The Wunderbar Together program, sponsored by the Goethe Institute and the government of Germany, was a terrific format for recognizing the breadth and depth of ties between Central Illinois and Germany. Her Excellency Helga Barth had a full schedule meeting with the Friends of Friedrichshafen Sister City Organization, the German American Central Society, along with business and agricultural leaders with German heritage.
Madam Barth stressed the unique nature of relations between the United States and Germany. She expressed deep gratitude to the US for “liberating” Germany in 1945 after WWII. She also stressed the significance of the development of democratic political systems and market economics with the support of the US. In addition, mutual security agreements, including the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, have allowed Germany to thrive without causing fears about their renewed military strength. The growth of common values and interests have made the partnership between Germany and the United States truly valuable to our mutual benefit.
She did point out a few areas of contention between our states. First, Germany prefers a more aggressive approach to climate change than the United States. Second, Germany argues for greater engagement with Iran to reduce fears of nuclear proliferation rather than isolation, as the US prefers. Finally, while tariffs are a tool employed by all states to accomplish trade objectives, Germany finds the use of tariffs against allies and trading partners to be ineffective, and even counterproductive.
Madam Barth answered questions about immigration by noting that the nearly million immigrants to Germany are good for the workforce and are being integrated quickly through educational programs. She acknowledged that there is resentment for this immigration in some parts of Germany, but that the majority of Germans welcome the immigrants and recognize their value for the workforce. She discussed Brexit and the challenges posed by the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union. She noted that, instead of posing a threat to the EU itself by encouraging other states to leave, there has been a rise in popular views of the EU and the benefits of belonging to the “family of European states.” She was also asked about UK residents who may wish to apply for German citizenship by noting that they are welcome if they have followed all of the rules for citizenship in her state.
Traditional German food, including schnitzel, red cabbage and spaetzle, German beers and wines, and music provided by accordion and Alp horn players created a delightful evening appealing to the senses and the mind. Although Madam Barth will move onto her next posting at the end of July, we hope we will see her again, either here in Central Illinois or in Berllin.