Posts tagged ‘angela merkel’

April 20, 2010

Europe in “the Days of the Cloud”

The German tabloid BILD transformed an infrared image of the Icelandic volcano into an impressive title page over the weekend

WHEN I WAS ABOUT twelve or thirteen, I stumbled across H.G. Wells’s 1906 novel In the Days of the Comet at my local library. If I had been expecting a mind-expanding science fiction story along the lines of The Time Machine or The War of the Worlds, I was soon disappointed. Comet contains sci-fi elements, but it is clearly one of Wells’s “social” novels in which he laid out his vision of how much better the world would be if it were run according to enlightened socialist principles: An approaching comet foils both a young man’s plans for murder and an impending war between Britain and Germany by enveloping our planet in a strange cloud of gas that serendipitously arouses humankind from its moral torpor and permits it to resolve its problems through reasonable discussion. It’s a nice enough sentiment, although it’s hardly Steven Spielberg material.

Wells’s utopian premise is never far from my thoughts as Europe begins emerging from the vast cloud of hazardous grit and glass particles spewing from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland…


December 7, 2009

Berlin newspaper erects provocative new artwork

Peter Lenk's sculpture "Friede sei mit dir"

IT’S STORIES LIKE THIS that drive home just how different Europe and America can be from one another. On 15 November, 2009 the left-wing German newspaper Die Tageszeitung (“taz” for short) unveiled a provocative artwork by sculptor Peter Lenk on the wall of its Kreuzberg headquarters featuring a naked man with a five-story, fifty-two foot tall porcelain male member that narrows into a cobra head at the tip. And the man depicted in the installation is not just any man, but Kai Diekmann, chief editor of the right-wing Bildzeitung, whose highrise headquarters is within spitting distance – with an unobstructed view of the artwork.

To understand what could motivate such such a bizarrely counterintuitive image you first need to know something about the German press. Diekmann’s Bildzeitung, founded by publishing tycoon Axel Springer in  1952, is Europe’s largest-circulation newspaper, selling three millions copies daily across forty-four countries. The Bild tabloid is to German newspapers what Fox News is to American TV. Decades before anyone in the US had ever heard of Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, Bild was already out there rousing the rabble with anti-communist horror stories, faux populist outrage about the latest public sex or finance scandal, lurid celebrity gossip, a lavish full-color sports section and, its most popular feature, a daily topless photo of a buxom blonde model on the back page. While it has gained a lot of competition in recent years through cable TV and the Internet, its role in fomenting anti-student outrage in the late 1960s and early 1970s remains legendary…


November 10, 2009

Watching the dominoes fall in Berlin: Reflections on November 9, 2009

Brandenburg Gate

TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARIES ARE OFTEN melancholy affairs, no matter how happy and festive the occasion is. We can’t help but think of how much time has passed and how few of our dreams we have actually realized. Our joy over the past is often overshadowed by our ambivalence about the present. It is easy to ruin such an occasion. And that is what happened last night at the elaborate twentieth anniversary celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The orchestral music and the political speeches by Mayor Wowereit, President Sarkozy, Prime Minister Brown, President Medvedev, Hillary Clinton, and Angela Merkel at the Brandenburg Gate were okay – standard fare in this sort of situation – but then, by golly, somehow whoever was in charge of the event had the brilliant idea of handing the whole thing – and not just the broadcast – over to TV “personality” Thomas Gottschalk, who transformed this historic night into just another boring, wordy, utterly forgettable TV event.

I think this overblown talkshow would have bored anyone sitting at home in the comfort of their heated living room, but for the two million or so of us huddled together in the icy rain, craning our necks to watch the pageantry on one of the several giant TV screens set up around the government district, the twenty years separating us from the dramatic opening of the Wall on November 9, 1989 seemed more like two hundred, as if it had nothing whatsoever to do with our lives…


September 2, 2009

Angela Merkel commemorates outbreak of World War II

Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

ON SEPTEMBER 1, 2009, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders met in Gdansk, Poland, to commemorate the German invasion that began exactly seventy years before, touching off the Second World War in Europe. Merkel’s speech received an extremely positive response and was widely quoted in the press. Since I wanted to post her comments here to show just how far Europe has come since then, I searched for the text online and was surprised that there is still no official English translation of the entire speech. So I went ahead and translated it myself and have posted it here for free distribution.

The German attack on Poland seventy years ago today marked the beginning of the most tragic chapter in European history. The war Germany unleashed brought immeasurable suffering to many peoples – years of oppression, humiliation, and destruction.


No country has ever suffered as much suffering in its history as Poland under German occupation.


Particularly in this dark time, which we are talking about today, the country was laid waste. Towns and villages were destroyed. After the crushing of the uprising of 1944, no stone was left standing in the capital. Random cruelty and violence permeated everyday life. Scarcely a single Polish family remained untouched by it.


Here at the Westerplatte, as the Chancellor of Germany, I commemorate all Poles who were subjected to unspeakable suffering due to the crimes of the German occupiers.


The horrors of the twentieth century culminated in the Holocaust, the systematic persecution and murder of the European Jews.


I commemorate the six million Jews and all others who suffered a cruel death in German concentration and extermination camps.


I commemorate the many millions of people who lost their lives in battle and in the resistance struggle against Germany.


I commemorate all those who died in innocence as the result of hunger, cold, illness, the violence of war, and its consequences.


I commemorate the sixty million people who lost their lives because of this war that was unleashed by Germany.


There are no words that could even come close to describing the suffering of this war and the Holocaust.


I bow my head before the victims.


We know that we cannot undo the atrocities of the Second World War. The scars will remain forever visible. But we have our own task: to shape the future in the consciousness of our enduring responsibility.


In this spirit, Europe has transformed itself from a continent of horror and violence into a continent of freedom and peace. That this has been possible is nothing more nor less than a miracle.


In the process, we Germans have never forgotten this: That Germany’s partners in the East and West have smoothed this path through a willingness for reconciliation. They have extended the hand of reconciliation to us Germans. We have clasped it in gratitude.


Yes, it is a miracle that in this year we need not only think back to the abysses of European history seventy years ago. It is a miracle that we can also think of the happy days that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany, and the unity of Europe twenty years ago. After all, Europe’s path to freedom was only made complete with the fall of the Iron Curtain.


Back then, in the tradition of Solidarnosc in Poland, people everywhere courageously pushed open the gate to freedom. We Germans will never forget


  • the role played by our friends in Poland, Hungary, and former Czechoslovakia,
  • the role played by Mikhail Gorbachev and our Western partners and allies,
  • and the role of the moral power of truth that no one embodied more convincingly and credibly than Pope John Paul II.

It was thus also an issue of Germany’s special responsibility to smooth the path of Poland and the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe into the European Union and NATO, and to stand alongside them.


Yes, it is a miracle, it is a blessing, that we Europeans can today live in freedom and peace. Nothing symbolizes the difference to 1939 better than the close, trusting cooperation between Germany and Poland and the multitude of friendly relations between our two countries.


The unity of Europe and Germany’s friendship with its neighbors owes its strength to the fact that we face our history. The chairmen of the German and Polish Bishops Conferences summed this up in their recently published statement on today’s anniversary. I quote:


 ”Together we must look to the future, which we would like to approach without ignoring or playing down the historical truth in all its aspects.”  


When, in my country, we today also recall the fate of the Germans who lost their home regions as a result of the war, then we always do so in the spirit described by the bishops. We do it in awareness of Germany’s responsibility, with which everything began. We do it without trying to rewrite anything in Germany’s enduring historical responsibility. This will never happen.


And it is precisely in this awareness that today – seventy years later – I have come to Gdansk. To this once sorely afflicted, but now gloriously restored city.

Mr. President, Mr. Minister President, your invitation to me to attend today’s commemoration as Germany’s Federal Chancellor touches me deeply. 

I understand this as a sign of our trusting neighborliness, our close partnership, and the true friendship between our two countries, between the people of Germany and Poland. I would like to express my profound thanks!

August 31, 2009

When politics is only “skin-deep”


IN GERMANY, POLITICS HAS traditionally been a serious business. But this year, with the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU)  expected to continue its uninspiring grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) following the September 27 election, all parties are willing to take a few more chances than usual and even show a little skin. And yet, even in this traditionally sexist society there are still a few no-go zones that one enters at one’s peril.

The new trend really got going in early August, when shapely fifty-seven year-old CDU candidate Vera Lengsfeld, a former East German dissident from the hip Berlin district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, posed for an electoral poster alongside a stock image of an equally ample Chancellor Angela Merkel above the words “We have more to offer.” Merkel’s own wildly controversial photo, showing her in a low cut dress at an opera performance in Oslo, Norway, had already hit the tabloids a year earlier…