Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Not your average 3 days in Berlin

Now for a bit of context to my Angie encounter…

Since Monday, all of the Chancellor Scholars have been meeting with politicians and diplomats in Berlin. “THE” meeting of the three days was yesterday’s photo-op with Chancellor Merkel—after all, the fellowship is named after her job!

Monday after lunch, we met with Deputy Foreign Minister Erler. I was most impressed! Not only was he willing to answer any question we had, he was very eloquent… and… wait for it… from Freiburg! Our other meeting of the day was at the Russian embassy. Stretching almost an entire city block, the building was amazing—Stalin or the Czar could easily entertain there. Our meeting was held in a large reception room overlooking Unter den Linden. I found myself wondering what people inside the embassy must have been doing and feeling as they looked out the windows on November 9, 1989 and saw thousands of people flooding towards the west.

Let’s just say that Tuesday morning started with a lesson in public diplomacy and cross-cultural miscommunication. We were waiting at the American embassy expecting to meet with one speaker when we discovered that the plan had been changed (we had been ditched for something in Washington:-o) and that there were 5 heads of section (equally cool) waiting for us at the America House across town. Once we finally got there, the discussion was fascinating! I would have answered some of the questions differently, but overall I was impressed. I was most fascinated by what was said about public diplomacy. One of the speakers brought up Edward R. Murrow’s famous quote that public diplomacy really happens in “the last three feet”—person-to-person contact. For benefit of the Russians and Germans, the speaker quickly made a point of saying that three feet is approximately one meter. This small comment was an awesome reminder that even person-to-person contact can require cultural translation and understanding. Our day continued with lunch at Theodor Tucher a restaurant next to the Brandenberg Gate that I’d been dying to try. It got the ET seal of approval!

Don't let the innocent Midwest faces fool you, we have questions and we aren't affraid to ask them!

View from the 7th floor

Then came the main event! We met with a man who works on media and culture issues at the chancellery and then it was up to the 7th floor for our photo-op. The chancellor came out of her office after we had lined ourselves up for the picture. She asked us a few questions about what we were doing and told us about a plan to expand the fellowship to 10 Chinese “future leaders” next year. She also encouraged us to use the contacts we have made when we return home and said she hoped that we would always remember Germany. (Will do!) I will also always remember how friendly she was when she came out of her office--like she was Martha Stewart greeting people into her home. (Pictures of us with the BK to follow in a couple of days)

Cabinet Room-- Merkel and Munterfering get the first 2 chairs

looking from the Cabinet Room to the Reichstag (sponsored by Adidas)

After she left, we got a tour of the rest of the building.

Neues Museum

Guide explaining how they were looking for the right shade of white for the walls

The last part of the day, which was almost as memorable as Angie, was a tour of ALL the museums on the Museum Island by the press secretary of the museums. An archeologist by training, he wore an Indian Jones hat and Clark Kent glasses—the perfect tour guide. Amazingly enough, the highlight of the tour was not the Pergamon Altar or even the Nefertiti statue, but a tour through the Neues Museum, which has been closed since 1945 and the Bode Museum which is also being renovated and will be reopened this fall. Standing in the Neues Museum, looking at art work that has not been seen by the public in over 60 years made me feel a bit like an archeologist as well!

Bode Museum

This morning we headed back to the foreign ministry and met with the coordinator for German-American relations, the head of the culture and education department and a representative from the Russia department. The fellows were once again thoroughly impressed with the speakers’ openness and eagerness to engage us in a discussion about culture in Germany.

The final item on the agenda was our last group meal together. (Let it never be said that the Humboldt Foundation lets its fellows go hungry!) While discussing the year, one of the Humboldt reps said, “you are not the people you were at the beginning of the year.” Hmmm, I think that is very true—a bit strange, a lot cool and very true!


At 4:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Were you allowed to ask questions of the Chancellor? If so, did anyone? What did they ask and how did she respond? Were there any "tough" questions asked of the other reps you met? Finally, was a certain someone visiting the Russian Embassy the day you were there?
--You know who.

At 8:34 PM, Blogger Johnnie Oz said...

Angie rocks! You guys are so lucky you didn't have to schmooze with V.W. Gerhard "I could sell a used Jetta to ANYONE, inc my Baltic Sea Pipeline friend Putin" Schroeder. The former Chancellor's been in the news recently for ALL the wrong reason. Good riddens.
BTW, come to think of it, it's not luck that you met Angie: this year's BuKa scholars are a notch above the rest :-)
For more on Angie: click here

At 2:39 AM, Blogger Erin said...

No one asked Angie any questions. I actually sensed that maybe she expected some questions, but we had been told that she would not have much time, so people behaved.
Someone at the US Embassy asked about the German guy who was taken by the US as a suspected terrorist in a rendition. It was really awkward, but a diplomat's job is to answer the tough questions so I guess it was to be expected.
Sorry, Putin was not in town on Tuesday. If he had been, I would have of course told him that Bush and Cheney might not like him anymore, but that there is one American who thinks he's hot;-)

At 9:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. That's all I can say. Wow.


At 9:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erin - meeting with Angela sounds very cool. I'm sure she was just as impressed with your midwestern smile as you were with her Martha Stewart hospitality. J.

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Erin said...

I am sure my smile will similar to the "this is so cool, I hope no one realizes that they hired a total newbie" smile that I had in many of the pictures that were taken at the embassy the first couple years I was there. How embarassing! CHHEEEESE!

At 2:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what if it is awkward. If the US goes around doing stupid (and illegal) things, it deserves to be publicly embarassed and questioned about the things it is doing. I am glad that the fellow had the balls to ask questions of the U.S.'s policies re: rendition to torture. In my opinion, more Americans should be doing the same thing. -- Anuradha


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