“Standing here by the Branderburg Gate on Pariser Platz is like a dream come true for us. When I first came up with this idea in February, absolutely no-one else believed that it might be possible to realise.” – recalled opera singer Andrea Rost.
It is easy to guess why it was so: the square, which is frequently called “the jewel-box of the city” is extremely difficult to obtain for such an event. Especially after a period when the reputation of Hungary had been quite contradictory in the German press, to claim the least. However, the municipality of Berlin caused no disappointment when, with their usual receptiveness and generosity, they gave the green light for the event. That is when the most exciting part of the story began: how should the closing Hungarian EU presidency present itself at one of the most illustrious locations in the history of Europe?
Andrea Rost had already had the artistic concept in mind, but organising an open-air concert with guests from several countries involves numerous practical difficulties, too. For example, the stage was set up within a triangle of the American, the British and the Swiss Embassies, which necessitated various insurance arrangements. Plus the organisers wanted to invite the upcoming EU presidency trio’s representatives, along with the delegates of the German government, in order to enhance the prestige of this event, which was so significant for Hungary.
After the invitations had been sent out, the plan of the two-hour programme completed, the building of the stage finished, the glasses for 600 people arranged in order on the tables, and the present for the Polish presidency was ready hand over, the guests from Budapest had arrived and the organisers had even catered for an umbrella-vendor (“What if is starts raining?”), the skies decided to be unusually gracious on Berlin: it was 34 degrees in the sweltering sunshine at 6 o’-clock by the Brandenburg Gate.
About 400 guests (200 sitting and about the same standing) have gathered to watch the pompous event. Some locals had brought chairs along, while tourists were just leaning onto the cordons. The always self-assured Ambassador of Hungary, József Czukor dr was apparently touched when he rose to speak to the people, but Mayor of Budapest István Tarlós also seemed moved when he told the crowd that he had never imagined to be able to deliver a speech at this particular place. Mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit spoke in his usual informale style: “Chancellor Helmut Kohl once said that the ground under the Branderburg Gate was Hungarian ground. He was referring to the fact that the German unity could not have been achieved without the support of Hungary and the negotiations of the Hungarian government. That is the reason why this venue is closely connected to Hungarians, but let us not forget that the Polish civil movements had also contributed to the re-unification of Germany. Therefore we are grateful to both Hungary and Poland and also to those people who had fought for freedom out in the streets.” Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navrasics reacted, saying that Hungarians, as well as Polish people had been longing to make it to the other side of the wall, not only physically, but also mentally, so it had a symbolic meaning that the three countries were meeting at this special place.
Most people had come to listen to the concert, of course. Andrea Rost, featuring Zoltán Kocsis on the piano and the Budapest Klezmer Band performed Pannon Songs, a crossover of classical and world music, which offered an enjoyable experience for the fans of both genres. Ms Rost sang Hungarian, Gypsy and Jewish folk songs from the Carpathian Basin, and the Polish Motion Trio – who had been rather underrepresented in the programme brochure – also received a highly enthusiastic response from the audience: if it is possible at all to find new interpretations for Liszt’s Rhapsody No.2, then these three accordion-players had undoubtedly achieved that.
As a present, Poland received a Europe-bicycle, which symbolizes constant progress – a free interpretation of a relay-baton of the EU Presidency, handed over by Hungary.
This was quite likely the most impressive event of Hungary for some time in the near future, but the organizers have also set a high standard with the ceremony by the Branderburg Gate for the upcoming acting EU presidencies, at least concerning closing events.
Péter Györkös is Hungary’s Permanent Representative to the European Union. Diplomats carry their duties wherever they are ordered by his superior officers, but Péter Györkös has a “personal attachment” to his present assignment: for more than twenty years, he has been monitoring closely the process of European unification and has actively worked for it in his successive positions.