Angela Merkel: The jeans my aunt sent me that created my picture of America

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The Independent Online

The land of unlimited opportunity – for a long time it was impossible for me to reach. The Berlin Wall, barbed wire and the order to shoot those who tried to leave limited my access to the free world. So I had to create my own picture of the United States from films and books, some of which were smuggled in from the West by relatives.

What did I see and what did I read? What was I passionate about? I was passionate about the American dream – the opportunity for everyone to be successful, to make it in life through their own personal effort. I, like many other teenagers, was passionate about a certain brand of jeans that were not available in the GDR and which my aunt in West Germany regularly sent to me.

I was passionate about the vast American landscape which seemed to breathe the very spirit of freedom and independence. Immediately in 1990 my husband and I travelled for the first time in our lives to America. We will never forget our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. It was simply gorgeous.

I was passionate about all of these things and much more, even though until 1989 America was simply out of reach for me. And then, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. The border that for decades had divided a nation into two worlds was now open.

And that is why for me today is, first of all, the time to say thank you. I thank the American and Allied pilots who heard and heeded the desperate call of Berlin's mayor Ernst Reuter as he said: "People of the world ... look upon this city."

For months, these pilots delivered food by airlift and saved Berlin from starvation. Many of these soldiers risked their lives doing this. Dozens lost their lives. We will remember and honour them forever.

I thank the 16 million Americans who have been stationed in Germany over the past decades. Without their support as soldiers, diplomats and generally as facilitators it never would have been possible to overcome the division of Europe. We are happy to have American soldiers in Germany, today and in the future. They are ambassadors of their country in our country, just as many Americans with German roots today act as ambassadors of my country here.

Taken from the German Chancellor's address to the US Congress on Tuesday