TWO-WEEK GERMANY PROGRAMS 2019
Summer and Fall
RIAS Exchange Program – Summer ▼
June 2–15, 2019
RIAS Student Program – Summer ▼
June 30 – July 20, 2019
RIAS Exchange Program – Summer
Susana Castillo, KTSM, El Paso, TX
The RIAS Fellowship is a life changing program that inspires me to be a better journalist and all around person. Speaking with politicians, journalists, and people with one of kind experiences has helped me view the world a little bit different. While it was my first trip overseas, it was a very busy schedule that seems like a lengthy course on American-German relationships condensed into just two weeks. Using public transportation was a great way to help me become familiar with the city of Berlin. Getting lost a few times was a challenge I’m glad I overcame because it made me a more confident traveler.
Monday, we visited the RIAS building. I was fascinated to see how one of the rooms is still in its original state. Many people from both West and East Germany got their news from RIAS (Radio in American Sector). It was also a station played rock music. We spoke with a German journalist with a migrant background Jaafar Abdul-Karim. He talked about how he covers immigration topics while being objective. A topic I was very interested in since I live in a border city and cover immigration too. Another impactful visit was with German journalists at the ARD. They spoke about German and American politics and how they cover those stories including being able to tell a political story with all six parties in parliament commenting.
Tuesday, our group of 13 American journalists visited a Deputy Spokesperson of the Federal Government. She speaks with Chancellor Angela Merkel regularly and speaks for her at press conferences. It was interesting to learn that they have a press conference three times a week. A walk around Kreuzberg with a Berlin politician showed us what minorities deal with in Germany. He talked about gentrification and shared his political views. We spoke with a RIAS commission member and Berlin journalists who are RIAS alum. We learned about media and the politics in Germany. I made contacts that I can later use when reporting in my hometown and Berlin journalists asked for help on stories they are working on in my area.
Thursday in Berlin, a meeting with the Economist’s Berlin bureau chief led to talks about his experience as an international correspondent and the relationships between politicians and media. A trip to the Allied Museum allowed us American journalists to see how American military lived within Germany and how pilots would drop coal, food, and even candy to the people and children of Berlin. We saw how a tunnel that was built under the Berlin Wall and the section of the museum dedicated to RIAS or Radio in the American Sector. Then we got a tour of Inforadio, like most media in Germany, it is publicly funded media. In Germany, every household pays almost 18 euros in monthly fees for media culture.
Friday, started off the day by visiting the headquarters of Clean Energy Wire, a company that provides news and data on renewable energy in Germany. I company I had no idea existed. They are former journalists helping journalists finding sources. Then we met with a German campaign consultant who spent time in the US working on campaigns. At that same meeting we spoke with an anchor for ARD’s evening newscasts. They both shared their perspective on German and American politics and how media contributes to elections.
We had a unique tour of the Hohenschonhausen Memorial. It’s one of the former Stasi prisons. Our tour guide was arrested and imprisoned for attempting to escape East Berlin. He talked about the psychological intimidation techniques used on prisoners including himself. He then guided us on a tour of the Berlin Wall Memorial. It’s a place where people who lived in nearby apartments would jump out of windows to get to West Berlin and people would attempt to cross the barrier despite life-threatening obstacles. Many were shot and killed trying to get across the wall.
Saturday, a Syrian refugee gave us a tour of his neighborhood while explaining how he traveled to Berlin. He traveled by land, air, and sea. He says during one of his boat rides, two people who were fleeing Syria drowned in front of his eyes because the boat sank. He says it was a dangerous trip he had no choice but to make. The moment he decided to leave Syria was the moment that a bomb killed people in a car just seconds after he drove off from the exact same spot. So we could feel what it was like being in a different country with completely different language, during the tour he gave us each a word/ phrase to look for in a one block area. The word in a language none of us knew. I didn’t find the word but it ended up being everywhere around me.
The second week it was a trip to Dresden where we had a tour of the church Frauenkirche Dresden. We also got a tour of the city itself and learned about the history behind the buildings. So many are very old with a Baroque style but so many are new buildings. The tour guide tells us about 80% of the buildings were destroyed in World War II and they decided to try to rebuild most of the buildings with some of the ruins. Frauenkirche was one of the buildings which was rebuilt. About 45% of the original bricks were used in the reconstruction.
As soon as arriving in Prague, we visited the German Embassy, the place where thousands of East German went to escape from the East and move to West Germany. Their request was eventually granted. It was incredible to be in the same area where the historical moments took place. This was one of my favorite spots.
After taking a walk across the famous Charles Bridge we talked to a Czech Republic correspondent about his challenges when covering stories in the area. We also visited Radio Free Europe. The building is so secure with lots of security measures because of threats that journalists have received and deaths of others who’ve been on assignment. There we spoke with journalists who bring news and entertainment to regions that don’t have access to objective reporting. They help locals have accurate information about their region and world issues. Very inspiring. Reminds me why I’m a journalist.
In the European Union building at Brussels we had the opportunity to speak with European Commission officials about how their legislation process works. There are so many steps and so many people working together to make it happen. A dinner with fellow RIAS participants who are based in Belgium helped us learn about their experiences of being foreign correspondents and what they learned when visiting the U.S.
The final meeting of the trip was at NATO headquarters in Brussels. It was another incredible experience being able to talk with officials there about their interactions with multiple countries and maintaining relationships. One of the big topics was the US/Russia relationship.
As much as we are different, we are also the same when it comes to politics, media, and life. I am grateful to have also been able to ask questions on camera of how people from the other side of the world view issues in my hometown which is allowing me to bring those stories to my community. Thank you RIAS. Even though RIAS is no longer on air, it’s still changing people’s views and lives in a positive way.
Jeremy Chen, KESQ-TV, Thousand Palms, CA
The changing tides in Germany and Europe: A Reflection
Politics is complicated, to say the least in a nutshell, but even more so in the complex landscape that is German and EU politics. With the rise of the populist far-right along with the youth-driven progressive left, there are shades of political division that’s evident in America.
Getting the opportunity to pick the brains of two politicians at completely opposite ends of the political spectrum provided a lens at possibly the future of European politics. The traditional center left and right in Germany are faltering with the rise of both the AFD and the Green Party filling a void, particularly after the SPD leader resigned, on the first day our RIAS group arrived.
Former Bundestag member and Green party member, Özcan Mutlu presented a vision of a Germany that fights gentrification, welcomes new immigrants and refugees with open arms to contributing to its diverse society, and addressing climate change. A shock poll came out actually showing the Greens as having the strongest support. Current Bundestag member and AFD co-leader Beatrix von Storch however, stood in contrast, as unabashedly pro-Israel, creating a hard-line on immigration, and wanting to put Germany first while deflecting criticism by some that it exudes rhetoric used by the Nazis. Frau von Storch did not hold back answering pressing questions from us and seemed to enjoy the back and forth that was established. She represents the anxieties felt by some in a changing Germany, especially in East Germany where the party is topping the polls in the local elections. This landscape brings questions to the now-unstable coalition built by Chancellor Angela Merkel, a long-time symbol of national stability, and whether her vision of a pragmatic Germany continues to exist.
After speaking with German journalists, it gave me the impression the average citizen in the country is quite well-informed and does an excellent job relaying information to viewers and readers. When it comes to TV journalism, the focus of my personal interest, it seems public broadcasting remains strong with billions of Euros coming in the form of government funding, so money does not necessarily seem to be an issue as it is in America. In fact, the main news program, Tagesschau, remains a staple of German society, with 10 million nightly viewers.
However, they do acknowledge, much can be improved with the advent of social media, in reaching out to younger audiences, with it now in full force in Germany. It seems America has already come ahead in terms of its outreach. The coverage of the populist far-right remains a topic of debate among German broadcast journalists, not willing to give a platform to entities like the AFD, not wanting to tread anywhere close to the rhetoric of the country’s Nazi past. It does seem however, news managers are now more open in covering them giving them a platform to have their voices heard but under the same scrutiny given to all others parties to ensure fairness and accuracy.
The trip to Radio Free Europe in Prague also showed the valuable role unbiased and informational journalism is in areas where traditional media is under attack through suppression or intimidation. Scores of foreign journalists in countries like Russia and the Middle East, continue to report on what’s going happening on the ground without the government spin, without fears of likely reprisals.
Finally, visiting the European Commission and NATO in Brussels gave us a picture into institutions that ensure a peaceful and prosperous Europe that has been the vision of the U.S. in the aftermath of World War II, giving stability to a continent wracked by constant warfare and conflict over hundreds of years. There are signs of discontent, however with the looming Brexit, and the polarization of European politics with the pro-European Greens and Eurosceptic right gaining more power. It remains to be seen whether the political center can respond to populist upheavals from both sides of the spectrum.
This trip would not have been possible without getting the privilege to be a part of the RIAS Berlin Kommission, where engaging talks and exchanges whee done with both German and European-based journalists. All of them are talented in their own ways and all of them versed in one thing Americans need to make up ground on, being multi-lingual. While I and other Americans are blessed to have native fluency in the sometimes unwieldy rules of English, speaking at least one other language fluently opens so many doors in an increasingly connected and diverse world, especially in Europe. It has motivated me to improve my fluency in Mandarin Chinese, and perhaps re-think the future of my career, where reporting abroad could be in the picture, perhaps for a strong German media outlet like Deutsche Welle. It’s an inspirational experience all journalists should have the chance to explore.
Leah Donnella, NPR, Washington, DC
Heather Dorf-Dolce, Freelancer, ARD German TV, Washington, DC
I am not sure where to begin, there is so much to be thankful for. I am truly grateful for the RIAS program. I had the unique experience in our group of being a US journalist who works with German journalists covering the United States. The majority of my work is with the extraordinary professionals at ARD German TV. I have seen them learn about the United States from our travels and I was so honored to have a glimpse of Germany through this program.
Although, I was only able to be on one part of the program, it will have a lasting impact on my work as a journalist and my sense of self. Berlin is a complex city, with a very dark history but also a light that cannot be extinguished. You feel this light in the people, the history, the politics and the culture. The most rewarding part of this program for me was the combination of the politics, the journalism, the history, the positive culture, with the harsh reality for some of a world that is complicated, dangerous, and sometimes just evil.
Meeting our fellow journalists, was a fantastic way to learn about Germany.Everyone was extremely welcoming and open. The first meeting with Jafaar Abdul-Karim; inspiring. The meeting introduced us to a part of German life that you don’t immediately think of as Americans. We often discuss the troubles in our own society and what we can do about them, to hear what Jafaar is aiming to do with his program and the obstacles he had to overcome to make this happen was fascinating. Of course, for me being at the ARD Capitol studio, had a special meaning, as I was able to see where my colleagues in Berlin work and hear what it is like to cover national politics in Berlin. Being able to talk and tour with the journalists at DW, Inforadio, and The Economist, created a wonderful picture of what it is like is to be a German journalist, the challenges and the rewards.
The political access to Ulrike Demmer, Beatrix von Storch, Ozcan Mutlu, and Julius van de Laar, was spectacular. It allowed us as American journalists an inside look at the political spectrum, unlike any access I have ever had in the US. The meetings were insightful and informative. The relationship of the media to the Government is much different than in the United States. The invitation of the press to the Government, the moderator who handles questions, to the level of confidentiality system, was very helpful to see as it is always important to know there are other ways to do things. That is how you grow and learn, even when you don’t always agree with the system or the information the politicians are giving you. There were many differences but also some similarities with division of thought and social consciousness.
I was enamored by the social and historical part of this tour. Even without wanting to speak much English, Kani Alavi East Side Gallery, opened his love of art and Germany up to us and his personally Gallery. I was inspired by his dedication and vision. To contrast the beauty and sadness of the art was the reality of the life Peter Keu, eye witness GDR Stasi victim. Sharing his experience with us was like watching history in the present. It was horrible and wonderful all at once. The same was with our tour of Neukölln with Syrian refuge. His life was full of hardships I could not imagine but to share his journey with us will not only make me a better journalist but a better person.
I am forever changed by this program. I will continue to fight in my work to bring light to the darkness and create knowledge for change. I encourage all to continue this exchange of work and ideas. Last but certainly not least through this program, I have a new network of American journalists to continue on this mission with, thank you RIAS.
Roseanne Gerin, Radio Free Asia, Washington, DC
At 8 p.m. each evening, a chime signals the start of “Tagesschau,” the most widely watched television news program in Germany. Many TV viewers consider the 15-minute roundup of the biggest national and global news stories of the day to be their most important source of information. One evening in early June, I tuned in to the program along with the nearly 10 million Germans who regularly watch the news bulletin produced by ARD, the country’s largest public service broadcast network.
ARD and other public TV and radio broadcasters have helped make Germany one of Europe’s most vibrant media markets, and Germans one of the most informed peoples of the world, as we learned from visits to news outlets and discussions with media movers and shakers during the spring 2019 RIAS Berlin Commission Journalist Exchange Program.
Like their American counterparts, Germany’s public broadcasters are well-regarded and play a huge role in informing, educating, and entertaining audiences. But unlike many U.S. public broadcasters, they have few financial worries, thanks to compulsory, but highly controversial, fees paid by the German public.
Germany’s 16 Länder (federal states) have the power to enact broadcasting laws in their regions, but they cannot use broadcasting fees to influence program content or to engage in media policy. Public media companies are supervised by broadcasting councils (Rundfunkräte), whose members set guidelines for TV and radio stations and select their directors.
As RIAS commission member and former journalist Richard Meng explained, these independent broadcasting councils have regulations that vary from state to state. Their representatives include socially relevant groups, such as trade unions, churches, political parties, and educational institutions to ensure a democratic plurality of voices that represent the general population.
During a visit to ARD’s offices in Berlin, former RIAS fellows Michael Stempfle, Dagmar Pepping, and Daniel Pokraka discussed how their organization and other public service broadcasters rely on funding from the €17.50 monthly fees (Rundfunkbeitrag) paid by German households to finance their operations.
The Rundfunkbeitrag covers the costs of producing radio and TV programs and related services at ARD, public TV broadcaster ZDF, public radio broadcaster Deutschlandradio, and regional public TV and radio broadcasters. The fees are the most important source of revenue for these media outlets, providing a total of €8 billion annually, though they are widely unpopular among citizens, commercial broadcasters, and the country’s far-right political party Alternative für Deutschland, an ARD critic that wants to abolish them.
U.S. public broadcasters, by contrast, often struggle for funding because they are dependent on dues from member stations, money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, contributions from companies, foundations, and individuals, and funds raised from pledge drives.
Journalists and editors at RBB (Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg), which operates three radio stations in the German capital and three in nearby Potsdam, emphasized that despite receiving the “broadcast contribution” fees via the government, public broadcasters are not state-controlled.
Though privately owned commercial broadcasters and newspapers complain that the compulsory fees give public broadcasters an unfair financial advantage, the funds always ensure that RBB has a steady stream of income to pay its staff and finance its programming.
RBB editors also discussed public broadcasters’ Bildungsauftrag, a duty to inform and educate the public with a heavy dose of politics. Under its contract with the Berlin and Brandenburg Bundesländer, RBB must inform listeners about what is happening in their democracy and be “very correct” in the way material is presented by including a range of opinions while maintaining a neutral tone free of political bias.
Though funding isn’t an issue for Germany’s public TV and radio broadcasters, most of which have ample staff and office space along with the latest studio technology, they struggle with some of the same issues, such as employee diversity, as do newsrooms in the U.S.
Jaafar Abdul-Karim, a Lebanese journalist who hosts the Arabic-language show “Shababtalk” on Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, noted a lack of diversity among journalists from migrant backgrounds. Though Germany accepted Turkish guestworkers in the 1960s and 1970s, Lebanese migrants fleeing war in the 1980s and early 1990s, and hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in 2015, immigrants in the country are barely visible on screen. Drawing on his experience as a journalist, Abdul-Karim said migrants hired by news organizations are usually pigeonholed into covering immigration and refugee topics, rather than assigned to meatier beats such as the economy.
A notable positive feature of Germany’s media landscape, however, is the non-antagonistic interaction between federal government officials and journalists. Unlike in the U.S. where the current administration largely views the media as hostile adversaries and dismisses critical reports as fake news, Germany’s government spokespersons attend regularly scheduled conferences at the invitation of the press.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s press officers attend three orderly briefings a week where they field questions on a range of domestic and international topics. A journalist moderator selects reporters from both commercial and public media outlets to ask questions to ensure that the government representatives do not get to decide whom to call on or which topics to discuss.
Dean Kurth, Fox News, New York, NY
“You will learn a lot about America in Germany.” These words spoken by RIAS Commission member Dr. Richard Meng early into the Spring 2019 RIAS made their way into my journal as something to keep in mind as already a whirlwind of meetings had begun to help our group of American journalists more fully connect Berlin’s past and present. Meng also spoke of Berlin not being a typical German city. How it was a city in debt, yet it is still growing. How Berlin was “a city in the center of Europe” — a place for young people, even though rents are on the rise. And when it came to journalism, despite a $17 annual media fee paid by all German citizens, the question of whether to have dinner first or watch one of the evening news programs is rarely considered in German homes anymore. Meng told us young people aren’t watching traditional TV and instead turning to their computers and smartphones for news and information, just like in America.
Another layer of similarities between Germany and the U.S. bubbled up in many discussions about immigration. Indeed, the topic would come up several times over the next few weeks as we learned firsthand from journalists, political figures and a refugee what the city means and meant to so many people. During a memorable and enlightening tour of Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood by former Green Party politician Özcan Mutlu we saw up close how the area became the home for a large percentage of immigrants from Turkey. Over lunch at an authentic Turkish restaurant, Mutlu explained that while Kreuzberg attracts a young, diverse population, the district also has high levels of unemployment and some of Berlin’s lowest incomes. And yet the rents in the neighborhood are on the rise as the growing population puts pressure on the rental market, not unlike the housing situation in many U.S. cities.
Of all of our meetings during our program, one received the biggest reaction from anyone we mentioned it to, and that was our time with Beatrix von Storch, the Deputy leader of Germany’s far-right political party and the granddaughter of Adolf Hitler’s finance minister. Von Storch gave us a generous amount of her time and quickly began highlighting some of her party’s agenda by first stating that the number one current issue is migration and the Islamization of Germany. Von Storch talked about how Germany needs highly-skilled people who speak German, and yet she said the country should not spend resources to educate thousands of migrants who are not yet skilled in their own countries. At one point von Storch said Germany needs more immigrants of Asian descent to help the country compete on a technological level. Some of her comments were somewhat jarring to hear in person, as most of us in the room might have been more used to reading similar statements regarding immigration in the U.S. being bandied about by politicians on social media, most notably by our president.
As we are already full speed ahead into another presidential election cycle in the U.S., it was fascinating to hear from someone during out RIAS program with ties to the former administration. Political strategist and communications expert Julius van de Laar worked for both of Barack Obama’s campaigns and has worked for several political parties in Germany. “It’s the most exciting time in German politics in fifteen years”, van de Laar told us, referring to the changing political landscape in Germany with the eco-friendly Greens party winning 20 percent of the vote in the recent European parliament elections, its best result in history, and as Chancellor Angela Merkel nears the end of her long term in office. He also explained that unlike in America where political campaigns can go on for what seems like an eternity, campaigns in Germany last just two months, with the tone being mostly positive. In fact, there are no attack ads as part of campaign strategies. And, political ads are free for candidates. That’s quite the contrast to the political mud-slinging that now seems commonplace in U.S. elections.
On the media side, a message from Deutsche Welle editor-in-chief Ines Pohl resonated with me: “Listen. You can learn so much.” During our visit to the global English-language news channel, Pohl also shared how, the way she sees it, the American media is very biased in its political coverage. In contrast, she said Deutsche Welle, a network launched using the RIAS broadcast facilities, was “one of the most important pure new sources.” And the brand clearly has its fans and followers. Pohl pointed out that for 11 trainee positions at Deutsche Welle each year there are at least 2,000 applicants.
Many have questioned why the meeting with Beatrix von Storch was included on our RIAS agenda as she is clearly a radical political figure in Germany based on the extreme responses just the mention of her name received. But her inclusion in our program spoke to the strength of the RIAS fellowship program to give fellows a varied and well-rounded look into German politics and media with incredible access to a wide-ranging group of experts and experiences. There were so many more inspiring speakers and moments during the extensive RIAS Spring 2019, and they all continue to come to mind as media and politics are now being viewed through a new and more informed journalistic lens.
Larry Miller, WUSA 9, Washington, DC
LaCrai Mitchell, CBS News, New York, NY
Michelle Morgante, Freelance Producer and Writer, Los Angeles, CA
Gina Presson, WEDU-TV, Tampa, FL
Ryan Prior, CNN, Atlanta, GA
While in Germany with the RIAS Fellowship, I found several foreign stories that I could bring back to home in my work as a writer for CNN in the US. When I got home from the Europe, I pitched these stories. My CNN job was already busy before I left for RIAS, and it got even crazier on my return, but my plan will be to work on these RIAS-inspired stories during my rare moments of down time. These moments in Europe were rare, life-changing events that deepened my understanding of how political issues around the world are inextricably linked. In Germany, we observed many of the same underlying political facts manifesting in ways both vastly different and remarkably similarly to the issues that occupy the national conversation in America.
First, I’m working on a story based on our visit to the Eastside Gallery. I told my my editor how when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Iranian artist Kani Alavi rallied artists to transform the symbol of oppression into the world’s longest art gallery, and Berlin’s most visited attraction. The beautiful murals along that section of wall have become iconic calls for world peace. Thirty years later, policymakers from Latin America to South Korea grappling with their own borders seek out his thoughts. As the US debates a southern border wall, he tells CNN that he hopes Trump will visit what’s left of the Berlin Wall to see how tearing down barriers led to peace. I’m working on finishing my profile on Alavi, the gallery, and the international meaning of walls, which will publish with CNN’s Travel section.
Second, I’d like to report a story about what US can learn from Germany’s policies on renewable energy and climate change. During our session at Clean Energy Wire in Berlin, I asked our speaker what researchers at the outlet thought about Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal proposal, which had been causing significant debate in the US with regard to our clean energy future. Erik had a quick quip that “Germany has been living the Green New Deal for the past 30 years without controversy.” That comment could function like a headline for a CNN story. As we move further along into the presidential election as well as Trump’s ongoing feud with AOC and her Congressional allies, this could be a vital piece of reporting to give American audiences important context into where we sit in global energy politics.
And thirdly, because I’m often covering the ongoing American debate about our country’s legacy of slavery and race relations, along with the discussion on whether to remove Confederate statues and memorials, I’d like to publish an essay related to that for the CNN Opinion page. The Holocaust memorial in the heart of Berlin inspired the newly opened lynchings memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. And as the US still struggles to reckon with legacy on slavery and race, I would argue that we can look to Germany’s proactive example of atoning for Nazis and the Holocaust, and saying “never again.” After visiting the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, I’ll next drive to Birmingham to see the lynchings memorial and look to explore how we’re processing historical trauma on both sides of the Atlantic.
Lastly, there’s an inescapable connection between the rural whites I grew up with in the American South, working-class East Germans, and the Scottish Highlanders I encountered traveling in the UK after RIAS. Whether they voted for Trump, AfD, or Brexit, an only slightly different character type manifests in each country: it’s someone working in an industry that’s being automated or outsourced, and who’s fearful of migration, clinging to traditional values, and yearning for an authority that can preserve their way of life. Having more intimately looked these issues in the face, and imbibed these cross-border connections, I’m better poised than ever to report accurately on the dynamic combination of economic transformation and value conservation that will shape the entirety of the 21st century human experience.
These projects may take a couple months as I fit them into increasingly fleeting amounts of free time amid our ferocious news cycle. But I hope the story ideas contribute to showing the immediate effects RIAS can have on its participants and on international discussion of trans-Atlantic issues. There’s a direct effect between the RIAS Fellowship meetings and CNN’s coverage that can reach hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. And that vital fact remains integral to showcasing the enduring power and importance of this international exchange program.
Roxanne Scott, WABE, Atlanta, GA
Kathleen Walker, KOA Denver, Denver, CO
Enriched. When I reflect on the amazing two weeks spent during my RIAS exchange, I will forever feel enriched by the experience.
The people of Germany were very open and frank in discussing their views on politics, refugees, the United States and our President and of the challenges being faced by a powerful country that’s shouldering the brunt of a changing European landscape. It was refreshing to hear many of the same challenges we face in American media to accurately cover the powerful and the powerless during times of transition.
It was amazing to meet so many European Journalists. Among the standouts: Politico’s David Herszenhorn. His approach to covering journalism in the world of NATO and the EU and impressing an American-style of political journalism on these world institutions was fascinating. The frank discussion we shared with Jafaar Abdul-Karim about being a minority journalist in Germany and meeting the head of DW Ines Pohl also left us with a great understanding of how Germany approaches most stories with depth and a completeness not often found in American journalism.
The political fabric of Germany today is best exemplified by the diverse views we heard between meeting Beatrix von Storch, Ulrike Demmer and Ozcan Mutlu. I would say that all of our fellows enjoyed the journalistic jousting we shared with Ms. von Storch, mostly because of the way in which she held her ground on her positions and offered her steadfast responses to views on everything from immigration to marriage and families. Our personal opinions aside, it was the manner in which she shared her view and was so open with us that we truly enjoyed. I found her engaging and so much like the maverick that is US President Trump. I believe our discussion with her was the highlight of my trip.
To give us perspective on the diversity of German politics, I believe our open conversation with Ulrike Demmer was enlightening. Her admiration of Chancellor Merkel, along with information she shared on the transformation from journalist to government spokesperson and the day-in-day-out consumption of news in Germany was quite interesting. I don’t believe a spokesperson for the US President would be so open with journalists. Best of all, the blunt no-holding-back style of Ozcan Mutlu was refreshing. His time with us in Kreuzberg was important in that it showed all of us the tolerance for liberal and diverse thought in Germany. As a bonus, he’s a character who knows good food.
I’m so glad I took the time to read STASILAND prior to my trip. The color of the book and great tour of the Stasi Prison with Peter Keup did so much to help me understand the challenges of daily life in Berlin during the cold war and the difficulties of living in East Berlin during that time. The STASI were your neighbors, the enforcers and the spies. I can’t imagine living with that amount of mis-trust and dis-trust in your life. Worst of all, Peter’s recollections of the cruelty of being held in a Stasi prison. He’s really an amazing piece of German history, all by himself. I’m so glad to have spent time with him. He’s truly a gentle person.
Germany’s power and impact on all of Europe was exemplified by our visit to Prague. Learning more of the stories of the German Embassy in Prague and its importance in the end of the cold war and the persecution of East Germans was a very stop on our tour.
There’s no way our trip to Brussels will ever be forgotten. Visiting NATO and the EU was amazing. So much of our journalistic lives, we hear about the workings of both institutions. To see it in person and be treated with such care and respect was downright amazing. Discussing everything from President Trump to the diplomatic prowess needed when it comes to Russia and China, it was a heady experience in both places. I’ll always treasure our briefings at NATO. I wish I could be part of the press corps covering that group daily!
In general, I was so impressed with the diverse people who spent time with the RIAS fellows. The openness of both opinion and thought leaders and journalists and media executives was eye-opening. I don’t think American politicians or media companies would have been so revealing. I think it shows the maturity of Germans and Europeans being well-schooled in their histories and global understanding. Americans don’t seem to have that comprehension of the lessons of the past. In some ways, I believe my trip highlighted the innovation that American media is capable of embracing. It also exposed the great depth of reporting and concern for media and journalism in Europe, especially in Germany.
The foresight offered by those who established the RIAS Commission is insightful. I’m especially grateful, given my German ancestry, to have been exposed to the experience that two weeks among professionals in Germany has added to my life and to my career. I have new connections and best of all, new knowledge with which to lead my newsroom.
I will be eternally grateful for the connections we made with German journalists and our fellow RIAS travelers. They will all become life-long friends. I’m so proud and honored to be part of the RIAS club.
RIAS Student Program – Summer
Jude Ahmed, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA
Michelle Ailport, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Juliana Amos, Queens University of Charlotte, Charlotte, NC
Jillian Carafa, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
Jen Cartwright, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA
Sinclaire Jacobs, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK
Molly Kruse, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK
I knew that a three-week trip to explore journalism and the Cold War history in Germany could never be boring. But I honestly didn’t expect to learn so much about my own country — its priorities, quirks, advantages and shortcomings — while in a completely different one.
A recurring joke in our group of 14 American students was how much we missed free water at restaurants. Even at McDonalds in Germany, it was like pulling to get the employees to give you “Leitungswasser” instead of a bottle of expensive “Mineralwasser.”
This was a small difference between daily life in Germany and the U.S., though — and not that life-changing. But we came to discover even more surprising things, like Germany’s robust public media system, supported by a monthly fee that Germans can’t opt out of. Or the German penchant for conserving energy, which manifests itself in a complete lack of air conditioning and leaving the lights off, even if the room is half dark.
And then there is the beautiful acceptance of refugees, to whom the government gives housing, a stipend and educational opportunities. There’s the way remembering the past is part of the German DNA, with World War II memorials at every corner and little gold blocks by the doorways of former Jewish residences, where the Jews lived before they were taken from their homes.
And of course the harrowing history of a wall dividing the two sides of Berlin, which was torn down only eight years before I was born, and which reminded many of us of the wall our current president has promised to build in our country.
Contrast the German public media system with our ever-more-privatized media in the U.S., and the differences are hard to miss. While our news stations are forced to become cutthroat and polarized, German public media thrives on comfortable salaries and ample time to fact-check. Back in the states, it’s normal for us to leave on all the lights, drive our cars everywhere and not think about where energy comes from. Meanwhile Germans, besides their allergy to air conditioning and smoothly-functioning public transit, are setting an example for other nations with the “Energiewende,” or transition to renewable energy. It makes me think — if Germany can do these things, why can’t the U.S.?
I will be glad to go back home and drive my climate-controlled car, don’t get me wrong. And I also discovered a lot of things to love about my country, like passports that can get you anywhere, Southern hospitality and stores that are open at all hours. But seeing another country making things work that most Americans couldn’t imagine is so valuable — I wish more of my friends could have this experience!
Ariana Lasher, University of New Haven, West Haven, CT
Michael Makowski, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Christian Nunley, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK
Kingsley-Reigne Pissang, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Nick Scheffler, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Erin Snodgrass, Loyola University New Orleans, New Orleans, LA
Alison Walker, Emerson College, Boston, MA