without it, it costs between €2.5 and 4 million to treat the degenerative disease over a lifetime.
In an open letter earlier this week, Daniel O’Day, chairman and CEO of Gilead Sciences, wrote: “Taking the example of the United States, earlier hospital discharge would result in hospital savings of approximately $12,000 per patient. Even just considering these immediate savings to the healthcare system alone, we can see the potential value that remdesivir provides.”
“We have decided to price remdesivir well below this value,” he continued. “To ensure broad and equitable access at a time of urgent global need, we have set a price for governments of developed countries of $390 per vial. Based on current treatment patterns, the vast majority of patients are expected to receive a 5-day treatment course using 6 vials of remdesivir, which equates to $2,340 per patient.”
A single treatment of Zolgensma, produced by Swiss pharmaceuticals firm Novartis, costs €1.9 million
What is fair drug pricing?
The editor of the German specialist magazine Arznei-Telegramm, Wolfgang Becker-Brüser, is not convinced. He told DW that the costs of treating COVID-19 without remdesivir had been calculated at random.
“There is an attempt to give the impression that the price is fair,” he said. “However, if there wasn’t a pandemic and so much public attention they might have set the price much higher.”
The Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (vfa) refused to comment. “The vfa does not comment on the pricing schemes of individual companies,” it said in a statement to DW.
But in the past, the vfa has called on the pharmaceuticals sector to show responsibility with regard to consumers and demanded that affordable medicine and vaccines be made available.
An analysis by British researchers cited in the Germany weekly Der Spiegel came to the conclusion that it probably cost about €8 to produce one dose of remdesivir.
However, it is normal for the sale price to be much higher than the production price, considering companies invest huge sums into development.
Gilead Sciences claims that it invested about $1 billion into remdesivir. This is actually at the lower end of the vfa’s scale for developing a new drug. The association told DW that companies tended to invest $1 to 1.6 billion in a new product.
For Wolfgang Becker-Brüser, this is “fantasy.”
“If the development costs are calculated to be so high then it is easy to demand higher prices,” he told DW.
For Alexander Nuyken, a pharmaceuticals expert at the consulting firm EY, there is a reason that development costs are so high: they encompass the risk of failure. “It has to be possible to add a premium for the risks incurred from the development of a drug to its approval,” he said.
Becker-Brüser said that in general drugs were becoming more expensive. “The number of prescriptions for new patented drugs is the same but their price is going up,” he said. This was already the case before the COVID-19 pandemic, as indicated by a report by the German health insurance company AOK from last year, according to which insurance companies are paying an increasingly high proportion of their medicine budget on particularly expensive drugs. Drugs as pricey as Zolgensma are only the tip of the iceberg.
With regard to remdesivir, however, there had been some expectation that the cost per course of treatment would actually be higher. The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, a US-based nonprofit organization that analyzes drug prices, had suggested that a reasonable price would be $2,800, while others had recommended $4,000.
But considering that remdesivir is practically a waste product, which Gilead Sciences originally developed to treat Ebola, without major success, Becker-Brüser presumes that the company opted for a compromise in view of the public pressure.
It could turn out to be a win-win situation for the company. Its share price rose when the price of remdesivir was announced earlier this week and orders have gone through the roof.
After being ineffective against Ebola, Gilead Sciences drug remdesivir is getting a second chance against COVID-19
According to media reports, the US has already secured the entire stock of projected production for July and 90% for August.
Germany, too, has apparently secured supplies. Health Minister Jens Spahn has been applying pressure. He said that he expected “Germany and Europe to have access to supplies to such a drug.” The British government has also said that it has enough reserves.
So far, remdesivir has not been fully approved in any country and there has not been enough research into how effective it really is against the novel coronavirus. But apart from Dexamethason, it is the drug that seems to have the most potential for treating patients with SARS-CoV-2 and limiting the disease’s course.
Alexander Nuyken said that it was not surprising that the world’s wealthy nations were all eager to get hold of supplies. “That’s why it is particularly important that we find common solutions in international alliances.”
However, the problem, as with the global fight against the climate emergency, is that if the US does not play by the same rules, the attempts of other states will be curbed.
Those who benefit, said Becker-Brüser, are the pharmaceuticals giants, “which are in a position to aim higher.”
It will soon become clear how high Gilead Sciences is prepared to go. Right now, the European Union is negotiating with the US company and trying to ensure that all 27 states have supplies in the coming months.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit India, many were worried that the country’s overworked public healthcare system would not be able to cope with the added burden of the outbreak. The crisis has brought to light the flaws and discrepancies of India’s health outreach programs.
National outreach programs for infectious diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) and HIV have become severely underfunded and put on the back burner due to a shift of focus to limiting COVID-19 infections. But health professionals warn that such a move could have detrimental effects on India’s population in the future.
COVID-19 has so far claimed more than 17,000 lives in India. Yet tuberculosis remains a far more fatal disease for the South Asian country. The highly infectious disease claimed over 79,000 lives in 2019 alone, according to the latest annual TB report.
A recent joint study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Lancaster University projected that the pandemic could add at least 110,000 more fatalities in countries including India, China and South Africa. The researchers also noted that the crisis could result in overall decreased clinic attendance as well as delayed diagnosis and treatment.
However, India’s minister for health and family welfare, Harsh Vardhan, commended the country’s progress for handling its TB crisis. “The government is committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of eliminating TB in the country by 2025, five years ahead of the global target,” he announced.
But Saurabh Rane, an advocate for Survivors Against TB – a community-based initiative led by TB survivors – said since the outbreak of COVID-19, “it has been an absolute nightmare for [TB] patients.”
Rane, who is a TB survivor himself, said that while most patients reach out to understand how to deal with the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic, “they don’t know if they can get the tests done in time, get time from their doctors for consultations or even procure their next batch of medications.”
Rane believes one of the greatest failures of India’s healthcare system has been the lack of communication and outreach from the New Delhi government. “If the system has not faced this before, the patient hasn’t either. Communication opens a channel to understand their problems and that is when you can find solutions for them. Increase bandwidth on the helpline, provide them chat options, figure out doorstep drug delivery mechanisms, create spaces for testing, and troubleshoot problems as they occur,” he said, adding: “The public health system has to fight an old pandemic in the middle of a new one.”
India is home to the world’s third largest population of HIV+ patients. The Indian government provides lifelong ART (anti retro-viral) medication to all registered patients.
But when the nationwide lockdown was in place, many HIV sufferers couldn’t visit the hospital or clinic facilities to obtain the necessary medication due to the shutdown of public transport.
“Adherence is key to taking ART and for a total suppression of the HIV virus. It is non-negotiable, simply because we can’t negotiate with our virus. If we miss say 2-3 doses in a month or if we do not adhere at least 97% of the time, the virus can bounce back and we are likely to develop resistance,” said Loon Gangte, co-ordinator of the Delhi Network of Positive People – an initiative aimed to improve the lives of people living with HIV.
Even as restrictions are gradually lifted, those living with HIV still face fear and distress on a regular basis. Gangte says the situation is worse for low-income HIV patients as well as ostracized members of society such as sex workers and transgenders.
Despite the easing of lockdown measures, experts warn that Indians suffering from highly infectious diseases other than the coronavirus remain in a vulnerable position.
“People should not be deprived of treatment as they too have their right to health. We urge the government not to abandon initiatives on HIV/AIDS, TB, and drug addiction,” said Abu Mere, president of NNagaDao, a local non-governmental organization.
Specifically, the bill had required doctors to have a formal affiliation called “admitting privileges” to perform abortions at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of the clinic. The hospital would have the right to admit or reject the privilege.
Lawyers for Hope Medical Group for Women, who brought the case before the Supreme Court, said two of Louisiana’s three abortion clinics would have been forced to close if the law went into effect.
In a 5-4 ruling, conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four liberal justices in the majority. ”The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law,” Roberts wrote.
He explained that the court had settled the question of “admitting privileges” already and that there was no reason to change that consensus.
Roberts vote came as a surprise to supporters and opponents of abortion rights, as the Chief Justice had voted in favor the identical Texas law.
Even though he still believes the Texas case was wrongly decided, Roberts explained his rationale for voting differently by saying “the legal doctrine of stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike.”
A blow to conservatives
The decision was a blow to President Donald Trump’s administration, which had supported the law in Louisiana. Many pro-life Republicans were hoping that with the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court would tip the balance in their favor on abortion rulings.
Both of Trump’s Supreme Court appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh voted to keep the Louisiana law.
“Today’s ruling is a bitter disappointment,” said anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, adding that it represented “the failure of the Court to allow the American people to protect the well-being of women from the tentacles of a brutal and profit-seeking abortion industry.”
Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said they were relieved that the court blocked the Louisiana law.
“With this win, the clinics in Louisiana can stay open to serve the one million women of reproductive age in the state,” she said in a statement.
“But we’re concerned about tomorrow,” she said. “Unfortunately, the court’s ruling today will not stop those hell-bent on banning abortion.”
The Louisiana law is just one of several abortion rights cases that will be appealed to the Supreme Court, which include bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected and the almost total ban passed in Alabama.
Germany’s finance ministry backed a disputed stimulus program pushed by the European Central Bank (ECB), paving a way past the power struggle between Germany’s Constitutional Court and the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
New information shared by the ECB “fully satisfies” the demands made by the German judges, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said in a letter to parliamentary speaker Wolfgang Schäuble.
Luxembourg vs. Karlsruhe
In a shock ruling last month, the German court threatened to ban Germany’s central bank from taking part in a crucial ECB bond-buying scheme.The Karlsruhe-based judges said ECB governors had failed to take sufficient account of the project’s side effects on banks, savers, and other stakeholders. The court asked the ECB to demonstrate the “proportionality” of the scheme and its goals within the next three months. They also ruled that the ECJ had simply rubber-stamped the central bank’s policy.
The ECB also argues it is not bound by the decisions of the German court. However, without obeying its ruling outright, the ECB provided German officials with more information last week, including details on the issue of “proportionality.” The ECB said its €2 trillion ($2.25 trillion) scheme was an effective tool to stimulate the economy and pledged there are “sufficient safeguards having been built into the design of these programs to limit potential adverse side effects.”
Finance Minister Scholz said that, with this new information, the ECB heads had “convincingly demonstrated its deliberations about proportionality.” His letter to Schäuble was dated on June 26 but only went public on Monday.
On Sunday, Germany’s Constitutional Court said the nation’s independent central bank was still bound by its decision, but that the Bundesbank would decide on its own whether or not it will pull out of the scheme.
“The Federal Constitutional Court is no longer involved,” judge Peter Huber told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
Indian officials barred 59 mobile apps, most of them run by Chinese companies, on Monday, saying they were engaged in “activities” which were “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, security of state and public order.”
The apps include video-sharing platform TIkTok, social media app WeChat, and UC Browser developed by a company owned by China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba.
London “formally” ruled out asking for an extension that would allow its representatives more time to reach a permanent deal with the EU on their post-Brexit relationship.
UK’s Michael Gove, a Cabinet minister in charge of post-Brexit ties with the EU, said “the moment for extension has now passed.” In order to avoid a no-deal scenario, the two sides would need to negotiate a new permanent accord in the coming months, authorize it and put into force before the current temporary deal is set to expire on January 1 next year.
“On January 1, 2021 we will take back control and regain our political and economic independence,” Gove wrote on Twitter on Friday.
Also on Friday, the UK government announced that it would introduce border checks in stages after January 1, going back on an original plan to that would impose full control on EU goods after the temporarily deal expires. Instead, UK importers of most EU goods would be able to delay submitting customs declarations or pay tariffs for the six months, although they would be required to keep customs records. Full checks are expected to be put in place by July next year.
Still no deal for Northern Ireland
The UK has consistently rejected the possibility of asking for more time to negotiate with the EU. With talks stalling and the end of the temporary deal drawing closer, however, many have speculated that London could change its mind and call for an extension. Such a move would legally be possible only until the end of June.
European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said the bloc was taking the UK’s extension decision “as a definitive one.” Commenting on border checks, the EU official noted that the UK was still expected to provide details on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is a sensitive political issue.
Michael Gove and Boris Johnson were the most prominent Conservative politicians in the ‘Vote Leave’ referendum campaign, while campaign strategist Dominic Cummings (right in shot) is now the prime minister’s lead adviser
Separately, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said it was important to “make progress on substance” during faltering talks with the UK.
“To give every chance to the negotiations, we agreed to intensify talks in the next weeks and months,” he added.
All eyes on Johnson, von der Leyen
Since the UK formally left the EU’s political institutions on January 31 this year, albeit with relatively little change to its trade and travel ties to the bloc during the transition period, several rounds of talks ended with no visible results. EU officials have been unusually frank in their criticism of the UK, with Barnier saying this week that Britain was “looking to pick and choose the most attractive elements of the (EU) single market without the obligations.”
Lebanon’s government held crisis talks Friday as the currency plummeted to a record low on the black market, leading to a night of angry protests. President Michel Aoun announced after the meeting that the central bank would begin injecting dollars into the market in an attempt to strengthen the pound.
The country is entering the worst recession in a decade with the Lebanese pound down 70% from its official rate.
Protests on Thursday night saw roads blocked across the country and security forces working together to use tear gas against protesters. Demonstrators chanted slogans of national unity, with many pointing fingers at the financial sector.
“Thief, thief, Riad Salame is a thief,” some protesters chanted, referring to the governor of the central bank. Hundreds of protesters in Beirut targeted the central bank. Many accuse Salame and the political class of being corrupt and incompetent.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab duly chaired an “urgent” cabinet meeting, also attended by Salame and representatives of the country’s money changers.
Following a second meeting at the presidential palace, The presidency tweeted images of members of the central bank taking oaths at the presidential palace.
Why is the currency in freefall now?
Despite efforts to control the currency depreciation in recent weeks, the Lebanese pound tumbled to more than 6,000 to the dollar on Thursday, down from 4,000 on the black market in recent days. The pound had maintained a fixed rate of 1,500 to the dollar for nearly 30 years since the economy was affected by the civil war (1975-1990).
The Lebanese pound began to lose value last fall. The recent acceleration in devaluation appeared to reflect the growing shortage of foreign currency on the market amid the coronavirus crisis. It also signaled panic over new US sanctions that will affect neighboring Syria in the coming days as well as a lack of trust in the government’s management of the crisis.
Deutsche Welle: The US protests were strongly supported here in Germany. What are your thoughts on the current events here?
Karamba Diaby: The situation in the United States is very, very disturbing. And you can see how divided American society is: Especially the president, really shows no empathy. Instead, his messages divide society. I find that very, very disturbing. As far as Germany is concerned, I think it’s good that there are initiatives that have taken to the streets, that people in Germany have risen up.
I hope that more people in society at large will become aware of the topic. To what extent is this now a change of mindset, change of perspective on racism in everyday life, on anti-racism in Germany? To what extent this will change things, we have to wait and see. What is currently being achieved is that people are taking the streets, demonstrating, reporting on it. This is also a good basis for us to make suggestions on how to make this coexistence better.
Do you have the feeling that after this great wave of protests, not only worldwide but also here in Germany, there will be more, and more permanent, changes in society?
One can only hope so. I think that in many places, due to the media coverage, many people are concerned and wondering how we can better shape our coexistence. This is sorely necessary, and I hope that many organizations will participate, but also that society as a whole will see that this is an important issue. This is not just a minority issue, but an issue for society as a whole.
I personally find it important that we delete the term “race” from the Constitution, that we [use] ethnicity or other terms. For that, we need a majority of people on board, and the discussion has started.
Ed. note: The term “Rasse,” or “race,” is mentioned in Article 3 of the German Constitution: “No person shall be favored or disfavored because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political opinions.” However, the term also translates to “breed” for non-human animals. In light of current scientific consensus on the nonexistence of differing human “races” as well as Germany’s Nazi history, the word has increasingly become seen as a loaded term that should not be applied to humans.
What do you say to those who say “I don’t see color”?
Well, it’s a way of denying something that is reality — only if you perceive the diversity of society as reality. If you deny that, you’re not ready to face the challenges [it implies].
Here’s an example: I have a plate of salad in front of me. I could say this is a colorful salad. I am happy to put it that way and enjoy it with its diversity. I have olives in there, lettuce, tomato — a colorful salad. I could also just say “the salad is salad.” Then I don’t see it in its diversity; I’ve sent the message that all the ingredients are the same for me.
But, it’s better to notice it. Diversity is not all sunshine and rainbows; diversity is the challenge that arises. Different people — old and young, men and women, people of differing religious beliefs, etc. — all of these are a part of the variety, a sign of diversity. You simply have to deal with the associated challenges.
Yes. That is very worrying. But I must say that I personally am experiencing a very, very big wave of solidarity. Not just on social media, but people have come to the office, school classes from Halle have come to me [to show support]. Solidarity is tremendously important to us.
Is the government doing enough to better integrate people with a migration background?
Unfortunately, much needs to be done. Here we have a fourth of the population of Germany that has a migration background. If you look at the German Bundestag, only 8% of us do. In the German media, it’s just 6%, and it is also extremely low in public service. That is one of the reasons why the exclusion of many people in this country is not being made clear. I would hope we could do more in that direction.
You also deal with the topic of colonialism in Germany — a less well-known aspect of German history. As far as this culture of remembrance is concerned, how far has Germany come in recent years?
I know that the Foreign Office has taken up the issue. What I miss is the intensive examination of colonial history within that culture of remembrance, the reworking of colonial history in such a way that it is given much more importance in textbooks and in museums, so that we then address issues related to it.
I very much welcome that Berlin has enacted that. It is important to know that the General Act on Equal Treatment (Eds: Germany’s federal-level equality act) has existed for 16 years. However, we know that there are many gaps. For example, we do not have the right to file a class-action suit. Many things are under the responsibility of the individual states. I, therefore, hope that many states will follow Berlin’s example, and not just set up an anti-discrimination body. That is one thing, but a state-level law would be preferable.
The revelations about racism and discrimination were very worrying. I think it is extremely important to strengthen the work of the anti-discrimination agency. But decentralization of work is also important so that not everything ends up in Berlin at the anti-discrimination office. The anti-discrimination agency’s work will be strengthened by making clear laws. Regarding right-wing extremism and racism, it’s a good thing that in the Cabinet and Parliament, we have the opportunity to propose some measures that will be implemented, which may also lead to us asking which questions are the most important.
The government has now taken note of the Afrozensus, taken by the Initiative of Black People in Germany (ISD). What do you think of this collaboration?
I think the initiatives are very, very good — and they are also involved in many other activities. We also have a Cabinet Committee against racism. I hope that the perspectives of many people — Germans, Africans in Germany, African communities — can really be taken into account at the government level. Their perspectives can really enrich politics.
Are you not sometimes frustrated that when German media invite black people to discuss topics, it is usually only to talk about their own experiences with racism?
“Frustrated” is maybe not the right term. But I wonder why the perspective of people with a migration background is less often asked when it comes to discussing certain social issues. It is very often asked regarding right-wing extremism. I think it’s good to be asked because you also publicly present your perspective on the topic. But it would be preferable to be also asked regarding issues of education, research, health, nursing, and much more so that people can share and consider various perspectives.
Dr. Karamba Diaby is a scientist and Social Democratic (SPD) politician who since 2013 has served as Member of the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament. He completed his undergraduate education in his native Senegal at Dakar’s Cheikh Anta Diop University, after which he moved to East Germany for his graduate studies, which he finalized in 1991. For over two decades he worked in the nonprofit field and in local government in numerous capacities including issues of diversity, education, and human rights. In 2013, he became the first black person born in Africa elected to serve in German Parliament.
On May 8, 1945 the guns finally fell silent. World War II, started by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Third Reich in 1939, was over. The unconditional surrender of Germany’s armed forces, the Wehrmacht, brought to an end the suffering of millions — initially, however, only in Europe because Nazi Germany’s ally, Japan, continued fighting and would only concede defeat in August when the Americans had dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
For the international anti-Hitler coalition — led by the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Britain and France — May 8 was, despite all the suffering that had gone before, a day to celebrate. That joy was not shared by most Germans. Their country had been destroyed and then divided into four zones of occupation by the victorious powers. Defeat had been complete and overwhelming. It triggered emotions of guilt and shame. The Third Reich had set the terrible conflict in motion with its invasion of Poland. Unprecedented crimes against humanity followed, above all the systematic extermination of six million Jews.
In the post-war years, any sense of outrage over these crimes was still not enough for most Germans to consider May 8 as a day of liberation — in contrast to the European countries that German forces had occupied during the six years of war. Now the tables had been turned: Germany defeated and occupied. An ideological war between the communist Soviet Union and an alliance of democracies in the West began to take hold, signaling the division of Germany and the division of Europe.
Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial
On April 29, 1945, US soldiers liberated the concentration camp near Munich. It wasn’t until 1965 that a memorial was built on the site. Commemorating the victims of Nazi atrocities, this sculpture by Jewish artist Nandor Glid was set up in the middle of the former Appelplatz in 1968. The Holocaust survivor had also lost many family members to concentration camps.
Battle of Hürtgen Forest
US forces fought several fierce battles against the German Wehrmacht in Hürtigen Forest near Aachen. Lasting several months from fall 1944 until early 1945, the battles would also be remembered as some of the longest and most significant fought on German soil. Hürtigen Forest is now part of the “Liberation Route Europe,” a remembrance trail along the advance of the Western Allied forces.
Bridge at Remagen
Surprised it was still standing, US forces captured the railway bridge at Remagen, south of Cologne, on March 7, 1945. Thousands of US soldiers were able to cross the Rhine for the first time in what became known as the “Miracle of Remagen.” German bombing runs eventually led to the bridge’s collapse 10 days after it was captured. Today there is a peace museum in the remains of the bridge towers.
Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
While the US forces generally transported their fallen soldiers back to America, the British soldiers who died found their final resting place in 15 cemeteries in Germany. The biggest of these is the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Reichswald, close to the Dutch border. Amongst the 7,654 dead there are some 4,000 pilots and crews of fighter planes, of whom many were Canadian.
Seelow Heights Memorial
In the east, the Soviet Red Army launched the last big offensive on April 16, 1945. The Battle of the Seelow Heights began at dawn with bombardments to aid the push towards Berlin. Some 900,000 Soviet soldiers faced 90,000 Wehrmacht soldiers. The largest World War II battle on German soil – as well as the thousands of dead that resulted from it – are commemorated by the memorial there today.
Elbe Day in Torgau
Soviet and US forces meet for the first time on German soil in Torgau on the Elbe River on April 25, 1945. The event effectively closed the gap between Eastern and Western fronts. The war’s end moved closer and the soldiers’ handshake in Torgau became an iconic image. The meeting of Allied troops is remembered every year on Elbe Day – but in 2020 that has been cancelled due the coronavirus crisis.
German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst
German armed forces signed the unconditional surrender in the night of May 8-9, 1945, in the officers’ mess in Berlin-Karlhorst. Today the original Act of Surrender, which was written in English, German and Russian, is the main feature in the museum’s surrender room. Another permanent exhibition focuses on the Nazi war of annihilation against the Soviet Union, which began in 1941.
Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park
The sheer size of the memorial in Treptower Park is impressive. The memorial, including the military cemetery, covers an area of some 100,000 square meters. It was built after the Second World War to commemorate the Red Army soldiers who fell in the Battle of Berlin. A pair of stylized Soviet flags made of red granite serves as the portal to the memorial.
Potsdam conference in Cecilienhof Palace
After Nazi Germany’s surrender, the heads of government from the three main Allied forces met at Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam in the summer of 1945. Joseph Stalin, Harry S. Truman and Winston Churchill led the delegations at what became known as the Potsdam Conference, called to establish post-war order in Europe. It ultimately decided on the division of Germany into four occupation zones.
Berlin was also divided into four sectors. The district Zehlendorf became the American sector. Here the former US Army cinema “Outpost” has been turned into part of the Allied Museum. It documents the political history and the military commitments of the Western Allies in Berlin – detailing the occupation of West Berlin in 1945, the airlift to the city and the withdrawal of US troops in 1994.
Schönhausen Palace in Berlin
This Prussian Baroque palace was the location of the “Two Plus Four Agreement” talks in 1990 among both Germanys and the powers that occupied Germany at the end of the war: the USA, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. The four powers renounced all rights they held in Germany, paving the way for German Unification. Several plaques commemorate that this is where World War II finally ended.
Author: Frederike Müller (sc)
Theodor Heuss: ‘We knew of these things’
On May 8, 1949, exactly four years after the end of World War II, representatives of the country’s political parties gathered in the city of Bonn to enact a new constitution (Basic Law) for the emerging Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany). The Free Democrat Theodor Heuss (FDP) was in a reflective mood as he looked back on the end of the war: “The fundamental fact is that for each of us May 8, 1945 remains the most tragic and questionable paradox of history. Why? Because we were, at one and the same time, redeemed and annihilated.”
In September 1949, Heuss was elected as Germany’s first federal president. Three years later, his visit to the former Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp was seen as a watershed moment. “The Germans must never forget what was done by people of their nation during these shameful years,” said West Germany’s head of state as he contemplated Germany’s biggest crime — the Holocaust. And, Heuss added, “We knew of these things.”
A monument to the Red Army: “The Liberator”
While senior West German politicians struggled to come up with the right gestures, and the right words, to describe the crimes committed in Germany’s name, the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) — founded on October 7, 1949 — had adopted the occupying Soviet Union’s state cult of anti-fascism. The most visible manifestation of this development was the gigantic War Memorial and Military Cemetery at Treptower Park for more than 5,000 war dead, inaugurated on the fourth anniversary of the end of the conflict.
At the heart of the complex is a soldier cradling a small child in his arm while at the same time crushing a Nazi swastika under the heel of his boot. With this monument, towering 30 meters into the sky above, East Germany’s leaders took a firm grip on the imagery that would be employed to commemorate the end of the war. “The Liberator,” as the gigantic figure was called, embodied the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany. Its political system, based on violence and oppression, would be imposed on the whole of the Eastern Bloc by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
The Soviet War Memorial in Berlin was built to commemorate the 80,000 Soviet soldiers who died in WWII.
Walter Ulbricht attacks West Germany’s accession to NATO
East Germany styled itself as a bulwark against fascism and imperialism. The country’s enemies were to be found west of the Elbe River and west of the Atlantic: in West Germany and the USA. There was no forum for a critical appraisal of Germany’s responsibility for the horrors committed during the Nazi era. Walter Ulbricht set the tone by, at the behest of the Soviets, imposing the Zwangsvereinigung – the forced merger of the Communist Party (KPD) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in East Germany to form the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED).
Under his leadership, May 8 became the “Day of Liberation,” an annual ritual that East Germany instrumentalized for propaganda purposes right through to the dying days of communism, with a focus on current events or goals. Walter Ulbricht, for instance, used the 10th anniversary of the end of the war to rail against West Germany’s accession to NATO. At a mass rally in East Berlin, attended by some 200,000 people, he accused the West of blocking German reunification while East Germany, “a peace-loving and democratic state,” battled to bring the divided country together.
Konrad Adenauer speaks of “cleansing and transformation”
At the same time, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (CDU) spoke of Germany’s NATO membership — that he himself had forced through — as an expression of trust in the fledgling democracy. In Paris, ten years after the end of the war, the Christian Democrat politician argued that the German people had paid with “boundless suffering” for the atrocities carried out in their name by a fanaticized leadership: “In this suffering a cleansing and transformation came to pass.”
To mark the 20th anniversary of the end of the war, Adenauer‘s successor Ludwig Erhard (CDU) became the first high-ranking politician in the West to use the word “liberation.” However, he used it to refer to curbs on freedom in communist states. If the defeat of Hitler’s Germany had banished all injustice and tyranny from the world, then humanity would have reason enough, he said, “to celebrate 8th May as a memorial to freedom.”
Konrad Hermann Josef Adenauer was the first post-war Chancellor of Germany from 1949 to 1963.
Willy Brandt praises women, refugees and displaced people
It was to be another five years before the political elite in West Germany really began to re-think their position on the end of the war. In 1970, under the first social democrat chancellor, Willy Brandt, the Moscow and Warsaw Treaties were signed. It was reconciliation with one-time enemies in war, the Soviet Union and Poland, and milestones in what became known as the policy of détente. It would lead, one year later, to the social democrat being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In his speech marking the 8th of May Willy Brandt did not actually use the word “liberation”but was at pains to recognize and commemorate the role of women, refugees and displaced people in the rebuilding of Germany. He was especially effusive in his praise for “our fellow Germans in the GDR.” They had, as he put it, in the face of great adversity not of their own choosing, “achieved successes that they can be proud of and which we must fully respect.”
Helmut Kohl talks twice of a “Day of Liberation”
Under Willy Brandt’s former foreign minister Walter Scheel (FDP), who served as federal president from 1974, there was a decisive change in West Germany’s approach to the meaning of May 8, 1945: “We were liberated from a terrible yoke. From war, murder, subjugation and barbarity,” he said on the 30th anniversary of the end of the war: “But we have not forgotten that this liberation came from outside. That we, the Germans, were not capable of shaking off this yoke ourselves.” The head of state pointed out that it was not in 1945 that Germany had lost its honor, but far earlier: in 1933, with Hitler’s seizure of power.
Another federal president came to a remarkably similar conclusion in 1985: the Christian Democrat Richard von Weizsäcker. His address four decades after the end of the war is generally seen as the greatest and most important on this theme. Intriguingly, he was far from being the first person to speak explicitly of a “Day of Liberation.” Chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU) used the same language in that same year — twice. Initially in February in his “Report on the State of the Nation in a Divided Germany” and then on April 21 in the presence of US President Ronald Reagan on the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan and then West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on their visit to the military cemetery in Bitburg, western Germany in 1985.
Richard von Weizsäcker: “Look truth straight in the eye”
What makes von Weizsäcker’s speech so special it that when he refers to May 8, 1945 as a “Day of Liberation” nobody is excluded: “It liberated us all from the inhuman system of violence and persecution that the Nazis established.” In East Germany, meanwhile, leader Erich Honecker insisted on highlighting the things that divided East and West. He said the liberation from Hitler and his fascist system gave the German people the opportunity to build their lives on a wholly new foundation, and “We used this opportunity.”
The two German states did not manage to arrive at a similar evaluation of the end of the war until after the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. For just a couple of months, East Germany was governed by the country’s only freely-elected prime minister: Lothar de Maizière (CDU). On the 45th anniversary of the end of the war in 1990, he told a gathering of the World Jewish Congress in Berlin that May 8 “will cast long shadows on the post-war history of the Germans” while at the same time demonstrating their “inability to mourn.” He said the Germans must learn, “to live with this history honestly and sincerely, to be open to its admonishments and memories.” De Maizière’s words are reminiscent of von Weizsäcker’s in his famous 1985 address: “Today, on May 8, let us as best we can, look truth straight in the eye.”