November 3, 2009

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's speech in front of a joint session of Congress was treated to positive while not glowing reviews in Germany.

Commentators stressed her credibility in thanking the United States for helping Germany move past two dictatorial regimes in the 20th century while approvingly acknowledging her references to more controversial issues as well.

Die Zeit wrote that her "speech was good not great. As Americans love it, she spoke of herself and her life behind barbed wire. Of her yearning for blue jeans and liberty - and the great, incredible moment, when the wall fell, and she could go to the West in order to live her own American dream." Her lack of specificity on Germany's partnership in leadership in Afghanistan was criticized. "In general, she barely ever became specific - except for one, brave, emphasis" on environmental policy.

Die Sueddeutsche Zeitung claimed that "grand speeches are alien to German politicians, especially on foreign territory. German history always stresses modesty and a rather burgeois boredom usually is the foundation of German rhetoric." Considering this, Merkel gave a respectable German speech before Congress. "An East-German daughter of a priest still sounds more convincing than most West Germans when she thanks the United States." "Yet, what now?" "The world is looking for more precise answers from Germany than what Merkel offered Tuesday."

Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung saw a new Merkel on Capitol Hill. "The sober, devoid of grandeur Angela Merkel, not renowned as a magician of the word" had disapeared and her hey "hymn to liberty" "hit all the right notes." "Speeches such as this one do not eliminate conflicts of interest which can be found in even the closest alliance. But especially in a dispute, the knowledge of an underlying, common understanding helps to address more specific disagreements."

For die tageszeitung, Merkel "took advantage of the opportunity to stress the pleasant sides of the alliance. This is important for two reasons: there are serious disagreements on various issues between Berlin and Washington - enviromental policy, Afghanistan, and the global economy. And the personal relationship between the Chancellor and the President has not been particularly good so far." On a somewhat contradictory note, die taz said that "Merkel's big show" was capped by "no frills comments on Afghanistan and climate change."

Finally, the East-German Berliner Zeitung, stressed that Merkel's comments were "reminiscing movingly and with very personal memories on the fall of the wall two decades ago."

While not offering any new insight into German-American relations, Merkel's speech emphasized German gratitude for the United States' long-term assistance since 1945 (and before) while not ignoring differences in opinion on current issues. As the Tagesschau quoted the German chancellor before the speech, "modesty mixed with some pride" was the basis of her remarks.

Benjamin Preisler is an intern with the New Atlanticist. He recently earned his M.A. in North American Studies and Political Science from the Free University Berlin. Translations from non-English language sources are his own. 

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