The Arlington Sister City Association will host a panel discussion – “The Charlemagne Prize in Germany: Its History, Arlington Connection and 2022 Award to Belarusian Activists” – on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Marymount University’s Ballston Center, 1000 North Glebe Road.
The annual award, largely focused on European unity, is bestowed by the city of Aachen, Germany, Arlington’s first Sister City. Through the years, a number of local officials have attended the awards ceremony, held each spring.
At the Feb. 7 event, a political officer from the German Embassy will discuss the purpose and history of the prize, and Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey will discuss her experiences attending past prize ceremonies. Panelists also will talk about the three Belarusian democracy activists (Maria Kalesnikava, Svietlana Tsikhanouskaya and Veronica Tsepkalo) who were the joint recipients of the 2022 prize.
The award was established in 1950, just five years after the end of World War II; Richard Eijero, who spent nearly a half-century as founding president of the Paneuropean Union, was the first recipient.
The award is presented annually. Among better-known statesmen who have received it are Konrad Adenauer (1954), Winston Churchill (1956), George C. Marshall (1959), Henry Kissinger (1987), Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterand (joint, 1988), Vaclav Havel (1991), Tony Blair (1999), Bill Clinton (2000), Angela Merkel (2008) and Pope Francis (2016).
Aachen, located in far western Germany near Belgium and the Netherlands, knows well the horrors of World War II. In October 1944 and only after fierce fighting, it was the first German city to be taken by U.S. Army personnel; most of the few civilians who had not fled the city hailed the Americans as liberators, but German SS units exacted revenge by assassinating the German mayor who had been installed by occupying forces.
(Although Aachen was located in the British occupation zone for the four years that followed World War II, its residents picked up a decidedly American pastime. The city is one of the few in Europe where the sport of baseball took hold among youth.)
The Charlemagne Prize is named in honor of perhaps the first practitioner of European unity – although, like Frank Sinatra, he did it his way.
Charlemagne (Charles the Great) unified much of Franco-German lands by force in the late 700s, and in 800 was crowned Holy Roman Emperor at the Aachen Cathedral, where today both his unadorned stone throne and the gold-and-silver casket holding his remains can be found.
By his death in 814, Charlemagne’s Frankish empire included all of modern-day Germany, most of present-day France, the northern half of modern-day Italy, plus what today comprise Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and portions of various other European nations.
At his death, that sprawling empire was divided among his sons, but the concept of a pan-European confederation (the Holy Roman Empire) lasted in various forms for nearly 1,000 years until it was dismantled by Napoleon.
By the end it was the loosest of political/economic confederations, a shadow of past glories; the philosopher Voltaire in 1756 famously quipped that it was “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.” But from its remnants, the German empire emerged in 1871.
The Feb. 7 event is co-sponsored by the Aachen and Ivano-Frankivsk committees of the Arlington Sister City Association. For free tickets, see the Website at https://www.aplos.com/aws/events/the_charlemagne_prize_in_germany.