The Center for German and European Studies (CGES) celebrated its 20th anniversary with guest speaker, Emily Haber, the German Ambassador to the United States. Members of the Brandeis and German communities gathered to celebrate this historic event at a gala dinner and a one-day conference, all convening around the theme, “Reflecting on the past, envisioning the future.” Sonja Lahnstein-Kandel, a respected advocate of civil rights and tolerance in Germany and Israel, was also in attendance.
The keynote speaker of the night, Haber, followed an introduction by President Ron Liebowitz. The majority of Haber’s speech focused on maintaining the transatlantic relationship between the U.S. and Germany and, more specifically, the relationship between Brandeis and Germany.
Haber notes the importance that Brandeis has in the eyes of Germany, given the intersection in history during World War II. She not only links Germany and the U.S. through our current endeavors but also for the fact that the U.S. has become the “guardian” of making the world remember what happened during those times “for the sake of the world we want to live in.”
Since becoming the German Ambassador in June of 2018, Haber has determined the greatest issue in maintaining the relationship of the U.S. and Germany is a mutual understanding of what direction both countries want to move towards and the challenges that may prevent these goals. “If we want to identify what we really want, we should focus on the tectonic shifts in the world we see around us,” said Haber.
She also constantly spoke directly to the younger alumni in attendance, as well as students in attendance at the gala. “I hope that you, the younger generation of political thinkers, will find it too passive and too defensive and too lacking a flare of inspiration,” explained Haber. “That is what may be on you to define and renew a joined division and inspire others to work on a new program to keep them [the U.S. and Germany] resilient and diverse.”
The gala dinner, emceed by Oliver Koch ’20, began with opening remarks by Sabine von Mering (ENVS/GRALL/WMGS), director of CGES and President Ron Liebowitz. Von Mering began the gala by thanking all the members of her team at CGES and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD in the German abbreviation), for supporting the anniversary conference and the continuous work that the center does.
CGES is not one of a kind; they exist all across the U.S. and the world, according to von Mering. “The centers are not meant to ‘promote Germany,’” explained Benedikt Brisch, who is the incoming director of DAAD in New York. “We want the centers to reflect critically on Germany and to do so in a very truthful way because the centers have the ability to see things about us from afar that we don’t see because we are too close.”
Since becoming director of CGES in 2008, von Mering felt the most impactful thing she did for the program was creating a network of students within the center who “feel ownership.” Previous student workers at CGES were invited to the 20th anniversary celebration as a mini-reunion within the celebration, von Mering said in an email to The Brandeis Hoot. “Bringing them together…was really exciting, and I loved seeing them connect with each other across the different cohorts.”
Following the introduction by von Mering, Liebowitz gave a brief speech commending the work that the center has done over the past 20 years. Comparing the start of the center to the humble beginnings of Brandeis, Liebowitz praised the center on the work that they have done. Specifically “conveying German and European perspectives on key transatlantic issues ranging from migration, climate change, security, NATO and Holocaust education,” said Liebowitz at the gala.
He also highlighted the fact that CGES at Brandeis is the only center in the world primarily focused on undergraduate involvement. Liebowitz was followed by Haber’s keynote address.
After Haber’s speech, Lahnstein-Kandel participated in a question and answer forum, mediated by von Mering. The topic of conversation revolved around anti-semitism and right wing populism in Germany and the U.S.
Lahnstein-Kandel is the founder of the non-profit organization, “Step21 for Tolerance and Understanding,” which is based in Germany and has assisted almost a million youth with xenophobia and anti-semitic incidents in Germany.
Following the gala, a one-day conference was held that covered a range of topics from the future of Holocaust research to a panel where CGES alumni relayed their experiences in tackling the issues of the future, with acclaimed faculty from all across the U.S.