Some 1,200 years ago, Emperor Charlemagne ruled over a huge territory from the Atlantic Ocean deep into Central Europe. But his empire was lost when his sons split it up among themselves, and ever since, there has been France and Germany.
Uneasy, mistrustful and often hostile neighbours for centuries, the two nations found themselves mostly in competition and confrontation.
The French may have admired the Germans for their sense of order and organisation, their deep digging philosophers and their extraordinary composers. The other way round, the Germans were envious: didn’t the French have a much lighter way of life, mighty and stunning gothic cathedrals (which the Germans copied) and the best red wine on the planet?
There has always been a great deal of mutual attraction, but beyond that, ever since King Louis Quatorze, the two neighbours were mostly at war with each other for three long centuries.
After the horror of the trenches during World War I, and the occupation, followed by the liberation of France in World War II, the leaders of Germany and France finally found a way out of the vicious circle of never ending warfare.
With four other immediate neighbours who had equally suffered from the old antagonism, they agreed to create the nucleus of what was to become the European Union, today uniting 27 countries under its roof. And between the two of them, France and Germany concluded, 57 years ago today, a treaty of friendship that was to change the negative dynamics on the European continent once and for all.
Ever since, our experience keeps telling us that Europe can move ahead when its two biggest continental players are in agreement, and that it will stagnate or even regress when they disagree.
The French-German engine, as we commonly refer to it, may be stuttering every now and then, but most of the time, it is running smoothly. For 57 years now, it has never run out of fuel. And if we will soon have to go electric, we will also overcome that challenge together.
This friendship is not a given; it is an ongoing adventure, more ambitious than anything else Paris and Berlin are doing, and it may always remain somewhat unfinished. But we have already come a long way. While acknowledging our cultural differences, we are joining forces wherever it makes sense – for our two countries, for Europe, and for the world.
Our leaders; Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, are determined to take things even further. Two years ago, at the Cathedral of Aachen, the ancient city of Emperor Charlemagne, they renewed their commitment to this special friendship and agreed on an ambitious joint political programme.
Our nations are very much aware of the necessity of keeping Europe together and moving the continent forward at a time of exacerbated confrontation between some of the major powers of today.
Europe, with Germany and France at its heart, needs to be united when it speaks to Africa, as this continent is finally raising its voice ever louder.
Our common history has been long and manifold and perhaps not always painful. As among French and Germans, we celebrate the signing of the Elysée Treaty in 1957, and wish to show our commitment to unleashing Africa’s huge potential and working for the future of our double continent, Africa and Europe.
Dr Conze is the German ambassador while Mr Aniambossou is the ambassador of France to Uganda.