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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Meeting With Staff and Families of Embassy Berlin

John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Embassy Berlin
Berlin, Germany
February 26, 2013


Guten morgen. Wie gehts ihnen? Es ist wunderbar, wieder hier in Berlin zu sein. Yeah. Danke. [Translation: Good morning. How are you? It is wonderful to be here in Berlin again. Thanks.] (Applause.) You can tell Rosetta Stone works on the airplane, folks. (Laughter.) No, no, no. I’m only joking. I really have wonderful memories.

Last night, I got a chance to walk out of the hotel and I walked out through the street here along the bricks in the middle of the road and then over into the Holocaust museum, and I’ve seen it before. But I’d never had a chance to walk through it. And at night, last night, walking through it, sort of going down and up and with the height and the different sizes and the disorientation and everything, I really thought what a brilliant, brilliant memorial that is, but also I thought how courageous and forthright it is by the Government of Germany to decide to put it right there, right here, near the Brandenburg Gate, near the Reichstag, where so much history was and still is.

And so it’s a great reminder, that and the bricks in the road, of the journey that we’re all on together. And that’s why it’s very, very special for me to be able to be here in Germany today, the second stop of my first trip as the new Secretary of State. And it’s special for me to be able to come back, obviously, here to this city where I was about that high, right over there. I got my passport out the other day when I went into the State Department. It said 4 foot 3, brown hair. And I said, “What happened?” Anyway. (Laughter.)

But – and I want to say good morning to each of the consulates that are tuning in, I guess Dusseldorf and Stuttgart, Hamburg, Bonn, and what – Leipzig, Munich. And hello to you guys and thank you.

I’m not going to talk for long. Usually in my speeches when I was a senator that was an applause line. (Laughter.) But anyway, that’s a senatorial thing, folks. Let me just say very, very quickly a profound thank you to you from the President of the United States for whom we all serve and for your country. The one thing I learned when I came here back in the 1950s was it’s not easy being in the Foreign Service, civil service, or locally employed employee, because there are sacrifices involved in this. And sometimes I’m sure each of you has sort of said, "Gosh, here I am in this far-off land, wherever it is, and life is a little different and tougher in some places than others." and you kind of say, "Am I missing something?" or "Am I – would it be better for my kids if I were home or whatever I’m doing?", and so forth. Those questions come to everybody.

And I just – I want to assure you that this is one of the great adventures and one of the great services that any person can perform for their country. It makes an enormous difference. I think there’s something like 1,600 people working here, 30-plus departments of our government all coming together working on various issues, to work on the transatlantic trade investment concept that’s now on the table, to work on Mideast peace, to work on counterterrorism, counternarcotics, and visas, and peoples’ problems. So I really just bring you the gratitude of a nation, and I hope the understanding of the Secretary of State for what you’re going through.

We face tough budget choices, and I know you sometimes scratch your heads – because I do it at home – and say what the hell are those guys doing or not doing as the case may be, and it’s frustrating. And I get it.

One thing I promise you, I will be a tireless champion on behalf of our mission. I believe in it, heart and soul. The difference we make to other people, the incredible virtue of being able to touch people in another country and show them the real face of America, to carry our values with us every day in everything that we do, is unparalleled. It is a blessing, and I know the difference that it makes to people all over the world, because as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I had the privilege of traveling so many different places and seeing it and hearing it.

I was the author with Bill Frist, who was then majority leader of a then not very consequential piece of legislation that people weren’t too tuned into but a few people opposed, like Jesse Helms of North Carolina. And it was our early initiative to try to deal with AIDS. And it had all the pejoratives of that time attached to it. But Bill Frist joined with me and largely because of his confidence that Republicans had, bipartisan, Jesse Helms, conservative from North Carolina, signed onto the bill. We passed it unanimously in the United States Senate, it became law, and today, my friends, that is PEPFAR. And we have saved over 5 million lives, children, in Africa alone. That’s an extraordinary story. (Applause.)

And you can replicate that in so many different ways, whether it was years ago, the effort to stand up for people trying to emigrate from the other side of this wall, whether it was our President standing out there – first John Kennedy coming here and saying, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” or Ronald Reagan saying, “Tear down that wall,” you are on the cusp of history here, and you always have been. And probably because John Kennedy came here and put his stamp on all of that, there’s a special pride in the fact that the Ambassador Jim Melville – Jim, incidentally, this embassy is here because for every year since 1941, since the war ended, after it was torn down, we’d send somebody over here to sort of stake our claim on an annual basis. And Jim was the guy who came and staked it on one occasion. So Jim, we all owe this embassy to you and your hanging in there. (Applause.)

But it’s also appropriate that there are three Boston boys represented here in the Ambassador Phil Murphy, and Jim, and myself. So there’s a Boston connection to this place right here outside the Brandenburg Gate, and we love it. I want to thank Ambassador Murphy for his tremendous service and for his family, who’ve, I think, done an extraordinary job here. And Jim, we’re very, very grateful to you. Thank you, Phil. We really appreciate it. Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)

And final comment to all of you, just to wrap up, because I don’t want to destroy the productivity of this embassy – thanks for coming out this morning just to say hi. I wanted to have the chance to say hello to everybody. I just – my dad worked in the Clayallee annex with Jim Conant, who was then the High Commissioner of Germany, as we called it, fresh from being president of Harvard University. My dad was the legal adviser at that point in time.

And I used to have great adventures. My bicycle and I were best friends. And I biked all around this city. I remember biking down the Kurfurstendamm and seeing nothing but rubble. This was in 1954. It was still pretty much in the rebuild. And that, fresh from 1945 – the war was very much still on people’s minds. The Reichstag was completely burned out. And I biked down by the Brandenburg Gate and out across.

And one day, using my diplomatic passport, I biked through the checkpoint and went into the east sector, and noticed very quickly how dark and unpopulated and sort of unhappy people looked, and how dark the clothing was, and very few cars, very sparse – a memory that hit this 12-year-old kid. And I kind of felt a foreboding about it, and I didn’t spend much time. I decided to skedaddle and then got back out of there and went home and proudly announced to my parents what I had done. (Laughter.) And was promptly grounded and had my passport pulled and that was it for me. (Laughter.)

But I used to bike through the Grunewald for hours on end, and up and down, around. And I had a wonderful time here. Sailed under the Enz, got to know the city. And know this is such an incredible, vibrant, dynamic, modern, 24-hour, 24-7, 365 city. And you all are part of that.

So thank you for representing our nation in this extraordinary capital in the country of a great, great important ally. Thank you for what all of you do. Keep on truckin’, as the song says. And keep faith. And I promise you I will be your champion in Washington. We’ll fight the budget. We’ll do everything we can to explain to Americans how important our work is here, and I thank you for every single bit of it. Thank you. (Applause.)

PRN: 2013/T01-07

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