Angela Merkel accepted a rare invitation and addressed the US Congress to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The German chancellor made it clear that climate change is a top priority.
Standing before members of the US Senate and the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill, Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged the honor given to her.
"Thank you," she said responding to the applause. "It is very moving."
She noted that she was making her address shortly before the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The chancellor received a standing ovation when she mentioned the historic events of November 9, 1989.
Early on in her address, Merkel paid tribute to the six million Jews and other victims who were killed during the Holocaust. She pointed out that on November 9, 1938, 50 years before the fall of the Wall, the Nazis pillaged and destroyed Germany's synagogues at what proved to be the start of the pogroms against Jews, which she called a "break with civilization."
Recalling her childhood and youth in communist East Germany, Merkel said that in her wildest dreams she would not have thought all those years ago that it would be possible for her visit the US, "the land of unlimited dreams."
Passion for the American dream
She went on to say that although the "barbed wire" held her back, she was always "passionate about the American dream." In a lighter vein, she recalled how she was enamored of a "certain brand of American jeans," drawing laughs from the assembly.
The chancellor paid tribute to US President Ronald Reagan, who urged then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall" between the East and West. "This appeal will remain forever in my heart," Merkel said.
She also paid tribute to ex-President George Bush Sr., former German chancellor Helmut Kohl and Gorbachev for their roles in bringing down the Berlin Wall.
"Where there used to be a dark wall, a door suddenly opened through it. We all walked through it," Merkel said. She recalled how, inspired by the momentous event, she herself had given up a career as a physicist to take up politics.
Globalization, trans-Atlantic ties and Iran
Merkel also used her speech to make a strong case for globalization, saying "the alternative to globalization would be shutting ourselves off from the rest of the world."
Admitting that Europe and America did not always see eye to eye on all issues, the chancellor insisted that the US could find no better partner than Europe and vice versa. She said that this was not only based on shared history and interests, but more importantly on a common basis of shared values, in particular the common idea of the individual and the inalienable rights of the individual.
She said Europe and America were being called upon to "tear down walls of today," especially "the walls in the minds of people."
There was lengthy applause when she stated that there should be zero-tolerance towards issues like weapons of mass destruction and the likelihood of their falling into the hands of Iran, for instance, which she said would threaten "our security."
"A nuclear bomb in the hands of a president who denies the Holocaust … is not acceptable," Merkel said, adding: "The security of the state of Israel is for me non-negotiable - now and forever."
Merkel also urged the US and Europe to take a leading role in negotiations on climate change ahead of the United Nations summit in Copenhagen next month.
"There is no doubt about it, in December the world will look to us, the Europeans and the Americans," Merkel told the joint session of Congress.
"I am convinced that once we in Europe and in America show ourselves ready to adopt a climate agreement we will also be able to persuade China and India to come in," she added.
The chancellor wrapped up her address by drawing an analogy between two monuments. "The Freedom Bell in Berlin is like the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia: a symbol which reminds us that freedom does not come about of itself. It must be struggled for and then defended anew every day of our lives," Merkel said, adding: "In this endeavor, Germany and Europe will also in future remain strong and dependable partners for America. That I promise you…"
Obama heaps praise on Merkel
Earlier in the day, Merkel met with US President Barack Obama to discuss climate change and the war in Afghanistan.
Ahead of Merkel's address, President Obama spoke of the chancellor and Germany in glowing terms, saying the fact that she would be the first chancellor to address Congress in 50 years was "a very appropriate honor."
"Germany has been an extraordinarily strong ally on a whole host of international issues," Obama said with Merkel at his side in the White House.
He also said that Merkel herself "has been an extraordinary leader on the issue of climate change."