The 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, which formalized the reconciliation of France and Germany following decades of war, was celebrated in Atlanta at the shared offices of the Alliance Française and Goethe-Zentrum Atlanta on Jan. 22.
Special guests among the 120 attendees included Amélie de Gaulle, great niece of Charles de Gaulle, and Annette Cantor-Groenfeldt, the granddaughter of Konrad Adenauer.
The treaty was signed in the Elysée Palace, the official residence of the president of France near the Champs-Elysées in Paris, on Jan. 22, 1963, by Mr. de Gaulle, while president of France, and Mr. Adenauer, Germany’s chancellor at the time.
Vicki Birchfield, associate professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, introduced the guests at the event sponsored by the French and German consulates general.
The event also marked the fourth year that the alliance and the Goethe center have shared the same space at Colony Square in Midtown with each promoting the cultures of their individual countries.
Dr. Birchfield traced the origins of the European Union to the European Coal and Steel Community established in 1952 with the hope of making another World War impossible by taking control of coal and steel – the products needed to make weapons – away from national governments.
Mrs. de Gaulle, who currently serves as France’s honorary consul in Nashville, Tenn., said that in his memoirs Mr. de Gaulle lumped together both World Wars from 1914-45 calling them “the 30-years war.”
Mrs. de Gaulle also recalled her great uncle’s comment about Chancellor Adenauer, “No one better than him could take my hand. But no one better than me could extend it to him?”
While these two historic figures shared differences of opinion concerning relations with both the United States and Russia during the height of the Cold War, they respected each other personally.
Mrs. de Gaulle and Mrs. Cantor-Groenfeldt humanized them with anecdotes of their childhood encounters with them.
In sharp contrast to his austere public persona, Mrs. Cantor-Groenfeldt remembered the chancellor’s fondness for cherry pit spitting contests with his grandchildren, and the fun he had chasing them about while he was wearing an Indian chief’s headdress.
More seriously, she said that she felt the two were able to accomplish the reconciliation because they both were devout “Catholics sharing something greater than fighting each other.”
Mrs. de Gaulle recalled her first encounter with President de Gaulle during a family lunch in 1967 at the Elysée Palace when she was 7 years old.
While her primary recollections were of the beauty of the palace and the pineapple dessert that she was served, she added “he was clearly very interested by us individually, kindly asking each of us questions about ourselves, listening carefully and taking the time to make significant eye contact.”
In their lives, they said that there was no avoiding their legacies and admitted that for that reason they may have moved to the United States where they had more freedom to develop their own lives without the constant gaze of public attention.
Both said that they had benefited personally from the treaty by having learned to appreciate each other’s cultures and that they supported its efforts to provide similar opportunities for today’s youths.
The current state of French and German relations was questioned following their presentations due to the tensions they are experiencing given Europe’s economic problems.
Christoph Sander, the German consul general, acknowledged differences of opinion over the future of the euro and the strains on the EU’s economies, but pedaled down the claims of an adversarial relationship.
In support of his view, he cited Germany’s support of France’s efforts to quell the Islamist insurgency in Mali.