Germany has no desire to dominate other countries but it needs to leverage its post-war experiences of democracy and prosperity to play a bigger role on the global stage, President Joachim Gauck said.
Germany, still haunted by its Nazi past seven decades after the end of World War Two, remains reluctant to send troops abroad even on peacekeeping missions. It faced criticism from allies in 2011 for abstaining in a U.N. vote backing military intervention in Libya and declined to join the operation.
Gauck, 74, a former pastor and human rights campaigner in communist East Germany, caused a stir with a speech this month saying Germany must stop standing on the sidelines and act more quickly, decisively and substantially in foreign crises.
"I'd like to see Germany playing a more active role in the European and global context," Gauck told foreign journalists late on Wednesday in comments partly aimed at clarifying the speech he made on February 2 at the Munich Security Conference.
"It's my view that we need to take on more responsibility," he said, adding that it was not a question of Germany imposing its views because it knows "what's good for the world".
"(It is) rather that we've had good experiences with democracy and we want to share that rather than use it against anyone or to dominate anyone."
In Germany, the president is a largely ceremonial figure with few executive powers but is expected to serve as a source of moral authority above the political fray. Gauck took office in March 2012.
Gauck told the Berlin foreign press association (VAP) he felt a need to speak out after hearing pleas during his travels around the world for Germany, which has Europe's largest economy and the world's fourth biggest, to do much more.
"I keep getting asked the same questions whether it's in India, in South America, or northern Europe: 'So what are you Germans doing? Why don't you get more involved?'"
Gauck said he did not want to discuss specific ways in which Germany could play a bigger role because that was for the government to decide.
Gauck admitted he once hated Germany because of its Nazi past and said he understood perfectly well why it was difficult for many of his compatriots to endorse Germany getting involved in international issues, including military action abroad.
"When I was younger the words 'I'm proud of Germany' would never have crossed my lips," said Gauck. "When I was a student I hated this country because of the calamity caused by my parents' generation. I felt homeless as did many of my generation."
Gauck said he wanted in particular to reach out to an older generation of Germans, which still bears a burden of guilt from the war, to remind them of the achievements of the past six decades in terms of democracy, civil rights and the rule of law.
"It's an appeal to older Germans to believe in the good things they have created and not only the bad," Gauck said. "Have enough faith to pass the positive experiences to others."