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The sound of Slovakia, brought to you by the German taxman

November 17, 2016

What does Europe sound like? Germany's Ministry of Finance, of all places, explores that question - this time looking at Slovakia.

Image: picture-alliance/blickwinkel/K. Thomas

It's not all about taxes at Germany's Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF). A series of concerts entitled "So klingt Europa" (The Sound of Europe) organized by the country's treasury is aimed at showcasing the diversity of the eurozone through song and dance.

Various performers from disparate parts of the EU have taken part in the event series, which was started three years ago, providing a platform for their respective cultural contributions to the European Union. This time, the musical journey goes to Slovakia. The small nation located in the heart of the continent currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The public event held at BMF was not only about celebrating a cultural exchange, but also examined the importance of public funding of the arts, both domestically and internationally.

Peter Limbourg
Deutsche Welle's Director-General Peter Limbourg moderates the debate at the Ministry of FinanceImage: DW

To this end, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble shared a public discussion with his counterpart, Slovakia's Finance Minister Peter Kazimir, which was moderated by Deutsche Welle's Director-General Peter Limbourg, who described the evening as a "successful, educational and incredible event."

The two politicians meanwhile spoke about the future of the EU after Brexit, with growing pressure by populist groups across Europe. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble emphasized that the vast majority of people in Germany as well as abroad in Europe are not at all interested in populist movements.

"Our standard of living would be much lower if we didn't have the European Union," he said, adding that some people might need reminding of that occasionally.

Slovakian Finance Minister Peter Kazimir meanwhile praised Germany's leading role in the EU as a "force of stability," saying that in Slovakia "there's great enthusiasm for the European project."

As highlighted by the organizers of the event, "So klingt Europa" stresses not only the importance of the eurozone as a monetary union but also as a conduit for communicating the European idea of "diversity and culture, friendship and cooperation."

The cultural diversity of Slovakia in Berlin

From folklore to pop music, the evening made sure to cater to all tastes across the musical spectrum. While Edita Gruberova showed off her unparalleled talent as one of the world's leading sopranos, musician Michal Pal'ko introduced a traditional instrument from Slovakia, the fujara, to new audiences. Slovakian artist Sasa Makarova spent the evening live-painting her take on Europa, the Greek goddess after which the continent is named.

Meanwhile a group by the name of CreDance shared its modern interpretation of traditional Slovakian dance on the stage while singer Katarzia, a rising star in Slovakia, put her thoughts of "love and all the things I don't understand about the world" into song, showcasing a more contemporary sound from Slovakia.

Wolfgang Schäuble
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is not just talking money - for onceImage: Reuters

The sound of Slovakia couldn't be any more diverse - as was intended by the organizers at the BMF.

"So klingt Europa" has played host to a series of eurozone nations since 2013, bringing music from Estonia, Latvia, Greece, Lithuania, Luxembourg and the Netherlands to the German capital.

Each episode has managed to introduce a new dimension of contemporary culture from across the EU to Berlin, making the city as diverse and colorful as Europe itself.

Solidarity in culture

The BMF concert series aims to highlight and celebrate differences within the European Union. While some of the countries represented to date were part of the original founding member of the EU, such as the Netherlands and Luxembourg, others are more recent additions - including Slovakia. The common thread through it all is the principle of solidarity practiced across the union.

Germany's Ministry of Finance in Berlin
The Ministry of Finance has a difficult history it is trying to overcomeImage: Imago

Whether countries are considered to be beneficiaries of EU funds or the backbone of the eurozone doesn't matter; participating nations are regarded as equals and treated accordingly.

That's why the Federal Ministry of Finance may not be such an unlikely choice of location after all. The building was built by the Nazis for their Ministry of Air Traffic, but was also the starting point of the persecution of Jews during the Third Reich. After World War II, it was used by communist East Germany; in fact, it was from this building that the German Democratic Republic was proclaimed. And today, it serves as the chief headquarters of the taxman of reunified Germany.

The historic edifice epitomizes not only the deep divisions which used to ravage Europe, but also reconciliation and unity.