On Friday, 189 high school students from New York City, who had been directly affected by the September 11 terrorist attacks, joined 600 German colleagues for a German American Friendship Festival in Berlin.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder kicks off the New York - Berlin Bridge festivities
More than seven hundred international youths turned the backyard of the Berlin Chancellor’s Office into a bustling German American Friendship Festival on Friday.
To clear the grounds for the festivities, the suitcase-wielding politicians and diplomats, who frequent the bureaucratic headquarters of the German government on any given day, had left the garden to the kids.
Rock music and sounds of heated basketball matches filled the air, as teenagers in blue festival t-shirts mingled in the sunshine.
But the celebration that put smiles on youthful faces has a bitter background.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder had invited 189 high school students from New York City, who had been directly affected by the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, to come to Germany. The guests celebrated together with 600 German students taking part in the "New York – Berlin Bridge" program.
Building Bridges of Friendship
The program, during which a total of 1,000 New York youths have visited Germany so far, aims to bring young people from both countries together in a friendly atmosphere. Under the leadership of DaimlerChrysler AG, 16 large German corporations and an array of smaller investors have given financial support to the program.
"This third tour should also make a contribution to tolerance and international understanding across the Atlantic and encourage mutual acceptance and lasting bonds of friendship," said Matthias Kleinert, Senior Vice President at DaimlerChrysler AG and Chairman of the "New York – Berlin Bridge" charitable organization.
Before the guests came to Berlin, they had visited cultural and historic sites all over Germany. On their journey, the Americans teamed up with Germans of the same age and stayed with host families.
"I’m very happy to come over here, it’s an experience that I’ll never forget," said Amanda Zelez, 16, from Staten Island. "I’ve made many new friends and become aware of German culture."
Symbols of Peace
Over the last few weeks, students from both countries had jointly created artworks as an expression of friendship and peace. More than 350 pupils had contributed poems and paintings to "The Bridge to Hope and Peace," supervised by German painter Christine Haberstock. The grafittis, paintings, and slogans exhibited in the Chancellor’s Office gallery present strong messages.
Many show flags of Germany and the USA conjoined. Written words come to terms with the terrorist attacks and at the same time emphasize hopes for world peace.
One student wrote: "Let’s come together not in common fear, but in mutual love."
Dolette Kambridge from New York wrote: "The memories of that day will never be forgotten, they are burned into our minds like a branding. Though we never forget, we shall overcome."
At the same time, the students worked on creating additional artworks, as festival visitors teamed up to decorate a set of canvases in the garden. They were later handed over to Chancellor Schröder as a present.
On the center stage, master of ceremonies Milka, who has her own show on German music television station VIVA, led the crowd through the program.
"Everyone is really excited to be here, the Germans gave their guests a really warm welcome," the 22-year-old told DW-WORLD.
Next to dancing performances on stage and martial arts demonstrations in the garden, a wide array of activities encouraged Germans and Americans to come together. Next to soccer, crossball and BMX, a symbolic "marathon" on mini scooters was held over the bridge crossing the Spree River behind the Chancellor’s Office.
Sprechen Sie Deutsch?
Language differences presented no barrier in communications.
"All of the Germans are really nice and most of them speak good English," said Unwana Ocu, 16, from Brooklyn.
For those Americans willing to pick up a few quick phrases and learn some interesting facts about Germany, DW-WORLD presented its new "Germanizer" website on computers at the premises.
On their hunt for high scores, the interactive game presents players with facts like: "Did you know that when leaving an elevator, Germans say good-by to other passengers?"
Players can also pick up important phrases like "Ich hätte gerne Sauerkraut und Schweinshaxe," which means "I’d like sauerkraut and pig’s trotters."
Uniting across cultural barriers
Whenever the youths ran out of words, sports provided a common denominator.
"Basketball brings people from around the world together," said Erik Smith from Berlin at courtside. "Even if you don’t speak the same language you can play together."
As the kids in shirts reading "Regensburg," "Stuttgart," and "New York," engaged on the court, the motto inscribed on one gallery exhibit was brought to life: "Let us mix for peace, love, happiness and hope. We are all one."