Trump's reputation in Germany

Expats and foreign correspondents discuss the Trump phenomenon


BERLIN — At the January Women’s March in Berlin, one thing was clear: few who showed up liked U.S. President Donald Trump.

The event began with a modified version of the 1984 Wham! hit “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and the crowd of 1,000 chanted “Donald Trump you have to go-go; you’re a bigot, racist and homo-pho-o-be.” The march, organized by Democrats Abroad, marked the anniversary of Trump’s first year in office and the anniversary of the original women’s protest march in Washington, D.C. It was designed to highlight gender inequality and to show many expatriates are not happy about the leadership in their country, organizers said.

Many Americans and Germans in Berlin echoed that uncertainty. In dozens of interviews with American foreign correspondents, U.S. and German professors and average Berliners, The Spectrum did not find much love for Trump in Berlin. In fact, not a single person openly supported him.

Alice Haefeli, a New Jersey native now living in Berlin, said she sometimes enjoys sparking arguments and the best way to do so now is to say, “I love our president.” People respond immediately –– usually to attack her –– and she said she loves to “see their reaction.” But, she said, the disappointment and embarrassment at Trump’s policies –– particularly his disdain for universal health care, his stance on immigrants and his America-first bravado –– is hard for her and many of her expat friends, who often have to explain their country to neighbors.

The anti-Trump trend extends beyond Europe. A June 2017 Pew Research study of people in 37 countries, shows only 22 percent believe Trump will make good decisions and “do the right thing” in international affairs. By contrast, 64 percent expressed confidence in Barack Obama during his presidency. European polls regularly show Trump with approval ratings in the low teens.

The mainstream German press –– which is generally more low key than American newspapers –– tends not to opt for explosive headlines. But in January, as Michael Wolff’s tell-all book, “Fire and Fury,” came out in Germany, the headline “Is Trump Still Sane?” appeared in the pages of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany’s most conservative and respected newspaper.

The Times of London also openly questioned the Trump’s mental health. “Donald Trump’s right-hand man openly questioned his fitness to serve and predicted that he would resign to avoid being removed by his own cabinet, according to a book the U.S. president tried to block yesterday,” wrote The Times, which is owned by conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Anne Wizorek, a lawyer and activist who spoke at the Berlin Women’s March, was in New York when Trump was elected and is one of many expats who use the phrase, “Not my president.” She believes Trump is anti-women and minorities and is out to undercut the rights of the Americans most in need. She said she wished even more Berliners had taken to the streets.

“In the future, we have to form better and stronger alliances and we have to work together,” Wizorek said. “We do not stand for Trump.”

Trump often insists the media does not treat him fairly and indeed, media coverage of Trump’s first 100 days was resoundingly more negative worldwide than that of any other U.S. president, according to a Harvard study. The German TV station ARD had 98 percent negative coverage of Trump, the study showed. But the study also showed Trump received three times more dometic media coverage than any other U.S. president during their first 100 days in office.

Edvard Koening, editor in chief of the European media platform EurActiv, is based in Berlin and said Trump dominates the European news cycles, even when the issues are small.

“I think there is no single day without news about Trump, because often times it’s funny,” Koening said during a meeting with UB and Stanford University students at the German press building. Koening, who is Austrian, said Trump has hijacked the dialogue, often because his comments and manners are so irreverent and unexpected for a European audience.

Freelance American journalist Thomas Rogers, who is based in Berlin, finds Europeans’ “amused” attitude about Trump and his administration irritating. German media coverage of Trump is “a little gleeful in terms of how f*cked up [America] is, which is kind of annoying,” he said, during a dinner with UB students. Rogers said he’s never read a single positive thing about Trump in German media, and he reads several newspapers and news websites every day.

Griff Witte, the Berlin bureau chief for the Washington Post, who also met with UB students, believes the negativity comes out of “genuine curiosity and concern” since the United States is so important to Germany and the rest of the world.

Rogers agreed, saying Germans like stability and consistency in their leaders. They also like leaders whose policies more closely mirror their own, which tend to be more liberal, particularly on issues like gun control, the death penalty and universal health care. Germans, Rogers and Witte said, adored Obama and came out in droves to hear him speak.

The correspondents pointed out that Germans — particularly those over 50 –– continue to feel a debt to the U.S. for liberating Germany from the Nazis, saving Berlin during the 1948-49 Berlin airlift and keeping the Soviets in check during the Cold War. During the airlift, Americans, British and other allies dropped close to 9,000 tons of food, clothing and medicine into West Berlin to prevent the Soviets from starving out residents. After World War II, the U.S. infused $13 billion to help Europe recover in the form of the Marshall Plan.

One issue that riles Berliners more than most is Trump’s plan to build a wall with Mexico. Berliners lived with the Berlin Wall, which from 1961-1989 divided their city and country. They also lived with the “Iron Curtain,” which divided Europe between westernized, capitalist nations and Soviet-influenced nations of Eastern Europe, including East Germany.

At the Women’s March, people held colorful and creative homemade signs with anti-Trump slogans. One 10-year-old boy held a sign he painted himself. It read: “Walls suck / Ask a Berliner.” Throughout the two-hour event, the crowd often broke into chants. One favorite was: “From Germany to Mexico, all the walls have got to go.”

Heinz Bruele, 64, an electrician and lifelong Berliner, said he grew up in awe of America and what the Americans did to help Germany recover. He will always respect its people, he said, but he and his wife are baffled by Trump and why Americans put him in office. While doing his laundry at a laundromat on the far west side of the city, he said Germans are transfixed by Trump and are enjoying joking about him and what his next provocation will be. He said Germans would never allow a politician to speak so vulgarly or disrupt the political status quo so overtly as Trump has done in America.

“We Germans will never forget what the Americans did for us after the war,” he said. “We allow them a little bit of craziness.”