Budapest (dpa) – Foreign Minister Heiko Maas marked the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago at a celebration together with contemporary witnesses in Budapest on Monday.
“The Wall would never have fallen without the courage and solidarity of Hungarians,” he said at a press conference together with his counterpart, Peter Szijjarto. “We Germans will never forget Hungary’s contribution.”
Budapest sheltered tens of thousands of East German citizens who wanted to escape the country, and opened the border allowing them to cross into the West. This triggered the mass emigration of East Germans into the West. Their departure hit Berlin hard and eventually paved the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.
After talks with Szijjarto, Maas visited an Order of Malta in the district of Buda. In the summer and autumn of 1989, the charity hosted thousands of people on church property after they refused to return to East Germany. Maas spoke to those who worked there at the time, and heard moving and dramatic stories about the events of the fateful summer.
Nowadays, relations between Berlin and Budapest are somewhat cooler. Hungary’s prime minister, the right-wing nationalist Viktor Orban, has repeatedly attacked Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European Commission about refugee policies. Orban has also been criticized for damaging democracy through his domestic policies.
However, after his meeting with Szijjarto, Maas said: “Despite our differences of opinion, it is important that we keep talking with one another.” Dialogue must not be allowed to break off, he said.