BREDDENBERG, GERMANY – Germany has never looked so beautiful. It’s my third time here and fourth time overall in Europe. The fall colors fill the landscape, and the air is warmer than is typical this time of the year.
I’m with my grandmother, who, along with her husband and my then-8-year-old father, emigrated from this tiny farming village to the United States. Speaking only German, 10 years after the end of World War II, the welcome they got in their new homeland from non- Germans was about as warm as a Middle Eastern person wearing a turban trying to get a job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door today.
So they stuck with their German friends and socialized in German clubs, where they could learn English yet not have to feel so incredibly isolated. Sprechen Sie Englisch? Nein. Nur Deutsch. Go to the end of the line.
Being here the week after Sen. Barack Obama became President- Elect Barack Obama came as a somewhat unexpected surprise. The citizens of Germany are as happy as I am that the United States has finally begun to turn a corner on what many consider the darkest time in our country’s recent past.
Breddenberg is a Northern German town of 850 people that’s growing by 20 people each year. Sitting in its one pub — open every evening except Wednesday — I meet Bernhard Blanke, who runs the place just as his father did before him. He tells me it’s more crowded on weekends, as there are just a few local townsfolk drinking small beers around 9 in the evening on this weeknight.
When Blanke, who sells insurance by day, decides to quit operating the pub, it’ll likely go out of business.
His father also owned a small grocery in the next storefront, which he sold about 15 years ago. It’s now operated by someone who lives in a nearby town.
I came to the pub with my cousin Werner Jansen, an electrician, a man went to grade school with my father (until he left for the U.S.) and a man who’s the nephew of my aunt who lives in Green Township. Blanke’s parents are close friends with my grandmother.
Theodore Hinrichs, a peat excavator with a thick beard and worn hands, sits on the end of the bar. He and two others, including Blanke, will go hunting for wild pigs this weekend in the former East Germany, 400 kilometers away. It’s an annual tradition.
“I think Obama will get it on the right way with the money, and he will be better for Europe than Bush,” Hinrichs says.
Others in the pub agree. They loved that Obama came to Berlin in the summer and spoke to the throngs of people who gathered.
Blanke says that, much like the United States, Breddenberg and other rural areas here are more conservative while the cities tend to be more liberal. But their definition of “liberal” versus “conservative” might be enough to make Jerry Falwell rise from the dead.
Liberal is liberal in Germany. Conservative, well, is also liberal — by U.S. standards at least.
Their biggest concern and the first thing most Germans have said to me — even in the South, where I was before coming to Germany’s northern farming country — was that Obama, a black man, would be assassinated before he could make the changes he and so many others around the world want him to make. It’s a disheartening and sad commentary on Americans, no matter what the reality ends up being.
Germans support socialized medicine, live with government programs that help farmers buy solar energy to run their farms and sell leftover electricity to the energy grid, encourage the building of windmills and charge by the pound for the trash that’s put out weekly — all progressive social concepts that would instantly become election lightning rods for any politician in the U.S. They’re a soberingly realistic bunch here, and yet optimism is high for the Obama presidency.
“They don’t think (Obama) can do all the things that they wish. He is not Jesus,” says Gerd Jansen, my dad’s first cousin who raises chickens and is the married father of three girls. “We can look in a few years and then we can see what happens. I think Americans feel the same.”
Obama set the bar very high. Not only are those who voted for him waiting and watching and expecting amazing things, but so is the world so badly damaged by the last eight years of Bush’s presidency.
I wanted Obama to win, and now with his win comes a scary feeling: Can he do it? Apparently I’m not alone — neither in expectations nor in the realities that beset us all.
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