Frank-Walter Steinmeier, federal president of Germany, was in Boston at the end of October to conclude a yearlong diplomatic initiative Germany launched to strengthen ties with the United States.
In remarks delivered at the re-opening of Goethe-Institut Boston on October 31, Steinmeier stressed the longstanding bond between the two countries and urged the two sides to focus less on “what separates us” and more on “what unites us.”
The Goethe-Institut, named after Germany’s most famous poet (and one-time diplomat) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, is a German government-supported cultural institution active worldwide. It has offices and a presence in 10 cities in the United States.
“I have come here as Federal President to raise our sights away from the day-to-day emphasis on tweets and tirades and beyond the indignation that is often both predictable and ineffective,” Steinmeier said, in what seemed to be references to U.S. President Donald Trump’s usage of Twitter to communicate his thoughts and feelings.
“I want to expand our horizons so that we can look back on our shared history and at things that will hopefully connect us in the future, things for which we need one another,” Steinmeier continued.
Germany’s troubled history
The German federal president emphasized in his speech that “the great question of our day” is “the fight to uphold democracy and freedom,” adding “there can be no democracy without America.”
Recalling his country’s own history, Steinmeier admitted that “democracy did not come easily to us Germans,” he said. “After the disasters in our history,” he said, referring to the period of Nazi Germany that became synonymous with inhumanity, the German people “relearned it [democracy] with, and thanks to, America,” he said.
Even as Steinmeier juxtaposed the black-and-white images of John F. Kennedy standing in front of Schöneberg Town Hall uttering “Ich bin ein Berliner” with colored images of Ronald Reagan urging then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” while standing at Brandenburg Gate, realpolitik, or politics based on practical objectives rather than on ideals, intruded on the call for unity and international liberal democracy.
The controversial Russian-German gas pipeline construction, known as Nord Stream 2, is set to advance to scheduled completion early next year, despite strong protests by the U.S., which is concerned that it would hurt Ukraine and Poland, Washington’s close allies in the region.
And a research professor of national security studies at the U.S. Army War College published an opinion piece in the Newsweek magazine with the headline: “Germany’s refusal to ban China’s Huawei from 5G is dangerous for the West.” In the article, the author warned that decisions to allow China’s telecom company, enmeshed in troubles in North America, to gain a foothold in Germany carry consequences equal to “nothing less than an abdication of German leadership in Europe.”
According to Rachel Ellehuus, deputy director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “broadly speaking, German leaders share U.S. concerns about Russia and China.” That said, “there’s always been a strain of anti-Americanism in Germany society, particularly among more pacifist, left-wing elements,” she noted in a written interview with VOA, though “at the end of the day, NATO and the transatlantic relationship have been and remain a central pillar of German foreign and security policy.”
Affinity for Americans
Daniel S. Hamilton, an expert on transatlantic relations at Johns Hopkins University, told VOA that German public opinion surveys consistently record “deep popular distrust of President Trump, yet still strong affinity for American society and American popular culture.”
As Hamilton sees it, tariffs levied on German and European products by the Trump administration and threats of additional tariffs on autos and auto parts “central to Germany’s manufacturing economy” couldn’t help but generate resentment among Germans.
In a sign that at least certain areas of U.S.-German relations are moving forward and not backward, the two countries’ military leaders recently signed an agreement aimed at achieving an unprecedented level of interoperability within the next seven years, premised on the belief that their joint ground forces are instrumental in keeping peace in Europe, as reported by Defense News.
Speaking in Boston, German Federal President Steinmeier vowed that Germany’s efforts to continue its alliance with the U.S. are set “in stone” far beyond a single Deutschlandjahr USA, that is, a year dedicated to German-American friendship described as Wunderbar Together.