Berlin Speakers’ Corner
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Speakers’ Corner At The Brandenburg Gate
On 9 November 2011, SCT in partnership with the political think tank and human rights campaign Zentrum für Politische Schönheit (the Centre for Political Beauty) and supported by Google, brought Speakers’ Corner to Berlin.
A specially designed temporary Speakers’ Corner was set up at the Brandenburg Gate to commemmorate the 22nd anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and to celebrate the right to free expression which the events of 1989 helped to secure for all German citizens.
In an almost five hour event – until the light began to fade and the cold set in – more than thirty people queued up to speak, including distinguished guests Professor Gesine Schwan, President of the Humboldt-Viadrina School of Governance and a former candidate for Federal President, Dr Uwe Lehmann-Brauns, Father of the Berlin Parliament and British academic and journalist Timothy Garton Ash who debated with the crowd in German. SCT’s Director Peter Bradley opened the proceedings.
But most importantly, the Speakers’ Corner provided a platform for a wide range of campaign organisations and members of the public of all ages and backgrounds to express their own ideas and opinions and debate with their fellow citizens. All their contributions were filmed and Google has upoaded them to a dedicated YouTube channel to gain an even wider audience.
Peter Bradley said, ” it’s really important that we not only cherish but also exercise the freedoms that so many made such sacrifices to secure. A generation has passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall and it’s vital that this event does not become just a page in a history book.
“That’s why we came together to celebrate it on 9 November – and the best way to celebrate free speech is to exercise it!”
(You can read Peter Bradley’s opening remarks here.)
Max Senges of Google explained why Google was behind this initiative: “Google is a worldwide advocate for free speech and freedom of expression. Every day our technologies help to bring millions of people around the world into contact with each other and to disseminate information. Free speech and freedom of expression does not take place only on the net but must be excercised in everyday life. With the support of Speakers’ Corner events we want to set an example for this.”
Speakers included two ladies in their nineties brought to the Brandenburg Gate from their retirement home by the Zentrum to ensure that they could enjoy their right to speak.
There was dance from a group of secondary school girls from Wedding and music too from the trio Kreismal and from two very talented rappers.
Many organisations and campaign groups were represented among the speakers including Transparency International, the Tibet Initiative, the Amazonian Initiative Movement (which campaigns against female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone) and the anticapitalist Occupy Berlin movement.
Others spoke for the Jewish and Turkish communities, on behalf of the uprising in Syria and the victims of civil war and poverty in Congo, against censorship in Russia, for the rights of divorced and separated fathers to have fair access to their children and for the retention of public open spaces in Berlin.
The day was a spectacular success. It was not only well attended despite the low temperature but also very widely reported by press and media.
Moreover, before the event was over, a number of Berlin-based organisations had already expressed their intention to work together to establish a permanent Speakers’ Corner in the heart of their capital.
*Photographs courtesy of Patryk Witt.
Speakers’ Corner At Alexanderplatz
On 31 August 2012, Speakers’ Corner returned to Berlin, this time to Alexanderplatz, the great Square which on 2 November 1989 saw the great demonstration which paved the way to the breaking down of the Berlin Wall seven days later. The event was again sponsored by Google and this time the organisation was led by the Centre for Political Beauty. Several videos of the event, including SCT Director Peter Bradley’s contribution, can be viewed through YouTube.