arrow-left arrow-right nav-arrow Login close contrast download easy-language Facebook Instagram Telegram logo-spe-klein Mail Menue Minus Plus print Search Sound target-blank X YouTube



German-Russian Young Leaders Conference


Ms Kadreleva,

Mr von Oldenburg,

Paliamentary State Secretary,

Consul General Khotulev,

Members of Parliaments, Ladies and Gentlemen,


More than twenty years have passed since a delegation travelled from Hamburg to St. Petersburg  to formally open the ECAT”. That is not an abbreviation for the famous Czarina Yekaterina, better known here as Catherine the Great, but for the Environmental Centre for Administration and Technology, which was established as a joint venture between the two sister cities with assistance from the European Commission.


Back then several Young Leaders” were at the table, or rather tables, because, as one would expect, various dinner events took place.


Just like today! Last year’s fifth German-Russian Young Leaders Conference was held in St. Petersburg, and so I am particularly pleased that Hamburg was chosen as the venue this year. On board this wonderful ship, which reminds us of shared maritime traditions.


Relations between the two cities stretch back into the 18th century; for us however, the year 1957 stands out as very important, because Leningrad, as it was then, took the initiative to conclude a treaty of friendship with Hamburg that was sealed with a handshake. This happened only two years after the German Chancellor’s first visit to Moscow, at a time barely ten years removed from the horrors of war, and in particular the long siege of Leningrad by a German army.


Apart from the successful Foundation for German-Russian Youth Exchange, Hamburg is also home to a Russkiy Mir centre. We can thus claim to be a city where great skills in the field of Russian affairs reside, and this is rooted in a willingness to promote understanding during the Cold War” period. And for that we remain, to this day, very grateful to the Russian people, and in particular to the citizens of St. Petersburg.


Obviously, we are eager to expand our Russian skills, preferably in as many different parts of your vast country as possible. And for a city like Hamburg, an event such as this conference is highly advantageous. Young Leaders are men and women whose engagement in business, scientific and cultural activities contributes more or less by itself to strengthening Germany and Russia and the mutual relationship between these two neighbours in Europe.


This holds good even when circumstances are more complicated and political differences become apparent. Young Leaders, I believe, probably know and sense better than others, that in the medium and long term there will be no place for alienation and thinking in terms of spheres of interest”. Because the vast majority of today’s younger generation, whether they are leaders or not, are no longer able or willing to understand attitudes like those.


The consequences and significance of good, neighbourly relations between all Europeans go far beyond current, specific economic issues. These may be very important and urgent most of the time, but what I find crucial is, and I quote:


If you want to understand life, don’t believe what they say or what they write, but make your own observations and think for yourself.”


These are the words of Anton Chekhov and he also knew why he underpinned his own observations and reflection by maintaining a permanent exchange with a wide range of contemporaries.


These days, exchange, and being able to engage in exchange, has long ceased to be the privilege of intellectuals and artists. In Russia, as in Germany and everywhere in between and around, there is an incomparably bigger flood of information and opinions than in Chekhov’s day, and soon no-one will be obliged to believe what they” say and what they” write.     


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It seems indisputable to me that in complicated times personal exchanges are particularly important, and so are business and cultural ties, not to mention diplomacy.


A few months ago the Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, arrived here in Hamburg for an international event, having travelled directly from Kiev. He gave a moving account of how, in conjunction with his Polish and French colleagues, and with the envoys from the President of Russia, he joined with the parties to the conflict in intense efforts to find a peaceful solution in Ukraine.


German politicians do not do this kind of thing because they believed it was their job to act as referees to the world; that would be inappropriate. They do it, just as politicians from Poland, France, Russia, Ukraine and other countries do, because they have learnt what can happen when people stop talking.


At the moment we see hopeful signs of a rapprochement between the Russian and Ukrainian governments, even if there is as yet no cease-fire in the East of the country. I very much hope that this will happen soon and that the situation will stabilize into something in which all the citizens can participate. And it goes without saying that the sovereign integrity of no country in Europe should be called into question. It must be possible for Russia and Ukraine to become good neighbours again.


Ladies and Gentlemen, 

All of you, and the general public in this country, know that Germany and Russia are mutually important trading partners, although many will perhaps be surprised to hear that the Federal Republic is Russia’s second biggest supplier, accounting for 12 per cent of imports. However, at the moment imports are slipping a little; but you will know that too, because economic data will have been among the topics treated at your conference.


For the future, Russia will remain an important economic player in Europe and the world, thanks to its export-oriented economy, wealth of natural resources and energies and not to be overlooked its good standards of education and job training. That is one aspect!


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The ECAT” that I mentioned at the outset still exists in St. Petersburg, although the name has changed and the structure is slightly different. In recent years and decades we have made efforts to cooperate in other ways as well and, when necessary, to help; I know of many personal friendships that have grown during this process. 


Sport is another area where friendships grow and sport has long since defied every border. Many years ago Aleksej Mischin caused quite a sensation in Hamburg by becoming the first Russian ice hockey player in the German professional league. And the football player Sergej Kirjakov, who came from distant Orel, became a favourite with the public.


As you see, just now, everyone is talking about the number one topic. The next World Cup will be held in Russia. Here in Hamburg, however, we cherish the hope of hosting an event betimes that Moscow has already staged: The Summer Olympics.


Joyful occasions, sometimes less joyful ones, economic cooperation, cultural exchange 

and political talks all the things that promote intercultural understanding and communication between our countries are valuable and useful to us all. Russia is, and will remain, an important, steadfast partner to Germany and Hamburg.


I hope that many meaningful discussions lie ahead of you tonight and please do continue to enjoy a pleasant stay in Hamburg. Thank you very much.


Es gilt das gesprochene Wort.