This year’s Oxford German Olympiad celebrates friendship in all its forms: between people, nations and cultures. So in the next few posts we’ll be taking a look at what ‘friendship’ encompasses, especially in the German-speaking context – you might even get a few ideas for your entry to the Olympiad! This week, we focus on political friendships…
‘Wem der große Wurf gelungen, eines Freundes Freund zu sein’
(Who the noble prize achieveth, good friend of a friend to be)
These lines are taken from Friedrich Schiller’s An die Freude/Ode to Joy, a very famous poem about friendship that was later set to music by Beethoven – and it was chosen as the Anthem of Europe in 1972. It expresses powerful ideas about the common humanity of all mankind, based on the Enlightenment philosophy of the time. According to the poem, shared experience unites people all over the world, including those separated by different languages, traditions and social classes. While this speaks to the basis of friendship between peoples and nations, John le Carré, a former German teacher and passionate advocate for the German language and German culture, has described learning a foreign language as ‘an act of friendship’ that can be performed by each of us. At an individual level, learning another person’s language means learning to communicate with them, listen to them and learn from them – and this can foster mutual understanding at the level of cultures, communities and societies.
History is full of examples of famous friendships and collaborations – between men, women and across genders – which have shaped culture, literature, politics and science. One of the most famous in the history of German culture is the collaboration between Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who got to know each other in Paris in 1842 and subsequently became lifelong friends who collaborated on important works, such as The Communist Manifesto (1847), which have formed the basis for much political thought in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Friendships are also common in other areas of public life, whether genuine or not: the former German chancellor Helmut Kohl was famously close friends with French President François Mitterand during the 1980s, and the two were jointly awarded a Charlemagne Prize in 1988 for promoting Franco-German friendship, thereby echoing the peace efforts that took place after the First World War. Kohl, of course, was also a key political figure in the unification of the two Germanies – the GDR (German Democratic Republic) in the east and the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany) in the west – in 1990, an event that is celebrated every year in October. More recently, Angela Merkel and Barack Obama have discussed their close working relationship. Although this has also had its ups and downs, at the end of Obama’s presidency, Merkel could describe Obama as her ‘partner and friend’.
Of course, the UK and the German-speaking countries haven’t always been friends – relations between Britain and Germany in the twentieth century were marked by the two World Wars (1914-18 and 1939-45). Hostile sentiments on both sides have lingered on the in the post-war years, and many British people continued to hold xenophobic anti-German views that, for many years, found particular expression in sporting events.
Nevertheless, long held bitterness resulting from the wars has also been countered by movements that have built on political peace to foster symbolic friendships. The most extensive of these is the movement of town-twinning (Partnerstädte in German). It has long been one of the clearest expressions of international friendship, particularly after the experiences of the Second World War. After the Second World War, the cities of Coventry and Dresden established formal links as a way of promoting peace and reconciliation following the devastation both suffered during the conflict. The city of Reading celebrated 70 years of association with Düsseldorf in 2017. Oxford’s own link with Bonn is also one of those created during this early wave of Anglo-German twinning arrangements and each town marks the connection every few years with a programme of celebratory events. Nowadays, most UK towns and cities have a twin town in France and Germany, at least – and many in other places like the USA, Russia or even China.
Entries to the Oxford German Olympiad 2018 will close at 12 noon on 16 March 2018. You can view the full entry guidelines and competition categories here and submit your entry online here. Next week, we’ll take a look at literary friendships…