Summer and Fall

RIAS Germany Program – Summer
June 12–27, 2004

Thirteen American journalists in Germany: Berlin, Brussels, Frankfurt/ Main and Leipzig. Individual extension program for two participants.


Laurie Bley, Sanford Institute, Duke University, Durham, NC

It quickly became apparent that we were in for an intense trip when, directly after signing on, we began to receive the friendly barrage of themed recommended articles, books and films. It is indeed an excellent idea to prepare as much as possible, try to get a grasp of background, a sense of current issues, bone up a little on language skills. Understand, though, that it will in no way be enough. Beginning to work on our stamina early was also a tremendously good idea, but again, thoroughly insufficient, because the trip simply exceeded anything you might imagine, in quantity, in substance, in warmth, in lasting impressions.

What struck me first is not just that the residue of history is so present, in Berlin for example, a city that has been so busy building itself, but that there is a willful, deliberate, and pervasive attention to history and that the meaning of the past is continually being negotiated, redefined and expressed. So much of the new re-built portions of Berlin seem to be loaded with symbolic gestures. The Reichstag, for example, is so designed that the building itself seems to perform the ideas of government as well as house it, and the public art works offer changing perspectives that make the observers into participants and the message constantly renewable. Then there are the conscious choices to retain visible pieces of the past in Berlin, the shell of the bombed out church sitting on a street of fancy shops, the hideous and dilapidated Palace of the Republic of the former GDR, or the scar of the old wall in the pavement throughout the city, a cobblestone seam, all these choices seem likewise loaded with symbols, as much about ethical as aesthetic ideas.

I expected to be deeply moved by a visit to Sachsenhausen, but what struck me most was the layering of events, what we thought we knew about a particular history continually being contextualized and recontextualized. I hadn’t considered the almost seamless transition of the concentration camps into prison camps after the war. And our visit to the Stasi prison reminded us emphatically that it was not so long ago in use. One of the most searing moments of the whole trip for me was when Dr. Knabe, the director of the Hohenschönhausen Memorial, commented to us by way of introduction to the prison, “All of this resonates more keenly in light of recent photos from Abu Ghraib, particularly horrifying to us because we have associated terrorization of prisoners with horrible oppressive regimes. “ I think the efforts that Germany has made and continues to make to be accountable to the burdens of a complicated and difficult history are surely a lesson we can draw on and from which none of us are immune.

I had not one but two of the most moving experiences I have ever had when exactly this burden of history was demonstrated for us as a triumph of spirit. I will never forget sitting with Mr. Zahn, former prisoner at Hohenschönhausen, in his very cell, while he recreated the experience of imprisonment for us. I was unspeakably moved when he quoted for us one of the sonnets that he repeated to himself in order to keep his sanity and I was very sure that I myself do not know enough poems. For all he has been through, for all he relayed about specific horrors and oppressions, he conveyed to us a genuine warmth and humor that seemed to hold no bitterness. I thought it was a tremendous lesson about the choices we can make, individually and as societies, about what we can do with history. I was also deeply moved by our meeting with the Vicar of the Nikolai church, Christian Führer, and his incredible story of the non-violent movement, the Monday Demonstrations, that led to the downfall of East Germany. Mr. Führer told us that the genesis of the protests was his invitation to people who did not share religious beliefs to come to his church, stressing what they shared and not how they differed. Not only was it an honor and a privilege to meet this man, but his story seems particularly inspiring and an important lesson in tolerance and openness just now as religion and politics are becoming ever more contentiously conflated in the United States. I had more experiences and learned more information on this trip than I would have ever thought possible. I mean our list of meetings is a sort of who’s who and what’s what of important issues: the political parties, culture, economics, immigration, labor, environmental policy, the EU, the Euro, the role and relevance of NATO; what didn’t we tackle? And all this information was reinforced, but also complicated and even confounded by experiences and impressions in the margins of the schedule. We spoke with the Green Party representatives, but I didn’t really understand how environmental issues reverberate until I saw people riding their bikes, in suits and skirts, even in the rain, until I learned that Potsdamer Platz was designed so environmentally friendly that the toilets and washing machines are run by rain water collected on the roof, or that people must pay for the waste they produce, until I noticed that not once during our whole trip did we use any paper plates or plastic cutlery. And we spoke about the EU and the Euro, but I really came to understand the interconnectedness and complexities of uniting Europe, and defining Europe geographically or culturally or economically, when scanning the TV stations in my hotel room and seeing programs in German, French, Italian and Spanish, even Dutch. Certainly, too, our formal discussions of the issues of reunification and the implications of history became so much more compelling when I stood on the balcony of my host’s apartment and saw bullet holes in the walls of the apartment across the street, or when a woman we met who had grown up in the East described how she had watched from the window of a tall building the funeral of her grandfather across the wall.

I could go on and on. The point is, the entire experience was simply extraordinary and continues to provoke and inspire. Sincerest thanks to the RIAS foundation for this incredible experience. We enjoyed not only the substance, but the stylish and incredibly generous way we were treated. As one of my companions commented about our luxurious accommodations: “I couldn’t figure out all the switches in my room — I kept turning the paintings on and off.“ And endless heartfelt thanks go to our astonishingly good hosts for the thoughtful, inspired, and ambitious schedule, for their generosity with explanations, insights and advice, for their dancing skills, for their relentless gracious warmth, wit, and good will, for their mastery of detail and logistics (and for never having lost Benson).


Amy Jo Coffey, University of Georgia, Athens, GA

It is with the utmost appreciation to the RIAS Berlin Kommission that I submit these impressions of Germany. Past RIAS participants have described the two-week program as “incredible” or “life-changing.” I would have to agree that it is both. It was an unparalleled opportunity with intimate access to Germany’s political, social, and economic leaders. Their desire to impart their perspectives to American journalists, to exchange information, and to give so abundantly of their time was appreciated more than they will know. The results of their efforts and those of RIAS, for me, is a more holistic and accurate perspective on what and who Germany is, as well as who she hopes to be…a perspective that, as a journalist-educator, I will be able to impart upon many students for years to come.

The People

Germans are gracious hosts and educated, engaging conversationalists. This is how I would describe both the brief encounters as well as the long visits with various Germans while on the RIAS program. Access to the students of Humboldt University was valuable to me. German students are inquisitive, with a healthy appetite for international perspectives and debate. Unlike some American students I have taught, there is a desire to keep up with current events locally and abroad, and to become politically engaged sooner in life. The result is a more participatory attitude toward politics and German (and European) society at large. My German RIAS hosts in Berlin were delightful. They treated me to a wonderful home-cooked meal (see below) and I enjoyed some of the most engaging conversation and debate on this evening. The political climate between Germany and the United States and the war in Iraq proved to be lively dinner topics, as well as a rich opportunity to exchange information and views to which we each were not previously exposed. Germans who I encountered on the street or by happenstance were equally wonderful hosts.

The Government

What an opportune time to be a special-access visitor to Germany. We arrived on June 13, the day of EU parliamentary elections. On that day, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) had the worst performance at the polls since WW II, losing two-thirds of their voters. This was a major setback for Chancellor Schröder, and an indictment of the many social welfare reforms he has tried to promote.

Germany finds itself in a challenging situation, as it tries to increase productivity and remain competitive with new European Union members while maintaining the standard of living to which many Germans have grown accustomed. Among the current issues facing Germany, labor industry woes intrigued me the most. I appreciated our time with Mr. Torben Albrecht of Der Bund der Gewerkschaften, who outlined many of the issues under contention, from the increased utilization of freelancers by companies as a way to skirt benefit provisions, to the lack of apprenticeships for young Germans, to the trend toward free movement of services (e.g. using contractors and workers from Poland). While Germany is struggling with these issues at present, I am confident that these troubles are temporary and that in time, acceptable productivity and growth levels will return. Innovation and a strong work ethic are two of Germany’s strengths!

“Reunification education” was perhaps the most helpful to me, both as an American citizen and as an educator. Hearing about the costs associated with this national endeavor, combined with information on (East German) investment, unemployment, and apartment vacancies from Germans with varying perspectives, was enlightening. I felt as if I came away with a more accurate, if more complex, understanding of what reunification truly entails.

I also appreciated the German debate on the construction of an immigration policy. It was interesting for me to observe how a more “homogenous” society which has never had such a policy, must adapt to changing circumstances and put formal policy in place to meet the needs of its people. To this end, I gained much from our conversations with Turkish parliamentarian Özcan Mutlu of the Greens Party and federal migration commissioner Ms. Marieluise Beck. Despite being swamped with work and under deadline, she made time for us to discuss this important topic. This is indicative of the quality of the treatment, access, and hospitality we received while in Germany.

The Media

It’s a small world when it comes to media consolidation. The very issues that are facing media corporations in the United States (cost-cutting, stock prices) are also facing those (privately held) in Europe. NTV is one German company facing corporate pressure; discussions were underway during our stay to consolidate operations. Our visit to NTV was a reminder that news production is news production, no matter where you are, and that journalists basically operate in the same way. In fact, on a basic level, the packaged commercial (television) news product, with the exception of language, looks nearly identical from one country to another. (Although reporting styles admittedly vary between Germany and the U.S. , with U.S. news tending toward the sensational.)

Our exposure to German media outlets was limited during our program, but this was due to one cancellation at Private Saxony Radio. Also, Germany’s public broadcasters offer a unique product which I would like to have seen in person. However, our discussions with other journalists in Germany (Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg, Deutsche Welle, Reuters, and the many German RIAS Fellows, etc.) were helpful.


What perhaps surprised me the most about German culture was the near absence of religious practice. Our German hosts, parliamentarians, and other government officials mentioned this on numerous occasions, suggesting that not only was this a difference from the United States, but that perhaps this was on the minds of Germans. It was paradoxical to realize that the center of the Reformation movement now counted just 10% of its population as “religiously-practicing.” Indeed, churches in which Martin Luther and others preached, and which RIAS participants toured, sit idle as museums. More perplexing was Germany’s Jewish community. Once persecuted for practicing their faith and now free to do so, German Jews overwhelmingly do not practice, according to Jewish Community (Berlin) executive director Michael May. He described Germany as a “secular society,” adding that most Jews go to synagogue only three times per year. As a music lover, I appreciated Germany’s rich musical heritage while in Leipzig. From the Gewandhaus Orchestra concert arranged by RIAS, to the Johann Sebastian Bach museum and boys’ choir concert I took in at Thomaskirche, where Bach was choirmaster, Leipzig’s music scene amazes. I would be remiss if I did not comment on my appreciation of German cuisine. From my first German meal in Berlin to the home-cooked meal I enjoyed at the home of a former RIAS Fellow, I was in gastronomic heaven. Spargel, of course, was my favorite, and the white variety at that. I have collected one or two spargel recipes, but I must say they “just don’t taste the same” here! Germans know how to do desserts as well, and I enjoyed the fresh pastries and tortes morning, noon, and night. Germans’ eternal love for football (soccer) became a spectator sport for the RIAS Fellows during our stay. I enjoyed celebrating with the Germans as the team took on several Euro Cup opponents during our visit. Observing the post-game pandemonium and the waving of German colors at Potsdamer Platz is something, I believe, that can only be “experienced!”


Benson Ginsburg, CBS News, Washington, D.C.

“Berlin, condemned forever to become, and never to be”. Carsten, our sturdy, enthusiastic guide reminded us of this quote from nearly a hundred years earlier. As the tour bus carried us twelve Fellows through the streets I wondered why this thought would still be valid. Seven hundred fifty years of fiefdoms, monarchies, dictators, democracies and still Europe’s largest country seemed unsettling. It was remarkable how conscientious the planners of the new Reichstag considered the French, British and American contribution to West Germany’s survival after the Second World War. Wherever you looked, from brass markers cemented in the sidewalk marking the door step from which someone was deported to a death camp, to the bombed-out remains of a cathedral spire I wondered why this country, which had come to terms with its ghosts — more so than most of its neighbors — still had a certain sadness. From my brief time as a local flaneur — I really wasn’t lost — and in our discussions with legislators and members of the bureaucracies there was worry about the future of Germany. Veteran Rias colleague Stefan took me to several locations in Berlin and I had a chance to speak with Berliners. Some complained and all had hope that the future would be brighter, eventually. The officials, like Ulrich Klose, chose public service as their life’s work and that is an asset for the country. Nicole Sonne took us on a highly informative tour of the Reichstag, from the Soviet graffiti to the Foster roof to the transparency {democracy} of the Löbe Building. When Marieluise Beck discussed immigration and foreigner affairs it brought home how difficult the issue is in Germany. Another facet of this problem was put on the table at the Agora restaurant in Prenzlauer Berg. Member of Parliament Özcan Mutlu had interesting suggestions for textbook and curriculum reforms. He argued that headscarves were a symbol of disintegration and should not be worn by representatives of the state. Dr. Horst Seferens led us to the buildings and past the ghosts of Sachsenhausen. Although this former concentration camp, which became a special camp after 1945, closed in 1950, I was reminded of the suffering many in East Germany continued to endure many decades after WW II. Torben Albrecht connected the enormous labor problems to our visit to Franfurt/Oder where the population is dwindling and migrating westward for employment opportunities. At the same time the Bundesgrenzschutz have their hands full trying to keep the Eastern border secure. The visit to Leipzig yielded surprise after surprise; I’m sorry I missed the 3pm concert. The chance to visit the Porsche factory and pull some Gs was a great bit of fun that no one should miss. All in all the days spent with Rias in June were some of the best I’ve had on the road and I thank everyone for their efforts in making the visit so enlightening.


Claudia Hinojosa, KXTX Channel 39, Dallas, TX

My experience in Germany was enriching in many different aspects; the opportunity to live amongst such accomplished journalists from all over the country. We not only shared the opportunity to see first hand the journalistic process that is practiced in Germany, but together we experienced the culture and the wonders of this European country.

It was an honor to be selected into the exchange program, being from Mexico this experience was far more significant than I could have ever imagined. It’s with great pride that I hope to transmit this enriching experience to our Telemundo viewers.

Having had the opportunity to walk into the German Parliament on the week of the EU parliament elections and to hear the members of the different political parties exchange in dialogue only enriched my perspective of German politics.

The visit to Sachsenhausen, an area that was used as a concentration camp was one of the most profound experiences that I had. Also the former East German Stasi prison: To have listened to an ex-prisoner talk about his experience had by far one of the most significant impacts on my life. It only strengthened the value and appreciation of the liberty which we have today.

It wasn’t enough seeing German journalists in action, I was fortunate enough to actually work with them. With the help of several very gracious German photographers, I was able to produce a series of reports on the anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. The reports highlight life before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was also able to produce reports on the Latin American immigrants living in Germany, and how despite their distance from their countries they have managed to find success and work in this European country.

A few months after my exciting visit to Germany, I got the opportunity to sponsor and host the visit to Dallas of a German journalist. Without a doubt, her visit enriched my relationship with the country, because I got the opportunity to share with her our system of informing and news gathering here in the US compared to the system that German journalists are accustomed to.

The German journalist that I hosted spoke Spanish, so she was able to experience and see first hand how we work at Telemundo and she also spent a few days observing how NBC produced their newscast. This in turn gave her the opportunity to see two different systems of news gathering and communication geared to two completely different audiences living in the same country.

I highly recommend other journalists to participate in this exchange program. I believe whole-heartedly that it’s our responsibility as journalists to be aware of all that is going on outside of our country and our continent. By doing so, we’re not only enriching our coverage of all world events but we are also providing our viewers with a more accurate coverage and perspective of the news they trust us to deliver to them.


Dan Hockensmith, WAKR-WONE-WQMX, Akron, OH

As I sat in my high-backed, overstuffed chair in Leipzig’s Gewandhaus, listening to the strains of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C-major floating around the hall, I took a look around. On my right, Claudia Hinojosa of Dallas was nodding her head in time with the beat of the music. One row below us and to my left, Guy Nelson of Seattle was wearing that little smile his Fellow RIAS program participants often noticed creeping across his face. To my far left, Nihar Patel of Culver City, California, had his chin balanced on his hands; fingers curled over his cheeks, elbows on his knees, lost in a moment. I glanced back one seat closer to me and made eye contact with David Patrician of Washington, D.C. He flashed me a grin and nodded. I looked back onstage, where the orchestra had gone silent and pianist Richard Goode was launching into another interpretative passage. Then it hit me: We really had accomplished something. Earlier that day, our group of 13 American broadcast journalists met Leipzig’s Lord Mayor Wolfgang Tiefensee, who spoke to us of his goals for the city of about 500,000 people, which lost its bid to host the 2012 Olympics — but remains unbowed. It’s a place where workers daily smash into rubble the socialist-realist architecture of the former German Democratic Republic to make way for more efficient, humane buildings. This is happening amid double-digit unemployment and a great national debate about the value of continued tax subsidies for development of cities in Eastern Germany. That same morning, after a whirlwind sightseeing tour of downtown Leipzig, our group met the Rev. Christian Führer of St. Nicholas Church, where during the 1980s small prayer services gradually turned into the massive street demonstrations that helped draw the curtains on the GDR. Führer spoke to us of what it meant to bring light (figuratively and literally, through the candles protestors held while they marched) to people living in the spiritual darkness of a totalitarian state. He also told us what his church is doing today to alleviate problems no one talked about when East and West Germany reunited: unemployment, homelessness, drugs, and other social ills — including hopelessness. After getting what by then had become our group’s daily dose of German history, politics and uncertainty about the country’s social and economic future, we boarded a bus for a tour of the nearby Porsche factory, where the carmaker assembles Cayenne SUVs and high-performance Carrera GT two-seaters. Then it got downright fun. On my first trip at 100 mph through the Porsche test track’s hard curves (in the back seat of a Cayenne), I forgot to brace myself for the g-forces we’d encounter. But as my head bounced off the vehicle’s ceiling, I looked over at my young, cool-as-a-cucumber driver and thought: Why worry? This guy made the trip 20 times today and he’s not even breaking a sweat. From then on I just sat back and marveled at the engineering. I later rode the circuit in a Carrera GT and loved it. The fact that a German carmaker continues to invest huge sums (127 million euros by its own admission) in a plant in the economically-depressed East speaks volumes about the commitment of Germans to truly reunify their country 15 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In Berlin, I discussed national healing with the pedi-cab driver who took me from the Reichstag past the Brandenburg Gate to Potsdamer Platz, site of the shiny temples of capitalist consumerism erected since 1989 by DaimlerChrysler and Sony in the former no-man’s-land between East and West Berlin. The cabbie told me that although there’s a lot of criticism about the methods and the pace of rebuilding Berlin, especially in the former GDR part, it’s something that needs to be done: “Berlin is always changing. If it wasn’t changing, it wouldn’t be worth living here.” That comment sums up what I found out about Germany in general during my two-week visit. I heard a version of it in the presentations we received from representatives of political parties in the Bundestag, who spoke on their slightly different visions of employment, immigration and social-welfare reform. The point was hammered home to my group by Özcan Mutlu, a Green member of the Berlin city council, when he spoke of the vast divide that exists between ethnic Germans and Turkish immigrants and the attempts being made to close it. Michael May of the Jewish community in Berlin, whose members face the double task of dealing with the complex history between Germans and Jews, as well as the present-day struggle of Jews over the depth of their affiliation with Israel, managed to sound optimistic about the future — even while casting doubt about the effectiveness of the German police officers who were fixtures outside every synagogue our group passed in Berlin. I heard another variation on the theme during our tours of Sachsenhausen concentration camp and the Hohenschönhausen Memorial, the former Stasi prison in East Berlin. At Sachsenhausen, curators plan to restore the long lines of barracks where Jews, homosexuals, communists, journalists and other opponents of the Nazis were herded under the barrels of machine guns. They’re rebuilding the crematorium where thousands of murdered prisoners’ remains were burned. A few hundred meters away, work continues to catalog the abuses of Soviet troops after they turned the camp into a special prison for Germans who were deemed politically unclean. At the Stasi compound, our guide Eberhard Zahn amazed us with his description of reciting Shakespeare from memory to preserve his sanity for 10 months in 1954 while submerged in the “U-boat,” the isolation cells in the prison basement. I spent a few minutes interviewing Zahn. He told me the biggest part of his recovery from a seven-year stint in communist prisons was not only to remember the experience in all its painful detail, but to talk about it with others and to simply get on with living his life. That could be a metaphor for how Eastern and Western Germany continuously are coping with reunification. As we learned from students majoring in American studies at Humboldt University, there are a lot of misperceptions about the United States and its culture of “style over substance” that have gained ground with younger Germans, particularly since the war in Iraq began. I didn’t feel any heavy animosity toward me as an American visiting Germany; I did get called on the carpet once or twice about U.S. aims in Iraq. A few of the German RIAS Fellows accused the American news media of being too jingoistic and not skeptical enough in their coverage of the war. That’s a criticism we’d do well to heed. I found our encounters with German journalists to be delightful. I was amazed at the knowledge they had, not only about Germany and the United States, but about the various nations of the European Union. I learned that downsizing of newsrooms is becoming the universal norm. And I discovered U.S. broadcasters can’t hold a candle to Germans when it comes to in-depth political coverage!

Trips to Brussels and Frankfurt/Main were nice, but businesslike. I did enjoy sipping Belgian beer at the brasserie Le Cirio with Rainer and Isabell from RIAS (something that took my mind off losing my passport on the bus from Brussels airport). When our group in Frankfurt met Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, I couldn’t help but think for a second about my great-grandfather, who spent the best years of his life working down a coal shaft in Eastern Kentucky. I wondered, if he were alive again, what he’d think about the way the group of war-torn nations who banded together in 1952 in Paris to coordinate coal and steel production has developed into today’s EU with its parliamentary structures and increasingly common currency. Anyone who knows anything about the centuries of blood-soaked relations between Germany and Poland would have been uplifted by our group’s trip to the international border at Frankfurt/Oder. Eating trout in S?ubice on the Polish side was a treat, but it paled in comparison to talking with university students from both sides of the Oder. It turned out many of them were dating people from the opposite banks of the river. Even more incredible: Thanks to Poland’s new EU membership, we could walk across the bridge between Frankfurt and S?ubice with nothing more than cursory ID checks by border guards. It made those low Polish prices on vodka and cigarettes even more tempting! I have to wonder what will happen once Poland converts from Zlotys to Euros and how many of those college kids will join the brain-drain of job seekers fleeing to Western Europe?

All of this came at me in a rush of recollection during the concert at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. I saw to my immediate left and right two very tired RIAS staffers, Sandra and Isabell, who did the legwork that made everything possible. In front of me sat Rainer, who played the gracious host in three countries to a group that occasionally wanted to go in 13 directions at once — something like herding a sack full of fleas! I think it’s safe to say they did their job well. From me, who never had been to Europe, to the most seasoned world-travelers in my RIAS-sponsored group, everyone gained something. I can’t think of a single person who didn’t lap up the politics, history and culture set before us — and leave feeling we’d just skimmed the surface. Personally and professionally, the RIAS program left me re-energized and more committed than ever to learn about the world and what drives it. I think the trip is the best thing I’ve ever done.


Philip Jensen, KIDK-TV, Idaho Falls, ID

The ghosts and the Geist

It’s impossible to stand on the dilapidated surveillance balcony of the old Sachsenhausen concentration camp headquarters without looking across the expanse of grass below and seeing the ghosts of the thousands once imprisoned there. These spirits were among many that haunted me throughout Germany, helping me understand the current national Zeitgeist, or soul, I witnessed in the living. On the front line of the most dramatic recent change, Berlin revealed the most poignant ghosts and the essence of Germany’s geist. Many of its spirits were tragic. Some suffered violent deaths while attempting to cross the line that split families, friends and onetime compatriots. Other ghosts appeared in the confined dungeons of the East German secret police prisons, given living voice by former prisoner Eberhard Zahn, who recalled the horrors of his torture and confinement in a cramped basement cell at Hohenschönhausen, while conveying a powerful optimism and love of the country that almost concealed the pain of his intense suffering. Zahn’s passion, but not his hope, was shared by many Humboldt University students, who provided a candid sense of the spirit of German young people. Some spoke of doubt about what they perceived was a rush to reunify Germany after the collapse of the East. As other students revealed that they expected to have to leave the country to find a good job, their voices and expressions conveyed a mood of gloom about the prospects of an economy seemingly mired in malaise, stuck between long-held expectations of government support for the working class and the demands of the global business world that rewards cheap labor and long working hours.

The weight of the country’s economic dilemma was also evident in comments by a member of Chancellor Schröder’s Social Democratic Party, who told our group the day after European parliament elections that they had been “a disaster” for his party and Schröder’s Agenda 2010, a plan to make Germany’s economy more competitive with other industrialized nations. Representatives of the other parties, while generally pleased with the poll results, acknowledged that reforms are necessary to stop the economic slide, whether voters realized this or not. Reforms may come if the Zeitgeist gaining momentum in Leipzig spreads to other parts of the country. In the city where the Reverend Christian Führer presides over the ghosts of thousands he rallied for democracy at St. Nicholas Church in the 1980’s, sparking the implosion of the East German government, Lord mayor Wolfgang Tiefensee typifies a can-do and will-do attitude that appears to be steadily energizing his city. Tiefensee is a charismatic leader with an optimistic vision of the future. Attempting to shake off years of economic decay, Leipzig is abuzz with ambitious construction projects and a belief that it is an Olympic-caliber city. To counter the exodus of Germany’s youth to other countries for jobs and education, Tiefensee wants to build a strong university program in Leipzig. He hopes this will attract and create a large skilled-labor force that will in turn draw higher-paying employers. As leaders in other parts of the country become more aware of Tiefensee and his successes, including attracting Porsche’s newest factory to Leipzig, his determination may infect modern Germany’s Zeitgeist.


Lauren Lipton, KYW Newsradio, Philadelphia, PA

From the moment I arrived in Berlin to the moment I left Leipzig, this was an incredible experience. There were many unforgettable moments. Among them:

Touring the beautiful cities and countryside of Germany, being able to feel the texture and atmosphere of each place we visited and to simply walk across a bridge to enter another country (Poland) was wonderful. I am still in awe of the access that our hosts enabled us to have with officials and important community leaders. I was amazed by their candor. Learning about Germany’s rich history, being able to hear first hand about its triumphs and its problems, seeing the devastating events that created these problems and exploring the difficulties encountered in trying to solve them, was an education.

It was amazing to see Berlin as a reunited, vibrant city in contrast with the remains of the Berlin Wall and other reminders that this city used to be a divided one.

In Leipzig, to be able to talk with the one man who encouraged a movement that led to the reunification of Germany, was so moving. Even though he was speaking in German and a translator was turning it into English, you could almost understand what he was saying because of the emotion in his voice and face. What a human being, and what a difference he made. I thought often throughout the trip of how big a difference one person can make, as well as how much individual acts of heroism or evil can matter.

The visit to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. As we drove up to the camp, the streets were filled with lovely little houses, flowers were blooming everywhere, children were laughing and playing. Then you go inside. There is no laughter, no one is playing, no flowers, just the bleak remnants of evil and testimonials of misery and horror. Outside the camp, the weather is sunny and pleasant. Inside, there is a raw, cold wind. Someone who had been there before commented that even if the sun is shining outside the walls of the camp, the weather is always unpleasant inside.

Going to the retreat where the Wannsee conference was held, it was hard to believe that such darkness came from such a beautiful place. You walk up the dirt path surrounded by majestic trees. You look out at the gardens outside the large back bay window. And then you read the eye witness accounts of both the SS officers conduct, what people went through after being taken from their homes under pretense and the chilling accounts of the individuals who lost their lives because of the decisions made here.

The Jewish Museum in Berlin was an equally moving experience. The way it was designed as well as the accounting of lives lost and lives destroyed was unbelievable. I will never forget the work of art by Menashe Kadishman, the “Fallen Leaves”. It was as if the faces were weeping and I weep along with them.

I was so moved by the former prisoner of the Stasi Prison, who gave us a tour. He is such an incredible tribute to man’s spirit. And his honest, gut wrenching account of his interrogation and captivity was heart-breaking.

Being able to sit across from the equivalent of Alan Greenspan in the United States, and ask him what suggestions he had for the U.S. was incredible. Listening to how the Euro currency was flawlessly introduced was fascinating.

Meeting with students from Poland who were thrilled at being able to go to a German University and listening to their joy and their thirst for knowledge was inspiring.

Having my “blind date” with a German journalist and her husband, being invited to go to their house for dinner and then watching the soccer match with a group of their friends later that week, was not only informative but great fun. It was a great way to learn first-hand some of the personal feelings that Germans have for the United States and Americans in general. We were told to ask whatever we wanted and I did, eliciting honest, sometimes entertaining, sometimes upsetting, but always enlightening answers.

The trip to the Porsche plant was a highlight. To actually take a ride around the test track was exhilarating. It was just so much fun to let your hair down and let loose, and watch everyone else do the same.

I am still reflecting on the trip, the people, the experiences and the history. I will for a long time. There has not been a day since I returned that I have not thought about some aspect of my trip. Thank you to the Rias Berlin Commission and to everyone, who made this unforgettable journey possible.


Allison Martin, CBS News, Los Angeles, CA

The City Building in Leipzig, East Germany is half covered with gray soot. In front, the grand entry welcomes visitors; at the back, workers gradually try to clean decades of built-up filth from the outer walls. Leipzig’s City Hall is a physical representation of something more…a people slowly emerging from decades of gray to enter an era of light. Leipzig lived through years of turbulent history peppered with cruelty and oppression. Yet the inspiration of common people in the city led to the revolution that helped break down the Berlin Wall and reunite a country. Today, fresh young people spill out from hip cafes with inspirational energy. In dance clubs, they’re shaking to the same tunes as yuppies in California. Leipzig was even a contender for hosting the 2012 Olympics. As a RIAS Fellow, I had the fortunate opportunity to see and experience this transformation unfolding. Our group of talented journalists talked to the pastor who led revolutionary marches; interviewed the enthusiastic mayor; even danced in the disco with free-spirited young adults. There is still a little gray soot in Germany, an underlying spirit of uncertainty and instability. The apprehension of the people scarred by a history of force and abuse haunts this new, modern Germany. The country’s birthrate lies well below the replacement rate. Social programs suffer, partially from a slim minority of skilled workers supporting an aging population. There is no doubt the people and programs of Germany struggle. Just ask the labor leader, the historian, the bank representative, or the man selling wares on the cobblestone street. We did. Besides our study of Germany’s domestic issues and rich history, as RIAS Fellows and hungry journalists we were able to learn about the emerging power of the European Union at an actual EU press briefing and see the inner workings of NATO from literally inside NATO’s headquarters. The RIAS program exposes American journalists to the process of a transitional, evolving nation and the culture and traditions of a legendary people through unforgettable experiences.


Guy Nelson, KUOW-FM, Seattle, WA

“A Comprehensive Look at Germany in just Three Weeks”

The history of Germany over the last century is rich and complex. It ranges from the unimaginable horrors of war, to astounding economic successes and to the challenges of reunification. Touching all those bases in a short time is a formidable challenge, but the RIAS Fellowship presented a thorough look at Germany’s affairs, its place in Europe and its relationship with the United States. Let’s start with the thrills. Who could forget racing around the Porsche test track at close to 200 miles per hour in a Carrera GT at the company’s new factory in Leipzig? It followed a tour that showed us how the sports car and the new SUV Cayenne are assembled, and how the company has become one of the most profitable auto makers in the world. Yes, heaven will definitely be a place where Germans build the cars. Also in Leipzig, my heart was touched by the personal stories of Mr. Christian Führer, the vicar of the Nikolai church. He recounted how thousands of East Germans prayed, marched and held candles in their peaceful protests for freedom during the late 1980’s. The moment of truth came on a November night in 1989 when the marchers faced lines of armed East German soldiers and security police. Would they be fired on? They were not. The wall came down, the socialist dictatorship ended and the massive reunification began.

Berlin has since rebuilt itself in a fury, replacing the no-man’s land where the wall stood with shopping mega-plexes, like Potsdamer Platz, and the new Bundestag headquarters. The government buildings combine stunning architecture with symbolism of the past. We sat down with several of the people that work in those buildings to discuss current political issues. Representatives from the major parties told us about the difficulties Germany faces in its huge effort to reform its social and economic systems. Unemployment is too high, wages are stagnant, welfare is too generous, immigration policy is archaic and business regulations are too severe. Those are the comments echoed over and over by politicians, business leaders and average citizens. The burden of reunification has been tremendous and the German economy, which steamed ahead in the 1960’s and 70’s, has fallen far down the ranks of Europe. There is a surprising popularity gain for the Green Party, which further points to voters’ dissatisfaction with current leadership under the Social Democrats. On the bigger European stage, Germany still holds a powerful position. In Brussels we toured headquarters for both the European Union and NATO. The EU is putting final touches on its constitution and integrating ten new member nations. The richer nations are concerned that they’ll be flooded with poor immigrants who will steal jobs. The EU wants to ease trade and labor movement between countries while preserving their economic stability. NATO is redefining itself — from an organization formed to keep Soviet tanks from crossing into the West into an organization aimed at protecting its members from global terrorism. That means having the capacity to airlift troops and equipment to places in the world that may be far outside NATO’s traditional boundaries. What do Germans and other Europeans think of the US-led war in Iraq? That was a question we asked nearly everyone we met. Virtually every German said they were against the actions of US President George W. Bush. They said he led the coalition into the war on false pretenses and has no effective plan to end the war and establish stability and security in Iraq. Opinions among other European nations seemed to vary. A NATO spokesman said, “There are 26 countries and you’ll get 26 different opinions.“

I spent the final four days of the RIAS Fellowship in Berlin on an extension program. That meant going to a different radio station each day so I could observe their daily routines and talk to various managers, reporters and producers. The four stations were: RBB Radio, Deutschland Radio, Deutsche Welle and Inforadio. What impressed me most was the network system they all have to share correspondents and stories. German public radio, like public TV, is funded by a direct tax of about $20 a month on listeners and viewers. The money pays for a broad radio service with bureaus in each state and correspondents around the world. The result is wide-ranging and informative coverage of the issues. The downside is that most of the people I talked to admitted that political leaders such as Gerhard Schröder don’t consider radio interviews as important as TV appearances and are therefore difficult to get on the air. What made the trip special overall was that we not only had access to high-ranking political and business leaders, but that we also talked with students and average people to see how they are affected by these issues. Our discussions were almost always candid and very interesting.


Nihar Patel, National Public Radio, Culver City, CA

When visiting another country, it always helps to arrive at just the right time in history. In the June of 2004, our group was fortunate enough to witness a major shakeup among the German political parties following an election, a historic enlargement of the European Union and NATO, the recent death of Ronald Reagan, and possibly the most bitterly contested war on the continent since the Cold War… the European Cup.

And while I was witnessing history as it was happening, pilgrimages to Sachsenhausen, Wannsee and Potsdam, or a former Stasi Prison — these places that inform us of the past — became that much more poignant. When I visited Germany as a tourist four years ago, it was simply about viewing historical relics that when pieced together, begin to tell the complicated story of Germany through the centuries. But I doubt I knew very much about what was happening in the present. As I look back on my two incredible weeks in Germany, what stands out is that by strolling through the different neighborhoods of Berlin, or between the shimmering glass monoliths in Frankfurt am Main, or seeing it all blur past me at 200 kilometers an hour in a Porsche Carrera GT, that Germany is not at all what I expected. Reportedly one of the largest percentages of citizens that are vegetarians compared with other European countries; this is Germany, land of blood sausage and schnitzel? A country where one of the most popular television personalities, the host of “Was Guckst Du?” is Turkish? But with each day that passes, everything is illuminated; for a foreign journalist, Germany is definitely an exciting and fascinating place to experience. What pleased me most about the trip was how wonderful it was to say that you were here because of RIAS, and then to have people open up their arms to you because of this. In fact, most of what I have learned about the legacy of RIAS was through random people I spoke with who told me how often they listened to RIAS decades ago. After the fallout from the Iraq war, there isn’t a lot of goodwill that will be spared to a group of Americans traveling abroad. But RIAS seemed to remind Germans I met of a time when the United States helped other nations when they needed it most.

With all the incredibly thoughtful and well-organized trips and meetings, I’m surprised to say that looking back, what I enjoyed most was just the face-to-face interaction with either young journalists in Berlin or young students at Humboldt University. In essence, communicating with my peers meant a lot to me. I’m fairly new to journalism having just graduated university a few years ago, and looking ahead to what the next forty or fifty years have in store for our two nations and the world as a whole, I was able to see that the same concerns and challenges they recognized for the future were very similar to the ones I envisioned. I plan on staying in touch with the ones that I met, so over these next decades, we’ll be able to witness history together as colleagues and friends.


David Patrician, Voice of America, Washington, D.C.

The 2-week RIAS journalist exchange program was intense, informative and above all, most enjoyable! It provided me with the unique opportunity for cultural and professional exchanges in a foreign country. It was also a sort of homecoming. During high school I was an exchange student for one semester in Pinneberg, Germany, through Sister Cities International. I lived with a host family, traveled throughout both West and East Germany and had the chance to learn and practice German. As I returned to Germany with RIAS, I was able to glimpse how much the country had changed over the past 15 years since the demise of the Berlin Wall.

Our program began with individual dinner meetings with former German RIAS journalists. My partner for the evening has been working for Deutsche Welle. My current experience with the Voice of America led to a very interesting discussion comparing our two organizations. We covered a wide array of subjects ranging from annual budgets to recreational activities.

The next two weeks were filled with meetings with top-level officials in the German government, the European Union, and NATO. In Berlin our tour of the Reichstag Parliament building was fantastic. By chance, we were there the day after European elections. We were able to talk with top-level government officials on the importance and future implications of these election results. A meeting with the Commissioner of Migration, Refugees and Integration shed light on the struggle Germany faces with issues such as high unemployment, out-dated social policies, and large immigrant communities trying to integrate into German culture, as well as those who refuse. The decline in Germany’s population and a continuously rising life expectancy means a noticeable aging of German society. Such demographic developments will create enormous political, social and economic challenges, with which Germany must begin to deal today.

One meeting in Berlin that stood out for me was with a Green Party member, who was also an immigrant. He talked about the struggle immigrants face in learning German and being accepted into German society. Issues such as lack of immigrants in public positions or on television reminded me of similar struggles that have occurred here in the US with minority groups.

In addition to our meetings and seminars, we also had a chance to partake of a rich cultural palette. Some highlights include: a very memorable viewing of the opera “Don Carlo’ by Verdi (definitely a unique interpretation!); a tour of a Porsche factory followed by a test ride in a roaring Carrera; an amusing variety show in the infamous Chameleon cabaret in Berlin; a symphony concert in Leipzig; and a farewell dinner at “Auerbachs Keller”, the famous restaurant from Goethe’s Faust.

The European Union and the United States are the two largest economies in the world and have the biggest bilateral trade and investment relationship. By working together, the US and the EU can promote their common goals and interests in the world much more effectively than they can separately. Shared fundamental values unite us, including respect for human rights, individual liberty, democratic government and economic freedoms. People to people exchanges, such as the RIAS program, can only help preserve and strengthen this relationship.


John Pertzborn, KTVI-TV, Saint Louis, MO

Germany; a Time Machine in Transit

Berlin is not recognizable as I crane my head back and forth in the back seat of a taxi racing from Tegel to my RIAS hotel in the former Eastern part of Berlin. The driver and I banter back and forth in basic German as he points out all of the changes since my first RIAS trip in June of 1995. It’s nine years later and I feel a bit like a man in Novelist Jules Verne’s “Time Machine”. Memories from the first trip are still crystal clear but they don’t match with what I’m now seeing. The sea of cranes, replaced by new buildings. Check out the Sony Center! In 1995, it was merely a mound of dirt that an old history book claimed was once Hitler’s bunker. “Wo sind wir jetzt? Ost oder West” , I can no longer tell were East Berlin begins and where West Berlin ends, or is it the other way around. The 50 year old incomplete puzzle with a gap between Capitalism and “Communism” is now physically filled in and I didn’t have a clue as to where they stuck the glue. There is a lot of catching up to do, not only with Germany but with my Fellow Journalist who have a one week head start on this fact finding mission. Our first night together we attend the Chamaeleon Variety show in what was once a run down section of East Berlin. The show is much better than it was nine years ago and much more crowded as are the streets, packed with people attending clubs and discos. What was once a dilapidated colorless area is now replaced with enthusiastic energy including look-a-like blond haired prostitutes the locals call “Barbie Dolls”. Inside the discos we discover that East Side German men don’t like to begin dancing until someone else takes the initiative. Fortunately we have an KUOWFM dancing machine, News Director Guy Nelson. This quiet man has more movements than a Swiss watch. Within five minutes the dance floor is packed and all it takes is an animated American man to wind up all the watchers. This same East German reluctance to be on the disco stage is experienced several times during our visit including in Leipzig on our final night. But politically, the whole of Germany is on stage and in a big way. The biggest step was taken last year when Germany chose not to march in the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. I’m asked several times if Americans dislike Germans for not joining the invasion. I explain that most Americans understand Germany has had its fill of war during the last century and do not judge. I also explain that there are many Americans who wish the U.S. had followed Germany’s and France’s example and stayed out of Iraq. What’s more important however, is that Germany as an independent entity has made a decision not to follow the U.S.! For the first time since the end of WWII, Germany takes a major step away from its democratic mentor demonstrating it’s a full fledged independent democracy. This time a United Germany is the first on the international peace time dance floor and to Germans and many Europeans it appears George Bush doesn’t know the steps.

Hello Brussels, goodbye Germany; well not exactly. Today, Germany’s influence is sprouting inside of Brussels, the base for the EU. Few countries want the EU to succeed more than Germany. Financial mistrust and border insecurity during the 20th century helped fuel two world wars. The EU provides a forum for this European family to grow together rather than apart. There’s a new constitution which “creates a legal personality”. Even if this constitution doesn’t receive 100% acceptance by the 25 member states in October of 2004, the EU leadership plans to keep pushing it as the only viable option.

I need a haircut! Who would have thought that NATO headquarters in Brussels would have a beauty salon. When waging war or acting as a deterrent, one must look their best and NATO has a team of French speaking beauticians ready to serve those who are follicly challenged. Not only that, but NATO can deploy anywhere in the world in five days! Long gone are the days when the Alliance only protected Western Europe. Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan is a good example of the far reaching NATO influence. When the U.S. was attacked on 9-11 by terrorists trained in Afghanistan, NATO invoked Article V; “An attack on one is an attack on all”. However, NATO backed off from supporting the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. The debate today is “The right to fight”. The 26 partner countries do not always agree but they look at NATO as a marriage. As the 18th century author Samuel Johnson once said, “Marriage may be full of pain but celibacy has few pleasures”. Marriage is an excellent metaphor for the way in which the European Central Bank controls its “Monitory Policy”. Few disagreements cause divorce more than a financial dispute. Look back at the 20th century and you will discover financial inequity as the root cause of most wars. Enter the Euro. Our visit with Jean-Claude Trichet, president of ECB continues to be valuable in understanding the New Europe of the 21st century. How far will the Euro spread? No one knows. Today there is no definition of Europe according to Trichet. 15 countries currently are within the Euro-area not including a major holdout namely the UK; however, Trichet believes it too will eventually join the Euro financial boundary.

Leipzig is alive! By far this remains one of my favorite cities. Could it be that my stomach remains somewhere at the Porsche factory race track lying next to Rainer’s? Possibly it was the emotional talk given by Herr Führer at the Nikolai Church or the optimistic view of the future shared by Lord Mayor Wolfgang Tiefensee. Leipzig has a young population which is needed for any city to succeed in the future. It’s young, but remains in touch with its past as is evident from some of the public sculpture. Bach is here and as Rainer is quick to point out, so was Napoleon until he was pushed back during the Great Battle of Leipzig or “Völkerschlacht”. This is a fact Rainer will never forget for the rest of his life! This is also an adventure I will never forget either. Being back in Germany nine years later to witness all of the changes is a valuable experience; doing so with a fine group of Americans and hosts like Rainer Hasters, and the beautiful Isabell Hoffmann and Sandra Fettke only made the experience all the more heart-warming.

Yes, Germany continues to change but I’m happy to say some cultural aspects remain the same. One night in Frankfurt as I am walking down a WIDE sidewalk, a young woman riding a bike approaches from behind. Instead of going around me, she begins ringing her little bell and stops. I turn around and face the irritated woman and ask what is wrong, “Was ist los?” She quickly points out my error. How could I have been so stupid? Yes, it is true, this time I have crossed the line of cultural insensitivity; I am truly an ugly American! You see, I’m walking in the bicycle lane. I step a foot to my right and she is on her way shaking her head probably thinking about how much things are changing as I ponder how much some things stay the same.


K.C. Schillhahn, KTTV, Los Angeles, CA

RIAS and Me…

I have had more trouble beginning the summation of my Rias experience than I did with all the essays I wrote for the initial application. So much of what I came away with is related to what I arrived with.

Besides a single sensible piece of luggage with all the wrong clothes (apparently northern Germany doesn’t have summer), I also carried along a great deal of memories. Arriving in Berlin I found myself looking back nearly thirty years when I was last in the then divided city, as a young student on tour with classmates. I have few photographs but many lasting images of what was my first exposure to Europe and a communist country. To say I didn’t recognize Berlin is a given after so much time, but what seemed really foreign on this trip was the pessimistic zeitgeist I encountered among the many and varied strata of people we had the opportunity to meet. I was struck with two words I heard repeated again and again as we met with government officials, bankers, students, immigrants and Fellow journalists — reform and transparency- not necessarily in that order, but both relative to today’s Euro-centric Germany.

The proposed changes are heady, changes that will unavoidably reach into every German citizen’s life. Issues such as working hours and social benefits, long considered a basic right under the republic. The definition of citizenship itself is under debate as Germany seeks to fill their labor gap and come to terms with their resident foreign population. The nation is still trying to find its footing both economically and socially more than 15 years after reunification. On top of all this there is the rapid centralization of the European economy and society under the fantastically important and equally complex European Union. I came to believe that the general creaking and groaning I heard from officials and residents alike is that of a society trying to look back as it looks forward. That’s where I believe the function of transparency fits into modern-day Germany. I don’t think there is another society that has been more taken to task for its past than Germany. The result is a unique introspection and world retrospective of a turbulent and destructive 20th century. The past is decidedly front and center in all facets of life. William Foster’s glass dome on the Reichstag building is an eloquent and tangible expression of a nation determined not to repeat its mistakes. I was greatly affected by the witnesses to history we met who shared their stories with us. From the former Stasi prisoner re-telling details of his ordeal while seated in the same cramped nearly airless cell he had been imprisoned in, to the crusading religious leader that lead an agnostic population in a flashpoint East German city to a peaceful revolution. History — good, bad and ugly is honored and the lessons learned left in legacy to successive generations; still, it may be history itself that is proving to be the largest drag on Germany today. While meeting with members of the financial community I heard a common lament about the passing of Germany’s “miracle” years. The miracle in question — the amazing economic and social rebound in the later half of last century. There seems to be wistfulness in looking back to the “good old days” of full employment and low inflation. I think this attitude blinds one’s view to the miracle that is present-day Germany. Looking back only obscures the future and biggest wonder of all, today’s re-unified Germany. While not complete or even always successful, the East-West integration is one of the largest scale examples of nation-building and population re-integration in my lifetime. It was intriguing to spend so much time in the East, to see the continued development of Eastern towns flush with federal funds, whose skylines are now defined by cranes and scaffolding. I was impressed with the amount of work already completed such as the basic infrastructure necessities of new roads, water and power, housing and airports, but I was also struck by the work yet to be done. Important but intangible goals like better social integration and parity for those disenfranchised by the reunification are yet to be gained. An example of the problem is the Rotkäppchen winery in Freyburg, a rare Eastern business that is still thriving after unification. Under Eastern control the company employed roughly 500 people in an aging plant with sub-standard machinery. Today, the process is a re-tooled, streamlined operation that employs about 30 people. We were informally told that unemployment in Eastern cities could reach as high as 25%. There’s more than a new infrastructure needed to cure the ills that comes from such devastating conditions.

I was lucky to learn the stories of a number of journalists from both sides of the former border. There were Westerners who remembered the difficult pioneer-like conditions they encountered when they first moved East, and from both sides I heard of workplace and social segregation. Although I was often told people were tired of “East — West” issues, I witnessed a heated exchange between university students that spiraled back to the question of who had the greater gravitas because they came from “the deep dark East”. That people are identifiable as Eastern or Western simply by a turn of phrase or attitude tells me that it might take another generation before Germany is truly a unified nation. Clearly change is difficult for a country that strives to synchronize its past and future, but I believe it’s the heat generated by the friction, for instance between East and West, past and present, that will break the log jam and fuel the inevitable reforms. Whether Germany will ever look back with a sigh to the “miracle” of reunification is hard to predict, but Germany’s giant leap forward onto the world stage has made it more than a relevant power from the past, but instead an important catalyst for this century. What I came away with from my Rias experience is a stronger faith in the process; a reminder of the universal resistance to change that is tempered by the inevitable march of progress.

Read more

RIAS Germany Program – Fall
September 18 – October 3, 2004

Twelve American journalists in Germany: Berlin, Potsdam, Dresden, Frankfurt/Oder and Munich. Two days in Brussels. Individual extension program for six participants.


David Akerly, WLNS-TV, Lansing, MI

There was the Germany I expected to experience, and then the Germany I did experience.

No amount of pre-trip reading and research could fully prepare us for the whirlwind tour that awaited us in Berlin, and points beyond. But all of that reading and research was at least a good start.

When people tell you in advance that during the two weeks of the RIAS Exchange program you’ll be packing in the equivalent of a semesters worth of study for many college students, believe it. The itinerary is full, and covered a wide range – from the political, meeting with leaders of the German political parties, and their counterparts in the European Union, to the social, hearing from representatives of the Labor movement and the resurgent Jewish scene in Berlin, and economic, with insider access to some of the important cogs of the German business machine in Bavaria.

Around those and many, many others were crammed the cultural items, like a trip to the Berlin Staatsoper, a visit to the Cabaret, even a wine tasting with a real Prince! But some of the most thought-provoking and long-lasting memories of the RIAS program were the ones that didn’t stand out when I first saw the formal agenda.

One of them had to be the “blind-date” that was randomly arranged for us with a former RIAS fellow who had been through the program in the United States. My good fortune was drawing that of TV and film director Thorsten Klauschke and his family. The evening we spent enjoying dinner and a brew along one of Berlins beautiful lakes, and the following engaging conversation about the current state of affairs between the United States, Germany and the EU, was very illuminating and gave me a new perspective on how Germans see their role, and ours, both in the world, and in our separate sphere of the media.

Another highlight of the program was the chance to break away here and there from the scheduled itinerary, and that free time, though limited, gave me the ability to hop around on the incredible public transportation system, or simply hoof it…and meet some people. Back home, that doesn’t happen. Like most of my fellow “fellows,” the chance to be anonymous in our business isn’t an option, but it certainly was in Berlin, Munich, Brussels and Dresden, although the ever-present map and phrasebook practically screamed tourist, I’m sure.

Still, those moments stand out. The Turkish woman from Kreuzberg Mehringplatz who didn’t speak a lick of English, or even much German, taking the time with her friend to steer me to the right direction when I got hopelessly lost on a walk. The waiter in Brussels who had been told that no one could emigrate to the U.S., and when I told him it wasn’t true, sat down to share a beer – on duty – and hear more about my side of the big pond, and then wouldn’t accept a tip. The guide in Frankfurt/Oder who debated politics – civilly – with me on the train ride back to Berlin. The wonderful people I interviewed under, literally, the Brandenburg Gate to avoid a rainstorm. They all apologized for their command of spoken English, yet they all spoke so eloquently, and their answers were better than the questions. After watching the tape when I returned home, I had more questions for them. Perhaps another time. Sure, I could go on. But you get the idea. On this fellowship tour, I think it’s the little moments that count for a lot, as much in fact as some of the big ones that are so very well planned out.

It’s my understanding that the RIAS program was initially set up to bridge cultural gaps and promote education and understanding in the aftermath of German reunification. But in light of world events over the past few years, the program may be more important now than when it was founded, as instead of primarily the physical wall that came down around Berlin, we now focus on the invisible wall that appears to be going up, ever so slowly, on the relationship between Germany and the United States.

To sum it all up, the RIAS exchange is all about what you put into it. If you go to Germany expecting to see that things there and in Europe are very different than what we have in the U.S., and that the political, economic, social and media viewpoint mirrors those differences, then that is exactly what you will see. But if you take the time to listen carefully, and look beyond what appears superficially, you might just come away with the feeling that we still have some things, some important things, in common.

And these days, that is a very good thing, indeed.


Brooke Allyson, WQOW-TV, Eau Claire, WI

I am not sure how I can sum up one of the most important experiences of my life in just two pages, but I will give it my best shot. I applied for the RIAS program because of my passion for Germany, journalism and my desire to one day move back to and work in Germany. I feel as though the two weeks I spent in Europe on this program did more than just push me closer to that goal — I feel as though I took a giant step forward. What could have taken years to do — making contacts, grasping the major European and German issues and understanding the German media and business worlds — happened in just a matter of days.

I spent a semester in Berlin as a college student, but this was my first opportunity to experience Germany as a working professional. For a moment, it made me reconsider my goal of living in Germany again. The bureaucracy, the unemployment and the government regulations seemed overwhelming at times. When Prinz zur Lippe told us it took eight years before he could get government permission to erect signs leading to his business, I would have thought he was kidding — except I was in Germany, so I knew he was serious. I never knew Germans are required to pay a monthly fee if they have a television set. That is a law that certainly would not fly with Americans. But once I got past some of those drawbacks and some of those differences, I remembered why I love Germany and why I would give up everything here in order to live there.

Germans are a passionate people. From politics to beer to their free time — they take their traditions and their wants and needs seriously. The Monday demonstrations against Hartz IV were a good example of that. Thousands of people, turning out week after week, in city after city to protest. I remember when I lived in Berlin and the United States started the war in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands protested then. Just a few weeks ago, thousands of Opel workers protested GM’s proposal to cut jobs in Germany. The interesting thing about Germany is that protests are seemingly an accepted way of life. Often in the U.S., we’ll get a press release for a protest. In the end, the event only draws 10, 20, maybe 30 protesters at the most. But the Germans — if they plan to protest, they will protest — in big numbers. Even having lived in Washington, D.C. for four years, I can only remember a large protest a couple of times a year. In Germany, these protests are not confined to Berlin — they happen all over the country.

With as much vigor as the Germans use to protest, they are just as determined to carry on the shameful burden of their country’s past. As an American, you know what happened in World War II, you understand the German’s role in it, and for the most part, you accept it as part of history and say it should never happen again. Even though I am from a German-American family, I do not feel a daily burden for my family’s role in the war. But Germans cannot forget it. We talked about the lack of patriotism, how folks do not stand for the national anthem, or if they do, it is a very tentative move. One of the most interesting traditions — and one thing I never realized — the lack of German flags. American flags on people’s front porches, in front of businesses and in front of schools is just part of the American landscape. The German flag is barely part of the German landscape. It’s a small thing, but it speaks volumes about the German mindset.

Having been to Germany many times, I’ve always understood how much the Iraq war and the fight against terrorism have brought out strong opinions among Germans. I know that America is not always well-liked and that our foreign policy honestly baffles most Germans and most Europeans. What really stood out — and I don’t remember which speaker said it — is that the “War on Terrorism” is purely an American idea. Practically every day we use the phrase in our newscasts, but not once have I stood back and realized that we are the only ones using it. I think that clearly defines the different approaches towards ending terrorism. I learned it is not that Germans fail to see terrorism as a threat, or that they do not want to rid the world of terrorists, it is just that they see that the military is not always going to solve the problem. When Spain was bombed earlier this year, going after the attackers with bombs was not an option. What could the Europeans have done? Bombed Madrid, again? It is frustrating because so many Americans have contempt for the Europeans. Many say they are not our allies in battling terrorism, that they do not understand the threat — because they would not go into war with us in Iraq. I see now, that could not be farther from the truth. Sure, there are some Germans and Europeans who do like Americans or America. For the most part, most just don’t like our hawkish strategy to combat every threat we see out there in the world. Germany is a lot closer to Iraq than we are. Terrorism has been on its backdoor for years — we’ve really only been dealing with it for three years. It is easy for us to go into Iraq, but Germans have to worry about a destabilized country, one that is right next-door to Turkey, which is trying to become a member of the European Union.

At the same time, I could see the plan to fight terrorism in Germany is not as clear-cut and as strong as the one in the U.S. Since September 11, we have enacted sweeping changes in security (whether they are effective or not, well, that’s another story), but the point is we are trying very hard. We had the 9/11 Commission. We have the TSA now. We have the Director of Homeland Security. What do the Germans have? Border patrol officers who say that they don’t worry about terrorism because there are not a lot of Muslims in the area they patrol — even though we know trains are a big target for terrorists — and you don’t have to be Muslim to be a terrorist. I think in Germany there is still some sense of “it can’t happen to us.” I think part of that may stem from the country’s history. Germans don’t want to experience the horror, terror, and fear of the Third Reich, or of the DDR. I also think their domestic issues are so pressing, that fighting terrorism can be pushed to the background.

What was most heartwarming about this whole experience was what happened after the core program ended and I began my extension. I can’t remember the last time I was that nervous to report. I had no idea what to expect — how would people react to my questions, what is the typical procedure for a journalist conducting interviews in Germany — all kinds of things I don’t even think about in the U.S. anymore. The folks I met could not have been nicer. From taking me on tours of towns, to making sure I got something to eat, to taking me home to meet their families, I felt like an exchange student for a few days. It was also my first experience in Western Germany (outside of staying with a friend in Hamburg and visiting Oktoberfest in Bayern). I was in the state of Hessen, where I found a very different opinion towards Americans. Many of the Germans I met had contact with U.S. soldiers, liked living near U.S. military bases, and remember U.S. soldiers giving them candy during World War II. They, and their towns, love America. It was refreshing to hear in this day and age, when I usually feel like everyone is against America.

Beyond all that, besides getting an amazing in-depth look at the important issues facing Germany and Europe, besides getting the chance to see places and experience things I never have before, I met an amazing group of journalists, who reminded me why I went into this business in the first place. I realized I’m not the only one who is very interested in international affairs and thinks that local news — and news organizations in general — often lose sight of what is truly newsworthy. This exchange showed me there are issues and stories out there that are not being told, but they are important, and they are interesting. Now, I just need to find a way to tell them more often — that’s the next challenge.


Hourie Arakelian, KTVTZ, Bend, OR

Traveling for work is one thing, but work that takes you on travels is quite another. From covering Presidential visits to forest fires, my career in journalism has taken me on quite a few interesting traveling excursions on the West Coast, but going as far as Europe was truly beyond my wildest dreams. During my three weeks overseas, I traveled to Germany, Belgium and Poland and just like a workday back at home, each day was filled with appointments, people to meet and stories to be heard. Each day was more eventful than another, and even weekend adventures turned into learning experiences. How could they not? Germany is one of the most historic countries in the world, and it’s also where my group made up of twelve journalists spent most of our trip, soaking information up like a sponge. There was so much to see, so much to hear, and so very much to absorb in such a short amount of time.

The trip was very well balanced between visiting with parliament officials, news organizations, trade union leaders, exposure to night life, mingling with citizens of Germany, and so much more. It’s like comparing it to getting to the gist of a story. It’s usually easy…but the details that led to the circumstances form which angle you’ll take. Visiting a country for the first time involves a similar approach. At first, you’re making mental notes or jotting down things you need to remember. Then you put the information to use, asking questions based on what you’ve learned so far about the situation and you go from there.

The most interesting part of my trip was when I was free to travel on my own. Delving into the rich German culture, spending leisure time with a German Journalist, exploring various museums, getting lost in Berlin, and simply taking in the sights…memories I’ll carry for the rest of my life. Whether I was in Dresden’s majestic city center, or riding a bus through the countryside in Meissen, the great expectations one heads off to Europe with were greatly fulfilled thanks to the RIAS Kommission.

There is no best part of the trip because each day was filled with unique opportunities to meet with people and go to places I’ve never been to before. Each day started off with an introduction to a person deeply rooted within society, and a chance for our group to interact with that individual. There’s no better way to learn more about a culture than to speak with those who can pinpoint what structural issues are impacting lives and the issues their communities are facing. Take for example the Hartz IV protests taking place each Monday in cities around Germany. Although some couldn’t care less about what was blocking traffic at six in the evening, many others had firm beliefs when it came to this controversial topic. The divide between the East and the West remains a hot topic. Although the differences are vast, there were some striking similarities both Europe and America are faced with. From controversial voter turnout to the price of tomatoes in the winter…we may all live in separate parts of the world, we still grapple with similar issues.

With that said, you can’t really come to an understanding of a culture until you explore the vast spectrum of hard work all the way to the art of throwing down and partying the night away, as was the case during Oktoberfest. I’m tempted to say what happens in Munich stays in Munich, but it really wasn’t that juicy. It was just a great time at a one of a kind event that leaves silly Americans like myself saying …Germans can do a whole lot more than build luxury cars and create inspiring architecture.

The most heart wrenching day of the trip was when we visited Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp located in the outskirts of Berlin. Here is a place you experience for the most part, alone. Reading the stories of men, women and children and learning how these people’s lives were torn apart. Reading how some families managed to find each other again one day, while others were never heard from again. You read a line about this family then look at their pictures, read some more and the ball forms in your throat…the tears well up in your eyes and pain, torture and sadness besieges your existence. Sixty years later you’re standing in the place where these lives were corrupted by hate. Although we’ve all heard the stories, only by going there and standing on the grounds where the most horrific acts committed against mankind will bring you to this new understanding of a time that can never be forgotten.

Being Armenian, my history is one that can relate to the brutal experience the Jews were put through. There was a quote on the wall of the first building upon entering the Sachsenhausen grounds that I couldn’t understand but knew it related to the Armenians. It read “wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier?” It translates to ‘who today still talks about the destruction of the Armenians?’ It’s a quote made by Hitler I’d heard before. Attending an Armenian school for 12 years really gets the history ball rolling on what led to cultural differences of what it was like being an Armenian before the turn of the 20th century and now. Germans have daily reminders of what happened there over sixty years ago. As a visitor in Berlin, I felt a strong presence of history indicating a period in time that will always be remembered. There is no other place in the world with more memorials and physical reminders depicting what took place between 1933 – 1945, and rightfully so.

The balance of cutting edge technology and historic landmarks at almost every street corner makes Germany an incredibly dynamic country. From pieces of the Berlin Wall spread throughout the capital to museums like Check Point Charlie, being out and about in Berlin gives a whole new meaning to sightseeing. The RIAS Kommission gave me such an in-depth look into the various cultures proliferating within Europe. It would not have been possible to get to the gist of the German culture without all that was made available during this trip. Anyone could just jump on a plane and see Germany and all it has to offer, but it takes a phenomenal organization like RIAS to open doors that truly let the light in. To Rainer – It was so nice, I want to do it twice! Isabell and Sandra – Thank you for all the good times and your hard work.


Rob Ballenger, National Public Radio, Washington, D.C.

RIAS’ mission to help American journalists view Germany under several microscopes has proven especially successful in my fellowship experience. The Fall 2004 trip spotlighted Germany as a political player on the world’s stage, an economy affected externally as much as effecting internally, and as a culture in flux. Most significant, the program placed in sharp relief the prevailing forces that are contemporaneously shaping Germany’s and the European Union’s futures. These accomplishments will greatly benefit my career.

Among journalism’s greatest rewards is divesting complex world events of their esoteric mysteries to render them accessible – and intriguing – to people who would otherwise consider themselves far removed. Connecting the dots within Europe’s context is now much easier for this journalist thanks to RIAS. Its fellowship demonstrated how Germany lies at the center of 21st century Europe.

The RIAS trips, meetings, and discussions magnified the answers to “Why is Germany’s otherwise powerhouse economy struggling?”, “How is immigration up-ending Germany’s cultural homogeneity?”, and “How is the country’s political system absorbing all of the above?” An economics minister and an entrepreneur in Eastern Germany lamented to our group about burgeoning competition from Central and Eastern Europe’s cheap labor market. At the same time, however, they eagerly advertised the opportunities their region affords for international investors willing to help forge part of Germany’s brave new economic world. At the core of Germany’s minority population – Berlin’s Neukölln neighborhood – the mayor spoke of how the Turkish community has grown. Along with it have emerged non-Muslim fears of terrorism and, concomitantly, the need for foreigners to assimilate and natives to better accept their new fellow citizens. German politicians at all levels worried aloud to us immediately following state elections that bore unprecedented victories for the country’s most radical parties. Learning the details of each of these predicaments from first-hand sources was invaluable.

Each scenario also represented larger-scale issues the E.U. is wrestling with. Traveling directly from Berlin to Brussels highlighted these similarities. It became very clear very quickly how interconnected the plights and opportunities are between Germany and its fellow European Union members. More important, my fellowship experience drove home the significance of the E.U. as the system through which Germany and its neighbors will collectively determine their future. As a result, I am indebted to RIAS each time an event unfolds in which Germany is a stakeholder. Whether that happens through a German automobile plant closing down, the E.U. negotiating a future membership with Turkey, or NATO training Iraqi police, the distance between my U.S.-based journalism and Germany is never far. Thank you, RIAS.


Deborah Block, Voice of America, Washington, D.C.

The RIAS journalist exchange program is a wonderful opportunity. I learned a great deal about the history, politics and culture of Germany, and it was particularly fascinating to be there 15 years after reunification, learning how people continue to grapple with ways to unify the country – easier said than done. It didn’t take me long to see the differences in attitudes between people from the former East and West.

I was in Berlin on Reunification Day, and while most Germans were enjoying just another day of reunification festivities at the Brandenburg Gate, I was quite moved by the experience of seeing so many people gathered on either side of the gateway that had been blocked by the Berlin Wall. The large crowd got excited when a rock band played a German song about reunification, and I was glad I was there to be part of the event.

Although I had traveled to Germany years ago, I had never been to Berlin, and like many visitors, I had assumed the Berlin Wall had been built straight across the city. Instead, I discovered it weaved throughout Berlin, including down the center of streets and very close to a parliament building. Because of this, there were times when I was traveling in Berlin where I wasn’t sure whether I was in the former East or West.

As I traveled throughout Germany during the first two weeks of the program with the group, and later during the two-week extension where I shot TV video in various cities, I was fascinated by the enormous efforts by Germany to unify the country. Although there have been many positive aspects to reunification, it came at a cost. It was obvious that huge amounts of money are being poured into the former East, which in some places has more modern buildings and other updated infrastructure than in the former West. Some people in the Eastern part of the country complain that more money is needed to improve the infrastructure, while others in the West say they are unfairly getting left behind in the economic shuffle. Unemployment is high throughout Germany, averaging 15 percent, but going as high as almost 30 percent, in part, due to factory closings and a lack of new businesses. The mayor in the small former East German town of Görlitz, on the Polish border, told me that he can advertise positive information about his city, try to recruit companies to come there, and use all the charm he has, but it won’t do any good right now. Görlitz was particularly interesting to visit because it’s trying to pull itself up to what it considers to be West German standards, and it’s divided by a narrow river from a Polish town which was part of Görlitz before World War II. I was able to get a good understanding of how difficult it was for people in Görlitz to change from a Communist system they were comfortable with, to the uncertainty of being part of a democracy. In addition, only a few years ago, the mayors of Görlitz and the Polish town across the river began communicating and cooperating on projects such as sharing a bus transportation system. For some 50 years the people in the two cities had no contact with each other, and today the Poles and the Germans still eye each other with uncertainty and suspicion. Most don’t speak each other’s language, and the mayors converse with one another in the language they learned during Communism – Russian. The Germans frequently cross the river (There are 2 small bridges, one brand new) to buy cigarettes which are much cheaper in Poland, while the Poles come to Görlitz to buy fashionable clothing. Görlitz is a lovely town, with buildings dating back to the Middle Ages, and survives mostly through tourism (Germans who visit weekends). The mayor told me reunification came just in time to save Görlitz. He said the Communists were planning to tear down the historic structures to build ugly block-style buildings.

With reunification Germany has also experienced a growing number of immigrants – several million of them from Turkey — fueling complaints from Germans that they are taking jobs and not assimilating into German society. During TV interviews I did with Muslim Turkish leaders they said most Turks are not taking jobs from Germans, and in fact, have their own businesses. They also said many Turks are working to become part of German society, but are different because they are Muslim.

Many Germans, young and old, told me that they never imagined reunification would happen during their lifetime, and the transition is going smoother than they thought it would. Germany is going through growing pains, but pains that are necessary for the country to move forward.


Renita Jablonski, WCPN-WVIZ Radio, Cleveland, OH

In my reporter’s notebook, before pages of scurried handwriting describing the composition of the German Bundestag, I read about my initial glimpses of a country that links nations, and cultures. The writing preceded any meetings with the fellow journalists or RIAS program managers. After barely making two flight connections, and a sleepless ride over the Atlantic Ocean, I walked outside of the glass doors of our Berlin hotel, passed a rack of bicycles for rent, down unknown streets, eventually sitting down to record what I saw. Simple descriptions of old-looking buildings and a museum with pieces of the Berlin wall displayed on its grounds prompted flashes of TV news clips I watched as a child of a celebration I did not fully understand. Tiny pod-like cars parked along curbs made me think of the struggle in my own hometown, to balance technological advances with a manufacturing industry in trouble. A piece of graffiti using President Bush’s name was a quick reminder of the disdain many Europeans hold for the current U.S. Administration, and its recent decisions. Those quick scribbles from a concrete step in Berlin laid the foundation for two weeks of questions, sightseeing, and listening that would not only enhance my knowledge of Germany, but the world, and myself as well.

Beyond viewing gorgeous historic architecture and reading detailed placards in museums, the true value of the RIAS program is its core offering of a wide variety of community and political leaders speaking candidly on issues facing their region, country, and global interactions. These conversations revealed accomplishments and challenges in a way that you would never read in a newspaper, or hear in a television or radio report. For example, one memorable interviewee spoke of the success of the world’s most modern jet factory being located in East Berlin yet also recounted how ongoing crime and racism from right radical groups continues to make U.S. companies afraid of sending African Americans to work in Germany. This kind of disparity is apparent in many facets of German life as divisions of the past haunt current efforts to move the country forward. It is the kind of fight that every nation and municipality deals with and often times tries to bury. And that is where Germany is different. I was constantly impressed by the sincerity and frankness of German people speaking of their past, and what it means today. A day after watching thousands of people march down one of Berlin’s main streets on a mild Monday evening, protesting Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s labor market reform package, an SDP member spoke of his party’s lack of communication in adequately explaining the necessity of the reforms. A journalist that had grown up in the former West Germany admitted that certain stereotypes are often immediately attached to new acquaintances after inquiring where he or she was from. A 20-something college woman talked over a drink at a dark-lit pub about how she was nervous to ask her parents of her grandfather’s history with the German Army. She went on to question why young Americans do not seem to embrace and become involved with the political process. I could not provide an answer. And indeed, each German student I encountered seemed to know much more about what was happening politically in my own country and internationally than most American kids I know.

Perhaps this connection with one’s history and the value placed on a democratic government is responsible for this kind of active civic spirit I encountered throughout my time in Germany and Europe. As I now read the latest reports of the EU’s decision to open up negotiation talks with Turkey for membership, the concerns about whether or not the young Turkish generation truly has a stake in the future of countries like Germany and whether true integration is possible, have an authenticity to me further than that in a newspaper analysis, an authenticity with faces, store fronts, and segregated neighborhoods. Reports of the growing unemployment rate in Germany mirror a dire job situation in my own community. During local on-air discussions taking a deeper look at the opinion cultures around the world have of the United States, I share unique anecdotes from perspectives few have the opportunity to hear – from German politicians trying to move their own agendas forward while effectively cooperating with the interests of other countries, to the American mission to NATO, telling others why the U.S. proceeds the way it does. For the first time, the changing global climate and what it means to an average person like myself has a tangible reality that inspires me to pursue stories and conversations in a more sensitive way. For that, I am forever indebted to the RIAS Berlin Kommission, RTNDF, and dozens of German people willing to tell a group of American journalists how it really is.


Kerry Kavanaugh, KWYB-TV, Bozeman, MT

My experience with the RIAS Berlin Journalism Exchange Program will definitely be one of the most memorable of my life. I was very excited when I was accepted into the program, but I had no idea just how valuable the experience would be.

First I need to acknowledge everyone who makes this possible: Margaret, Rainer, Isabell, and Sandra, to name a few. They took such great care of everything both at home and abroad. It was much appreciated.

I thought the core program covered a wide variety of interesting topics. And I was very satisfied with the amount of time spent on each. I very much enjoyed every meeting and tour we had, (though our day at the Reichstag was a bit long.) I also liked how each city had a theme. For instance when we went to Brussels, we were discussing mostly international topics, while in Berlin we talked mostly German issues specific to Berlin. Starting the program with the “date night” was probably the most beneficial. My host helped paint a broad picture of the issues I was to discuss over the course of my three weeks in Berlin. There were 3 Germans present at the “date night” each bringing with them a broad range of views. This was also helpful in understanding the many sides of the political, economic, and social issues I would learn about.

My extension program was also a huge success. I had no problem with any interviews, or the crew. It was a well thought out process and all I had to do was show up. The people I spoke with were friendly and knowledgeable, not to mention on time. The crew was beyond professional in every way. Thank you again for this wonderful opportunity.


James C. Lewis, WSMV-TV, Nashville, TN

What a marvelous opportunity to get a close-up view of problems developing in Germany! We got the equivalent of a post-graduate course in modern German politics and economics. Where else would you get the chance to talk one-on-one with news people, mayors of cities, border guards, members of parliament? RIAS did a masterful job of putting us in the driver’s seat. As we traveled from Berlin to Brussels, to Munich to Dresden, the differences between New Europe and Old Europe were right in front of our eyes. Building cranes dotted the landscape of Munich. The BMW factory and a nuclear research plant in Munich, a chat with the director of economic development in Dresden! Germany is in the midst of huge political and social change and we were privileged with a front row seat. After all this, reading the international edition of the New York Times is an entirely different experience.


Matthew Nordin,WSPA-TV, Greenville, SC

News Analysis: Old Europe? It’s All New To Me

Frankfurt, Germany – My plane is now slowly backing away from the long metal tube I lumbered down just a few minutes ago, all sweaty and out of breath after a run to a flight I almost missed. Airport police had shut down part of the terminal apparently to let a dog sniff for a bomb. And there I was in “A” when I needed to be in “C.”

As I wait for the pilot to rev the engines for our trip back to the Carolinas, I feel a longing to sleep in my own bed tonight and get back to the work of telling stories. But that desire is ringed by sadness: at leaving my new German friends behind, along with their gorgeous country, and the uncertainty of how soon I will return.

They have had a profound impact on how I will view the world. I must confess that like most American television journalists, I have been using a microscopic lens to report what I see. Whether I was on assignment on Capitol Hill or at the State House or inside City Hall, the stories were always about how X policy was going to impact the community I was serving. But I began to realize that this niche reporting is outdated at a time when the upstate’s economy relies on the health of French and German companies for its own and as a brother and sister entrepreneurial team makes significant strides in getting industries from their native China to set-up shop in Greenville.

Today, Congressional laws and municipal tax incentives aren’t just for Americans anymore. And across the pond, European Union policies have profound effects beyond its 25 member nations. Just ask Microsoft.

To give viewers only the “American point of view,” or worse, only the view from within a state’s borders, is journalistic malpractice. So I jumped at the chance to join a delegation of 12 U.S. journalists that would travel around Germany for two weeks, also making stops in Poland and Brussels, Belgium. It’s part of an exchange program run by RIAS, the acronym for the old Cold War broadcaster “Radio In The American Sector,” in Berlin. It would be my first trip over one of our nation’s borders.

Not What I Expected

As my plane descended into Berlin and tiny Tegel Airport, I was quite disappointed at the view outside my window. I suppose I was expecting New York or Los Angeles but construction laws have prevented skyscrapers here. The view from the ground is much better, though. A taxi driver took me along the Unter den Linden on the way to the hotel. Named for the beautiful trees that line the boulevard, it is full of history as well as tony shops for the fashionistas. It is along this route you find the Brandenburg Gate, which everyone remembers as the backdrop for worldwide television coverage of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

There are no pieces of the wall in this spot anymore. They have kept a couple of pieces up in other parts of the city for tourists to see. But outside the Brandenburg Gate, only a small strip in the roadway lets you know where the wall once stood. Yet it still haunts them.

Germans refer to it as the “wall of the mind.” Though they are now living in a united country, people here still refer to “East Germany” and “West Germany.” And there are major conflicts between the two. Over the past 14 years (unification didn’t come until 1990), people in the west have pumped more than a trillion dollars into the east to prop-up all the cities the Communists neglected. But many people don’t think it’s working. While unemployment for the country as a whole was at 10.7% in September it’s even worse in eastern states like Saxony, where unemployment is nearly twice that amount. People in the west are growing frustrated. What am I getting for my taxes? they wonder. People in the east are just as angry. Why do the jobs continue to leave? they ask.

The War Over Hartz IV

The federal government is going broke under the heavy burden of trying to bring the east up to par with the west. So Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, which is similar to the Democratic Party in the United States, now finds himself in a similar position to President Bill Clinton in 1996. Despite being in the party identified with blue collar workers and the downtrodden, he’s cutting welfare benefits. In Germany, this also means cutting generous unemployment benefits from three years of eligibility to one.

Proponents of the reforms, called Hartz IV, point to some outrageous stories to make their point that the country simply can’t afford to continue the status quo. But the reforms are not going over well with voters.

On a Monday evening, some colleagues and I were relaxing at an outdoor café along the Unter den Linden after a long day of meetings inside the German parliament. At first, I noticed some cars marked “Polizei” stopping across the street. But I couldn’t tell if anything serious was happening so I dove back into the conversation. Then all of a sudden, we saw hundreds of people marching down the street chanting slogans and carrying banners decrying Hartz IV. In front of them, someone was blaring Billy Joel’s anti-establishment anthem “We Didn’t Start The Fire” from the back of a truck.

Most of us ran over to get closer to the demonstrators, to bathe in emotions that most journalists rarely get to experience in the States anymore, at least so overtly amongst the masses out in the streets. Marches in America for this cause or that seem so rehearsed and predictable these days. But looking at the hopeful, excited faces of the Generation Xers and those who appeared old enough to be their grandparents, listening to the fervor with which they chanted, I had the feeling that this was an authentic grassroots rebuke of Chancellor Schroeder’s government.

Not that he needed this demonstration in the heart of Berlin to figure out people were upset with him. His party has been dealt embarrassing defeats in state and European Parliament elections this year. Just the day before, voters in the states of Saxony and Brandenburg had thrown enough support behind a couple of far right-wing groups to guarantee them seats in those states’ parliaments. The one that causes a lot of alarm here is the National Democratic Party, a nice name for a group that’s actually filled with neo-Nazis. They picked-up 9.2% of the vote in Saxony, which was a dramatic increase from 1.4% in 1999. Most Germans told us they were astounded and horrified by the results.

Top politicians we spoke with about the election dismissed it as a protest vote against Schroeder and the Christian Democratic Union, which is similar to the Republican Party in the US. Both Schroeder and the rival CDU support the reforms. Everyone here is counting on this just being some sort of neo-Nazi fad and point out that far-left groups are getting more votes these days, too. But frankly some in our group detected an atmosphere in Germany where there are still misconceptions about Jews and where Turkish immigrants are not made to feel particularly welcome.

Where Bureaucratize Is The Official Language

After a week in Berlin, we flew to Brussels, Belgium, where NATO and the European Union are headquartered. As we walked into the gleaming city’s Grand Place that first night I just kept looking up in amazement. Surrounding the cobblestone square are baroque style, palatial buildings with such intricate, elegant detail you want to try to reach up and feel them. On a clear, starry night they seem to stretch to the moon. This place puts the Europe in Europe.

The next day we sat through endless meetings with EU representatives who effectively used dense bureaucratize to talk a lot but say nothing. I don’t recall a single memorable phrase. We also sat in on the daily press briefing where international journalists pry and probe into the workings and policies of this potential superpower. Again, lots of talk, few specifics.

One poor reporter asked a spokeswoman of a certain Mr. Bigshot if he’d read some documents over the weekend. No, replied the spokeswoman, Mr. Bigshot adheres to the workweek rules set forth by the EU and therefore didn’t read them. She made it sound downright taboo. Well, the response was so sickeningly slick and outrageous that when the EU’s main spokesman took back the spotlight he laughed and said, “There are certainly some very creative answers here today.”

Though their language tries to keep us out, we cannot afford not to inquire about what’s happening here. 12 countries are now using the common currency known as the euro, making it easier to do business with each other and creating a sort of economic team to rival the United States. Meanwhile, borders in Europe are disappearing. A customs officer actually refused to stamp our passports in Brussels when we requested it as a souvenir, saying it is not done anymore within the EU. We did manage to get one when we took a trip into a Polish border town.

What is worrisome for U.S. officials is that the EU may start carrying out foreign policy of its own. Imagine, for instance, if European countries want to send troops into a nation to stop ethnic fighting but the U.S. isn’t willing to go. Suddenly a European alliance makes NATO irrelevant. That is causing heartburn for folks inside the U.S. Mission to NATO. They need the intense cooperation of European allies to uncover terrorist plots. So they’re saying, “OK, even if we don’t agree with your mission we’re going to help you anyway.” The U.S. may not get involved in the fighting or the peacekeeping but in order to placate the Europeans and keep them under the NATO umbrella, the U.S. won’t deny them American-controlled satellites, intelligence, or even airlifts if such a circumstance arises.

So while the rhetoric in Washington may disparage “Old Europe” versus “New Europe,” shorthand for those countries against U.S. operations in Iraq versus those supporting our efforts, the reality is that America cannot go it alone. When we do we get in trouble.

It Really Began In Afghanistan

On September 12, 2001, the members of NATO voted to invoke Article V for the first time in the alliance’s history. They were saying the al Qaeda attacks on the United States the day before were attacks on all of them. They were actually eager to go to war alongside American troops. Yes, those same countries that fought so hard against the invasion of Iraq. But according to knowledgeable officials at NATO, the Bush Administration went into Afghanistan without them, causing anger and resentment. And I learned on this trip that it was actually at this moment that the rift between the U.S. and Europe opened-up, not in the lead-up to the war in Iraq. That is significant because it was Afghanistan, not Iraq, which created the European image of President Bush as a John Wayne figure who couldn’t wait for his friends to gather at his side before launching the raid. Defending the decision, U.S. officials say it would have taken too long to get European troops in there. So by the time those intense feelings arose on both sides about whether to go to war with Iraq, I learned, the dispute nearly killed the NATO alliance. Meanwhile, Americans abroad say they are feeling most unwelcome in some European countries. It was not uncommon for veterans of the diplomatic and political arenas to describe US-Europe relations as “the worst I’ve ever seen.”

When I asked a German man standing near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin why his people are so opposed to the U.S. operations in Iraq, he said it was simple: his countrymen have lived through two world wars, intimately know the devastation they wreak (you can still see bullet holes on many buildings in Berlin, including the Reichstag, the parliament building) and are therefore wary of any military action.

Welcome To Slubice!

As with my conversation with him, our delegation tried whenever possible to talk with regular folks about how they see life.

The highlight of these experiences for me came one day when we took the train to a little university town in Germany called Frankfurt (Oder). It’s right on the border with Poland. The Oder refers to the Oder River and is there to differentiate from the other Frankfurt, the large German financial center.

After meeting with some border police about terrorism issues our hosts arranged for us to chat with some students from Europa University. They met us at the town hall and then walked us across the border into Slubice, Poland. Their school is multi-ethnic, welcoming students from both countries. In fact, part of the university is on the Polish side.

International business student Martin Dahms looked over at the long bridge that spans the Oder River and told me how much excitement people around here had felt in the spring when the bridge officially opened. There were fireworks and television cameras, a really big deal here. And for good reason. Since Poland became a member of the EU in May, people on both sides of the bridge may now freely cross. They also face far fewer restrictions on what they can carry to the other side.

Throughout my journey the wall was on my mind. I wanted to know what it felt like when it came down and easterners were suddenly free. At dinner that night in Slubice, I broached the subject with Stephanie Bartel, who’s studying business tax law. She grew-up in East Germany. I asked if she remembered the wall coming down. She told me that she was about ten years-old at the time and actually did have memories of watching it live on television that cold November night in 1989. But her memory is a fraud, she said. Just several weeks ago she was talking about the events with her parents and they told her they’d already put her to bed that night before the wall came down. She believes she’s seen the footage replayed so often that for years now she’s thought her parents allowed her to stay up late to watch.

A little resentment edges its way into her voice as she begins to tell me about once working in the western part of the country after Germany reunified. When she was finished with that job, her co-workers asked her why in the world she’d want to go back to East Germany. “Because it’s home!” she told them and wondered aloud with me why they couldn’t understand. Such is the persistent “wall of the mind.” Someone on our trip compared it to the divide amongst U.S. Southerners and Northerners that sometimes surfaces nearly 140 years after the Civil War ended.

Going Home

The airplane passengers are mostly quiet as we cruise over the Atlantic getting ever closer to home. Here in this gap between America and Europe, I wonder if I’ll be able to do a better job of bridging the chasm of misunderstanding between the two when I return to reporting.

Many a well-meaning colleague will caution me about alienating Joe Sixpack. But there’s a good chance that Joe works at BMW or one of its many suppliers. Wouldn’t Joe be fascinated to know that the BMW X5 that he makes is one of the leading automobiles to be stolen in Germany, run across the Oder River, and re-sold in Poland? Or maybe he’d find it amazing, as I did during a tour of BMW’s home factory in Munich, that of the more than 200,000 cars it produced last year only ten were identical. The rest were customized exactly the way their European customers requested.

Maybe Joe would be interested to learn that rival Volkswagen recently got its workers to accept a 40-hour workweek (revolutionary in Germany) so that the carmaker can be more productive. But what if Joe doesn’t work for a multi-national company, what then?

Well, he certainly lived through September 11th and probably remembers reports that Mohammed Atta lived in Hamburg before going to America. To this end, I would imagine that Joe would want to know that even though the EU is erasing borders it hasn’t consolidated its criminal computer systems. Our delegation was told that getting background information on someone from another EU member requires a run through a bureaucratic thicket.

That’s not what anyone wants to hear with the potential for new terrorist attacks. We can get mad at the Germans and call them ungrateful for all we did for them after World War II. And we can attack France’s military chutzpah and start selling “Freedom Fries.” But we can’t afford to remain ignorant of what happens in the rest of the world anymore. Our wallets and our security demand otherwise.

A note about my reporting:
Our delegation met with officials at the highest levels of government during our travels in Europe. However, we were not permitted to quote them on the record. In exchange, we got a much more blunt assessment of current affairs. The views expressed here come from my analysis of the information we received from our sources, who included foreign leaders and Americans living abroad.


Robert Sachs, National Public Radio West, Culver City, CA

The RIAS Journalist Exchange program continuously met and exceeded my expectations in terms of its depth and breadth. The program succeeds in introducing journalists to Germany through political, cultural, and social means giving participants a wide understanding of not only the issues that face Germany but also how Germans deal with those issues in their day to day lives. The approach of touring mixed in with meetings and question-and-answer-sessions is an effective means of both learning about and experiencing the country first hand.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the program was seeing how the Germany of today deals with its unique history. From the architecture of the Reichstag, to the care taken to guarding Jewish cultural landmarks, Germany’s attempts to face its dark past are present all throughout the country. One particularly enlightening visit was to the old Stasi building. There, we were introduced to the enormous undertaking the Communists took to keep files on its own citizens suspected of committing subversive activities. What was amazing was not only the sheer number of files that were present, but also the great lengths the current staff was taking to preserve these files so that today’s citizens could have access to them.

Over and over again I was impressed to see the transparency of the modern German government in facing its past, yet that is not to say Germany has completely rebounded from being divided. Communism and Socialism still linger about in certain aspects of German society. From the subtle social differences between the former East and West Berlin to the more profound class differences between the former GDR and Western States, to the recent elections of radical right wing parties, we saw how Germany still needs to work on unifying itself through educating its citizens about the virtues of a free democratic society. Perhaps the most striking example of the confluence of these two Germanys was in Dresden. There, past and present were literally being interwoven in the reconstruction of the Church of Our Lady which had been obliterated during WWII.

Without a doubt though, my experiences in Germany would not have been as nearly as rich were it not for the excellent leadership of the RIAS team. From Margaret in Washington to Rainer, Sandra, and Isabell in Germany, everyone involved in the program was engaging, lively, and truly cared about the welfare of the participants of the program. I wish to express my sincere thanks to all of them.


Steve Scher, KUOW FM, Seattle, WA

Three Gentleman of Dresden

What is your image of East Germany? Maybe the answer depends on your age. For those of us who grew up with a divided Europe, the picture of East Germany as gray and dirty, full of sullen souls and soiled cities retains a hold on the imagination. But the wall is a museum piece now, the border crossings vanished and the East is transformed. Wal-Mart is on the outskirts of Dresden. The streets are packed with shoppers on a Saturday in October. The Foot Locker is busy. The stylish are prowling the aisles of the H and M department store, looking over Ecco shoes and Gucci handbags.

Dresden was fire bombed into rubble by the British and the Americans for reasons that are still unclear. Then it was beaten down by 50 years of East German Socialist policies of neglect mixed with a kind of uninspired stolid reconstruction. Now it is rebuilding itself, recreating its historic buildings from the rubble. The smokestack factories of chemical plants are gone. In its place, new industries of the new economy, an AMD chip factory and modernized factories of the old economy, like the literally transparent Volkswagen plant. But this Saxon City in this East German state is still in the midst of its transformation, and the pains that come with change are evident. There is 18% unemployment. The government is making profound changes to its welfare system. The policies are designed to force people off welfare and unemployment. The authorities want people to accept lower paying, less skilled jobs rather than continuing to rely on government support. But some see the changes as a breach of the social contract and the mainstream parties are paying the price. The voters in September’s state elections gave more than 20 percent of the vote to the former communist party and 10 % to a Neo-Nazi party. Most see this as a protest vote that won’t change the overall direction of federal or state policies. But it is a statement of discontent and a reminder that the once wealthy federal government can’t maintain the pension and welfare system while it tries to bring economic development to the former East German states. Those former communist states are being asked to do more for themselves.

What does this new East German state look like to leaders who are trying to shape it? How do they connect with the rest of Germany? Over three weeks of traveling, a few impressions emerge. They are only rudimentary. After only three weeks it would be presumptuous to imply a deeper knowledge. But, like the U.S, Germany is a major modern industrial state and there may be some lessons to be drawn from its evolution to one state in an emerging and still contentious European Union.

In a whirlwind tour of Dresden and the surrounding countryside, we met three men who might be said to exemplify the changes new leaders are pursuing, while attempting to stay linked to the recent and more distant past. Those links are seen as a tool to bring the population along with the changes proposed, to stir their pride and stiffen their resolve.

The Minister from America

We met Dr. Martin Gillo, Minister of Economy and Labor of Saxony in a modern conference room on the upper floor of a modern office building among Dresden’s municipal center. His talk sounds very familiar to Americans familiar with market oriented arguments about governments need to help business navigate the bureaucracy and then to get out of the way. Dr. Gillo studied psychology at the University of Kansas, and at the University of Washington. He ended up as a management consultant in the bay area. For 20 years, he was a director for the chipmaker AMD, Applied Micro Devices in the U.S., Switzerland and eventually Germany. He brought his connections to Dresden. He is known for a new management style — getting workers to buy into the changes he is proposing for the workforce — more hours, less benefits. Dr. Gillo says that the openness and flexibility of the American Business Culture has shaped his approach to the challenges he encounters in Germany. He says he is trying to re-instill traditional Saxon pride, a pride mixed with humility, in the struggling Saxon workforce. He also says the workers have to accept the changes that have come with unification.

They have a pretty well developed 4 point plan to bring in more business, focusing on their strengths, car manufacturing, machine tools, microelectronics and Biotech. They also have a tough love approach to the workers still in Dresden (many of the talented moved west for jobs): up or out. Benefits are too high and after January more than a quarter of the people receiving social welfare won’t be eligible. Gillo says a lot of the money earmarked for job training and education goes to train workers for jobs that don’t exist. If he could, he says, he would shift the dollars to economic development and court new factories that would bring new jobs. The Saxon’s need to appreciate the Horatio Alger story, where daring and failure is appreciated and new teachers need to bring that attitude to students. That transformation may take a generation.

The former Priest

We met Johannes Pförtner by accident. James Lewis, the TV reporter from Nashville, Tennessee, and Matt Nordin, the TV reporter from Greenville, South Carolina, and I couldn’t quite make ourselves understood to the woman who sold us coffee. We had just left our meeting with Dr. Gillo. We were looking at the city and making our way to the Trabant Museum – that quintessential East German automobile is off the street for the most part, but held in high esteem by some. We got what we needed easily enough, but it must’ve bothered her. Perhaps that Saxon pride mixed with humility we had just heard about. We were drinking our coffee when she called out to us. She had Mr. Pförtner in tow and introduced him, telling us he spoke English. So we were polite, said a few hellos, struck up a conversation and learned a lot.

He was a stately man, in a tailored gray suit, ordering a sandwich and coffee and bringing a lunch back for his co-workers. He struggled with a few words as he described his work with the mentally ill in Saxony. He thought the leaders of the major parties hadn’t adequately explained the impossible costs of the unemployment and welfare system to the people. He saw the recent votes for the neo-Nazi and the communist party as a protest and wasn’t’ too worried that the far left or right would gain more power. He did think the government needed to show a little more compassion for the unemployed. If the jobs aren’t there, telling people to get jobs is not adequate.

He didn’t want to see homelessness of mentally ill arise. He saw the benefit of emptying the institutions but insisted it would only work if community care were provided. He knew about the U.S., had studied the execution of Ronald Reagan’s policies and assured us they were avoiding that crisis by maintaining community mental health care. Of course he knew that during the bad old days, mental health institutions had been used to imprison those whose ideas didn’t jibe with the political leaders’.

He reads English papers on-line, as well as German ones. He had a high-speed Internet connection set up in his house so he and his kids could go online. His kids played online games, just like mine.

His life story is a case study in history. He was a priest during the communist days and had to carefully walk the line to stay out of prison. He told us that the leaders too were careful with the Church, that it held a special place and as long as it laid low, didn’t push, could still operate in quasi secrecy and quasi safety. Then he met a woman, got married and left the church. How about that! He found his way into social services and worked right through the changes that came to Germany. He was a fascinating, transitional figure, plugged into the world through the internet, taking advantage of the investments in infrastructure the Germany Government has made in the East, stewarding the social services safety net, grappling with English, a language probably rarely spoken in East Germany when he was a young priest in a state where religion was isolated. Now he was talking to some American reporters in an English that was much better than our German, in a gleaming, small shopping mall, beneath colorful banners and the displays of the Trabant Museum. After we parted we toured the museum. The cars were gleaming, their two stroke engines free of any grit and grime. One display showed the Trabant in a campground, its shiny Trabant trailer in tow, pictures of contented East Germans camping in the countryside. They were making the best of it. I used to think that idea was propaganda. But meeting people like Johannes Pförtner, I realize that was too simplistic. Perhaps part of the reason for the relative ease of the transition from a totalitarian state to a social democracy can be gleaned in the lives of people like Mr. Pförtner, staying vibrant during tough times, keeping the small things, like the two stroke Trabant, gleaming.

The Prince

We took a bus out of Dresden into the rolling hills. The countryside reminded me of the wine-growing region of the Willamette Valley. We rolled into a small town and stopped at the entrance to a courtyard. Dr. Georg Prince zur Lippe met us. He is a youngish 53 with sandy reddish hair, a round face, a broad smile. There was a vibrant gleam in his eyes. As he walked us through the state-of-the-art winery he had built on his ancestral holdings, there was a bounce to his walk.

We learned his life story later, over a stately meal and wine tasting in the windowed dining porch of his family estate, overlooking gardens and oak forests and vineyards. We drank the wine from the land that his aristocratic family had owned for centuries and lost and had now gained control of again. He told us that for many years his was the wealthiest family in the area. His grandfather was on the board of many companies. But they didn’t support the Nazis and one family member was married to a Jew. The Nazis confiscated their grand house, and put zur Lippe’s father in a concentration camp. His wife and children were imprisoned too. Each was told the other had died, but eventually they found each other in a camp. The Russians freed them. Their house was returned. Prinz zur Lippe said that many of the Russian Secret Service were Jewish themselves and sympathized with his father. But then the German Communists took over and took everything back, imprisoned his father, burned his diplomas and other important papers and deported them to the West with nothing. Nothing, von Lippe said, but the family history and their education.

This Saxon Prince says he never saw himself as different, but everyone always singled him out as royalty. In the West German army, he said sergeants gave him a hard time. He worked his way through school, found himself working for a consultant company, got his Masters degree and thrived as a person who could help turn failing companies around. Later, he said, he made money providing the latest computers to German companies.

After the fall of the Communist Government, he returned to the East. His father gave him a list of companies and properties the family had once owned. He decided to try to regain the vineyards and put out high quality German wines. He has rebuilt the vineyard, bought land from the small landowners who were given the lands during the socialist era. He says he made sure he wouldn’t alienate his neighbors by following his father’s advice. His father warned him not to put a claim on any land where someone had a house, a farm or an orchard. He even was able to reclaim the family house, a large country estate built in 1701.

He is an energetic man, still doing consultant work. He says the banks remind him that he needs to make his payments of 150 thousand euros a year. Apparently the wine isn’t bringing in that much yet. He has turned the old house into a small conference center. He says it is a relaxing place full of positive energy where deals can be done. An international group of bankers had recently met there. A European jeweler was bringing his best clients that weekend. There they will sample the prince’s wines and eat in the glassed in dining room overlooking the gardens. In the summer, he brings in classical musicians to hold concerts for the community.

Is Prince Georg zur Lippe the Horatio-Alger-story Martin Gillo was talking about? Zur Lippe like Gillo talks of reinvigorating Saxons with pride and self-reliance. He wants to see schools pushing innovation thinking. He wants new teachers challenging students to learn the languages of their neighbors rather than English. He says this is the way to build the economy as well as stronger, peaceful alliances.

Prince Georg zur Lippe has restored a good deal of the wealth his family lost in World War 2 and during the era of DDR. He is rebuilding the family name and the estate. The prince is tempted by politics, but he is driven by something larger. A sense of history, his families place on the land down through the centuries. The wine he nurtures rises from the soil, the grapes taking up the minerals, the very stones of the Saxon hills. When the prince drinks his wine, he tastes those ancient stones.


Dan Taylor, WHIO-TV, Dayton, OH

Last Thoughts on Deutschland

“Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them.” – Bob Dylan

The sun had just poked its head out of the heavens. Silence echoed from the front to the back, making it feel like the universe consisted of only 300 people. Some were traveling for business, others pleasure. The Atlantic can make you feel like you are all alone and that the only person that exists is you, without anyone around, except you and your thoughts. Thoughts run rampant, and mine were running full speed ahead. Germany was just hundreds of miles away, with thousands of opportunities waiting to be explored.

Some people say the darkest hour is right before the dawn. It felt cold and numb as the jet took off from Amsterdam, as I had changed planes on my flight over the big pond. The smell of coffee filled the cabin, as we swung over the city. I thought of that little girl, with her family, holed up in an attic for some two years, courageous and noble. Her diary shook the universe making us see the world had changed a lot in the last 60 years. I felt like I was in this large, dark haze, either from working too long the night before, or staying up and daydreaming…wondering what was about to happen over the course of the next 16 days. What happened, was seeing the world in a different light, and journalism in its truest form….pure, honest, and direct.

Berlin has always come with a stereotype of being cold, cloudy, and rainy. When I arrived, the sun was beaming and the glare was coming off of the shiny, cream vanilla Mercedes Benz that picked me up at the airport. The streets winded and turned, as the taxi driver made his way to the hotel through the city. I almost wondered if he actually understood where I wanted to go, after about 20 minutes. After all, my German was awful; I hadn’t spoken any since college.

The driver stumbled onto the hotel, after doing a 360 in the middle of the street. I went inside, and discovered that checking in at 9:30 in the morning wasn’t going to be possible. I staggered down the street, and felt the adrenaline of arriving in another country wearing off. I walked about a block and stumbled onto a coffee shop. It was one of those places in the neighbourhood, that everyone knows everybody inside. I knew no one there. I ordered a small cup of coffee, about eight ounces I figured, but it had the punch of an entire pot American coffee, thick, rich, and stout. Just the way I liked it. I met the owner of the coffee shop. Nice man. Dark hair, piercing brown eyes, and a big smile. I walked outside and spoke with him while gulping down my coffee. Truth is, I can barely remember what I asked him, and god only knows if he understood my broken German.

My first visit to Germany was four-years prior to coming over for the RIAS program. That trip was a whirlwind, eight days, and three countries. This trip had a lot of new dimensions to it though, more people, more focus, and intense education. Something you couldn’t get in a six-week summer school back in the States.

The Berlin that I got to know was incredible. It’s a big city, but nothing like New York, where you could be frozen to death in the midst of a busy street and nobody would notice. Berliners noticed a lot and I noticed them. They weren’t the “cold people” that a lot of foreigners make them out to be. In fact, they were the nicest people that I had come across on this trip.

I eventually checked into my hotel and then checked into the bed. I felt drunk, but my body hadn’t had a drop of alcohol since I set foot on German soil. Jet lag was catching up.

Four hours later, the phone rang. I heard a woman’s voice, speaking perfect English, at the other end of the line. She spoke with a Midwestern accent, the same as mine. Several hours later, I had met four members of the RIAS group, and two other Germans, who I had previously run into back in the States. It was a quick outing that night in Berlin…if you can call it quick, being a Saturday night in the nation’s capital.

The program started Sunday with the tour of the city, with its rich history and promising future. The night ended and before I knew it, the program was off and running Monday morning, with a full day’s schedule at the Bundestag, meetings galore, packed with excitement.

On this program, there was no lack of characters, including myself. But that’s what was so great about a big trip with people from all over the U.S. You really never knew what you were going to get, day in and day out with some of these cats. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard at some of things that happened. But those experiences are best left unmentioned.

The last week was a whirlwind, bouncing from one city, one country, to another. It’s funny how much you can learn in a matter of two weeks. It’s funny how you can learn from others in such a short time period too. On this trip I realized a lot. I even picked up what one person called “a magic wallet”. I guess they are right… it will always keep alive the hidden European part of me, and then some.

Read more