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Thousand-year friendship

June 22, 2012

The German-Russian friendship is about more than pipelines. A newly opened exhibition in Moscow looks at what else has bound the two countries over the past millennium.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa

It was meant to be a picturesque scene: Russian President Vladimir Putin and German President Joachim Gauck piecing together a puzzle on the square in front of the Kremlin. The result would have been an oversized version of Albrecht Dürer's "Self-portrait in Fur Coat."

Russia's Germany Year 2012/2013 began earlier this week without the two heads-of-state, however; reasons for their absence weren't mentioned. The German press spoke of appointment conflicts, while others speculated over tension between the former KGB man, Putin, and the former opponent of the communist East German regime, Gauck. The two had met briefly in Berlin at the beginning of the month.

Organizers of the Russia-Germany Year emphasize that culture and history - not politics - are the focus of the events. Pipelines are not the only thing that connects the two countries.

Mikhail Shvydkoy, the Russian president's special envoy for cultural ties, said it was important not to reduce Russian-German relations to the energy sector - though the Baltic Sea pipeline was indeed a model project.

1,000-year friendship

Shvydkoy on Wednesday opened the exhibition "Russians and Germans: 1,000 years of history, art and culture" in Moscow, which marked the beginning of the Russia-Germany Year. The exhibition is one of a thousand events planned over the coming year.

"We haven't forgotten about June 22, 1941, when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union," commented German Ambassador Ulrich Brandenburg in Moscow, referring to the "dark chapter" in German-Russian relations.

But Shvydkoy said in an interview with DW that we tend to "reduce our ties to the tragic events of the 20th century or to single symbolic events. The Moscow exhibition is intended to show that the German-Russian relationship has also seen many positive moments over the past millennium.

The exhibition spans a millennium, from the weapons of the teutonic knights to the wave of immigration from Russia to Germany starting in the early 20th century, touching on highlights like medieval trade between the two countries and even Czar Peter the Great's first-aid kit, which had been produced by a German company in the 17th century.

Contemporary art is also part of the show, including the iconic "Fraternal Kiss" between the two heads of state of the USSR and the GDR, Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker. The graffiti was painted by Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel on the Berlin Wall.

Catherine the Great is, of course, an essential part of such an exhibition. A picture of the Russian czarina with German roots is presented along with other portraits of people who had an influence on German-Russian ties.

Debut exhibits

The exhibition is the first to take place in the State Historical Museum on Red Square after it had been closed for many years for renovations.

Many of the over 700 exhibits from 75 different international museums have not been displayed for many years, or are on show for the first time. In October 2012, the exhibition will come to Berlin's Neue Museum.

Author: Yegor Vinogradov / Roman Goncharenko / kjb
Editor: Gregg Benzow