The last two weeks provided opportunities for me to visit two regional German centres covering issues ranging from heritage links to the latest developments in transport technology.
On Friday 18 May, I travelled to Wiesbaden to attend a wonderful ceremony, hosted by the Hesse State Minister for Culture, Boris Rhein, at which I accepted on behalf of the Birch family a Royal Australian Air Force hat badge that belonged to Flight Sergeant Ernest Hugh Birch. Flight Sergeant Birch, a 21 year old from Bunbury in Western Australia, was the only Australian crew member of a Halifax Bomber who was killed with three of his comrades when their bomber was shot down over Germany during the Second World War. The hat badge was rediscovered in 2014, 70 years after the crash, during an investigation of the site by Hesse Archaeology.
Prior to the handover ceremony I had the opportunity to visit Hesse Archaeology, where I met and thanked a number of the archaeologists who participated in the dig and the conservation specialists who cleaned and preserved the hat badge. I really enjoyed the opportunity to speak to the very passionate members of the team and to discuss the excavation of the bomber site and some of the other amazing archaeological finds that have been made in Hesse over the years.
We are in the process of making arrangements to have the hat badge returned to the Birch family in Western Australia. I want to pass on my sincere thanks to Hesse State Minister for Culture Boris Rhein and Dr. Udo Recker from Hesse Archaeology for their hospitality and efforts to ensure that Flight Sergeant Birch’s hat badge makes it way home.
Last week I also accompanied Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, The Hon Warren Truss MP, Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, to the International Transport Forum (ITF), held in Leipzig. The ITF is held annually, and Australian ministers attend when the opportunities arise. It provides a great opportunity for Ministers to meet and help better connect people in their own countries and throughout the world. Deputy Prime Minister Truss spoke on panels about a number of modern transport policy challenges, from how to regulate shipping to drones (a cutting edge transport technology). He also used the gathering of fellow transport ministers to meet with his counterparts from the European Commission, Germany, France and Japan – all of whom had interesting thoughts on how to use infrastructure projects and new technologies to better connect us. For me personally, it was interesting to visit Leipzig and see the immense transformation the city has gone through in the 33 years since my first visit. Some people are referring to it as the ‘new Berlin,’ and I expect its future is bright.