Saturday, July 15, 2006

BBQ for Bush Besuch

For the last few days, President Bush has been in the northern (and former Eastern) town of Stralsund, Germany. He spent a notable 2 overnights, had meetings with Chancellor Merkel and was treated to a BBQ dinner. Stralsund is the Chancellor’s home district and a charming German town on the Baltic Sea. The invitation to visit came in May when the Chancellor visited Washington. In return, Merkel has supposedly received a most coveted invite to the ranch in Texas.

I could make a few jokes and snide comments, but the truth is that I was most impressed by the visit and fascinated to see how it was portrayed in the media! Things started well when the President said “Guten Morgen” to the crowd. Laura Bush was supposedly saying Guten Tag and Danke Schoen as well. Media specifically commented on the effort at a bit of Deutsch! I also thought the speech was just the right intensity—direct, but not religious or too lofty (that scares Germans.) During the press conference, both leaders seemed to be on the same page when it came to policy issues, and genuinely seemed to enjoy bantering about the upcoming BBQ.

The BBQ, complete with a giant roasted pig, was the main event of Thursday evening. Props to the Germans for having a BBQ and not a stuffy dinner! It’s light, it’s different, and the president supposedly does not like fancy dinners anyway. The other dinner guests were handpicked, but did include members of the community. Media seemed very concerned that Bush interacted with locals. Give the guy some credit, he can’t go around meeting everyone! I can’t remember ever seeing Merkel or Schroeder at a local crab boil in Maryland on their trips through town.

Much like the visit to Mainz last year, overwhelming security (12,500 police officers) did not sit well with the locals and the media covered the story with vigor. I don’t know what to think about this. On the one hand, it is embarrassing that people who live near the spot where the president gave a speech were told not to leave their houses. It was also a terrible moment to watch the Secret Service make people remove the flags (German and AMERICAN) they had brought, off the small sticks on which they were attached. These people had been hand selected to be at the speech, were they really a threat? On the other hand, the President is the most powerful and, some polls say, most disliked leader in the world. And the sticks did look like spears and the timer’s in the recent India train bombing were found in little pencils, so anything is possible I guess.

But in an effort at a bit of public diplomacy, Laura Bush did a live interview on Morgen Magazin (German “Today” show.) She did a great job! In typical Laura fashion, she kept her cool when the reporter asked repeated questions about whether she and George discuss politics and whether they ever disagree on political issues. (I think the reporter was really expecting she would say, “I told George there were no WMD in Iraq.” Fat chance buddy!)

On a personal note, I sure hope that by the time I am Sec of State or President, the Chancellor is from Freiburg… what could be better for trans-Atlantic relations then a picture of Frau Chancellor and Madam President sitting down to a plate of fries at Schlappen;-) Then again over falafel in Berlin, Koelsch in Cologne or cheese spaetzle in Ulm wouldn’t be bad either. (I bet we could go to Mrs. Schlecker’s!)


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