Friday, April 9, 2010

der Reichstag

[ The German Parliament ]


After receiving a personalized Bundestag Praktikant badge, receiving views overlooking Berlin only possible from employee-only bridges, sharing a beer [or two… for those who know about Kölsch, a Cologne brew served in small flauts, you know it keeps coming!] with a Bundestag representative, all within my first afternoon of my FDP praktikum experience in Berlin, it goes without question that I was experiencing a lot in Berlin.

Now what if I told you that after breakfast the next morning I saw Kanzlerin Angela Merkel, Vizekanzler Guido Westerwelle, Faktions leader of the Grünen, Jurgin Trittin, as well as my Patenabgeordneter from the SPD, Thomas Oppermann, all at the same time? The odds wouldn’t seem right, but my cards played out and upon visiting the general Parliamentary assembly, the room was filled with all of these everyday faces of German politics.

Last time I visited the Parliament, it was late in the afternoon, and there was only a handful of speakers in the large assembly hall – the debates take place around the clock during the day, politicians and speakers flowing in and out just as smoothly and quickly as the topics of debate change. At the moment that I was there, obviously prime time in the early afternoon, the seats were full, Angela Merkel was seated next to her vice Chancellor, iconic in so many critiques and editorials that fill German newspapers every morning.

I was starstruck. I saw Angela Merkel speak live before, but this time I was even closer, and saw her in her home court – a very exciting prospect when one takes into consideration that she is the head of state of the 3rd largest economy in the world, the most populated country in the European Union, and listed Forbes most powerful woman in the world. The setting could also not go unnoticed. The natural sunlight beaming through the glass cupola above the hall, its modern construction emphasizing the fact that this building has only been used for the past few years, - just over a decade. Flash back to the iconic old Bundestag where I participated in the German International Model United Nations conference in Bonn back in November, and my appreciation for the experience there has only increased noting the big transition of government from West to East just over a decade ago. The new Reichstag is almost synonymous with Merkel, equally a milestone, as the first female Chancellor of Germany, and the first to complete the entirety of her term in this new central building of Berlin.

The debate of the hour was over the highly controversial, and highly covered, topic of Greece’s bankruptcy and the plan of action to preserve an economically healthy Euro. I have been equally fascinated myself why this has been such concern in Germany – more than just coverage and opinion – but pressure for Germany to present a plan of Action. I had read several articles beforehand, in short, blasting the European Union’s ultimately unknown and silent president [ from Belgium, but you probably don’t know him because most Europeans don’t even know him either…], and resultantly looking upon Merkel as a true international leader of – not even just Germany – but Europe, and she has proven to be too timid to take up the job.

Aside from this complex world of European politics, the German system is enough to make one confused in the 5 way tennis match. Remember the concept of coalitions, essentially creating two opposing sides in German government, but recall the fact that there are many small parties that make up the total Parliament, 2 major parties, 3 subliminal parties, and many others [depending if they were voted in for seats in the Parliament]. This results in very colorful debate, much clapping and commotion at times from only a pie-slice of the room, the others stern and silent. The arguments ranged from the left, calling for direct intervention in Greece, enunciating the concept of a European community and Germany’s role as a leader and equal. The middle and right revealed more timid and defensive opinion, since the burdens created by the heavily indebted European nations should not become Germany’s burden, a nation that is one of the most stable in the present, and the money being proposed to assist in the matter should be directed towards centrally German issues such as improved education.

The hour discussion flew by – a mixture of the fact that I had witnessed well known politicians that I had become familiar with – let alone their frequent inclusion in subject matter in German after dinner chat – along with the complicated debate that has been a hot media item over the past month – I was completely enthralled and didn't even realize that it was all in German.


Throughout the period, I heard different speakers, watched Angela Merkel get praised or blasted in front of her peers – the other speakers seemed to have no shame in pointing right at her as if she was a poster, but her facial expressions for both complements and criticisms are always entertaining. Some speakers would get up and whisper something to a co-politician, others would start a round of clapping at a fragment of a speech that spoke for their party. Angela Merkel discreetly left out the back later in the hour after a slew of handshakes, and the procession continued without a defined stop or start. [ later that night back in Göttingen, yes, I was there in time for dinner and the news that same day! ] – I must admit that it was exciting to see Merkel on TV exactly how she was when I saw her hours before… except on the broadcast she was interviewed in Brussels… she must have cruised on over to Belgium immediately after sweeping out of the Parliament earlier in the day. The Brussels assembly was for European leaders, including Sarkozy of France, to further discuss the issue of Greece.

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