Nov. 1, 2017
Written By: Rosemary Chen (陳昱安)
Photo Credit: Vader Lin (林書玄)
Mr. Martin Eberts, Director General of the German Institute Taipei, spoke on a range of topics at his recent presentation — from Germany’s history, culture and politics to its bilateral relations with Taiwan. “If you forget about the labels, what we do together is valuable and this is why we have such a broad spectrum of cooperation,” he said.
Mr. Martin Eberts, Director General of the German Institute Taipei, was invited to speak at the monthly Ambassador Day Guest Speech Event hosted by the National Taiwan University (NTU) International College Provisional Office on Wednesday, Nov. 1. The two-hour dialogue was facilitated by former Director of American Institute in Taiwan, Dr. William A. Stanton, and attended by over 80 local students, international students, and faculty members.
Most notably, guests included the Vice President for Academic Affairs Kuo Hung-Chi (郭鴻基教務長), Deputy Vice President for Academic Affairs Shih-Chung Kang (康仕仲副教務長), the Dean of College of Public Health Chang Chuan Chan (詹長權院長), Professor Chun-Yi Tsai (蔡君彝教授), and Professor Jo-Shui Chen (陳弱水教授).
Mr. Eberts has served in Budapest, Riyadh, Paris, Tokyo, and Brasilia before his posting in Taipei. Drawing on his vast diplomatic experience and his educational background in History, Literature, and Theology from the University of Bonn, Mr. Eberts spoke on a range of topics — from Germany’s history, culture and politics to its bilateral relations with Taiwan.
As the first guest speaker to speak in this lecture program, Mr. Eberts said he very much appreciates exchanges with academia because “everyone needs to get out of their little worlds from time to time.” He said he enjoys connecting with young people and welcomed questions from the audience.
He also strongly encouraged Taiwanese students to study in Germany, not only because the tuition is free, but because “we appreciate your input into our academic life … bringing us the globalization, we need more than ever.” The Ambassador said that Taiwanese students are perfectly suited to German universities.
He advised Taiwanese students interested in pursuing a degree in Germany to have a basic comprehension of the language before going abroad and also to look into less well-known universities. “If you’re not considering engineering, physics, and other sciences, you don’t really need to go to one of the most elite universities. You may be better served in smaller universities,” he explained.
Since 2013, Taiwanese students obtaining a degree in Germany has increased by 200 people each year, reaching 1433 people in 2016, according to ETtoday.
Germany is the fifth largest economy in the world and Europe’s largest economy — so it is unsurprising when Mr. Eberts said that most people misconceive Germany as solely a country of high technology while ignoring the importance of its cultural heritage. “I wish to present both sides of Germany,” he said.
This year marks the 500 year anniversary of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation so Mr. Eberts began the presentation on that note and went on to give the audience an overview of the history of Germany — from the Holy Roman Empire to the German 1848 March Revolution, the two World Wars, and The Cold War.
Addressing the Holocaust, he said, “It’s part of our history, it’s part of our political culture, it has an overwhelming influence on our society and policies — including our foreign policies.”
When later asked by Professor Chun-Yi Tsai regarding the reflective tone she observes in the German exchange students in her Taiwan Through the Lens of its Museums class, Mr. Eberts explained that the history of the Holocaust is repeatedly taught at different levels of Germany’s education system.
Teaching about the Holocaust and the Nazi era is mandatory in German schools. In addition to the classroom curriculum, almost all students have either visited a concentration camp or a Holocaust memorial or museum, according to PBS.
It is easy for students to think that “it has nothing to do with me, it’s two, three generations ago,” but Mr. Eberts said it is not personal responsibility but a national responsibility, and should never be taken lightly. “We need to teach every generation [about the Holocaust] or else the impression will slowly erode away — when there are no more witnesses to tell the stories.”
In his presentation, Mr. Eberts explained how Germany became an outcast after the Second World War and the European Union (EU) played a vital role in making Germany accepted as a civilized nation in Europe. He said that the EU has often been underestimated and simply perceived as an economic entity — since it encompasses over 20 percent of global nominal GDP — “but it is much more than that.”
Mr. Eberts believes that the EU is a success story based on a model of taking “one step at a time,” and by focusing on tangible solutions in the present.
He then shared his personal experience during the fall of the Berlin Wall which made him realize that history does not move according to iron laws because historical events have unfolded in unpredictable ways. “I think it was a political miracle that should not be taken for granted,” he reflected.
Mr. Eberts also commented on the Federal election in Germany this September when the Alternative for Germany (AFD), emerged as the third biggest party almost out of nowhere. “Just four years after it began as an anti-Euro party, AFD has claimed 94 seats in the federal parliament, winning over voters with its populist anti-immigration and anti-Islam stance,” reports BBC News.
Mr. Eberts observed the lesson of the AFD’s success was that, “We must think how can we win back the attention of people who are disenchanted and tend to believe the simplified version of what the world is and how it functions.” He emphasized the importance of rebuilding trust between the public and politicians, a process he thinks has just begun.
But he also said that political change is normal in a democratic society and that if the world is changing, but politics remain unchanged, “Then, I would be worried.”
Speaking on the bilateral relations between Germany and Taiwan, Mr. Eberts said, “Here in Taiwan we have a unique situation … We have a strong interest that East Asia — as a main region of growth in the world — to remain stable.”
A student from the audience asked if Germany would “ditch” Taiwan for China as they are offering far more “lucrative returns.” Mr. Eberts’ reply was, “Politics, especially foreign affairs, are not zero-sum game — if you give something to a big power, that is not in your real interest, it will only be consumed and not help you at all.” He noted that Taiwan and Germany enjoy a “value-based partnership.”
In response to a separate audience question, Mr. Eberts said that Chinese diplomats regularly complain about ministerial visits to Berlin from Taiwan. The German response has always been that “it has nothing to do with status; diplomatic relations or not, it is just cooperation.”
Other EU members have also taken this approach, Mr. Eberts added, because “we want to maintain a unified approach toward Taiwan — if we stick together, it’s easier to keep the basis of cooperation,” he said, pointing to the fact that 16 EU members have established offices in Taipei.
In addition to the many existing German institutions located in Taiwan for trade, academic exchange, and education, Mr. Eberts mentioned Germany’s plans to establish a southern council in Kaohsiung (⾼雄) “to help us make connections and keep in contact more closely.”
Taiwan is the fifth largest trade partner in Asia for Germany, and Germany is Taiwan’s largest trade partner in Europe, with Taiwan’s imports from Germany totaling NT$204.3 billion (US$6.74 billion) so far this year.
Mr. Eberts said that green energy is a field of bilateral collaboration that is developing the fastest and expects it to become more prominent in Germany’s relation with Taiwan. He also expects the two countries to collaborate further in aging population issues.
“If you forget about the labels, what we do together is amazing, what we do together is valuable,” he said pointing to Taiwan’s distinctive strength in soft-power and as a beam of light in democracy in the region, “this is why we have such a broad spectrum of cooperation,” he concluded.