My initial encounter
with the Bonn Republic came in December 1960, when as a kindergartner
I first glimpsed the port of Bremerhaven from the deck of the S.S. United
States. My mother and I had joined my father on a most amazing people-to-people
adventure: U.S. military life in Germany. We lived "on the economy"
in the town of Winnweiler/Pfalz. My friends and I played in bombed-out
bunkers, walked on the frozen Rhine and sledded over cobblestone streets.
There were 4 marks to the dollar. There were Gummibären, there
was Afri-Cola and there was the Armed Forces Network. There was K-town
and Rhine-Main, Heidelberg and Garmisch. Every school day my German
teacher visited my Department of Defense Dependents School (DODDs) class
from the tiny Pfalzer town of Rockenhausen. And every Memorial Day my
family visited the American cemetery near the French city of Metz.
These childhood memories are but a few of the millions of human strands
from which the postwar German-American partnership has been woven. Over
the past five decades more than 12 million GIs and their families have
come to Germany; in the entire history of the United States, more Americans
have lived and worked in the Federal Republic of Germany than in any
Although many GIs stuck to their bases and Kasernen, most ventured into
German society. Almost all returned home refreshed by their engagement
in Europe. For many, Germany's postwar economic, political and moral
recovery embodied America's own pragmatic, can-do spirit. The Bonn Republic's
success reassured Americans, traditionally wary of entangling alliances,
that our engagement in Europe was worth the effort, and transformed
the American image of Germans from bitter enemies into steadfast allies,
standing with us against communism as they built democracy and prosperity
at home. The Bonn Republic made us proud of our role in the world and
of our society.
For our West German counterparts in those years, the Atlantic link meant
a prosperous society, military security and, for the first time in memory,
a positive and successful political philosophy. It was perfect medicine
for an exhausted, broken national soul and was accepted enthusiastically.
The United States had become the trustee of German unity and was both
motor and guarantor of Germany's rein-tegration into the community of
By the early 1950s more than a million German visitors a month were
flocking to the America Houses in major German cities. Sister city partnerships
were formed. Organizations such as the Ford Foundation, the American
Field Service, Youth for Understanding, Rotary International, the Fulbright
program, the American Council on Germany and the Atlantik-Brücke
forged new transatlantic networks between German and American political,
business and labor leaders, stu-dents, scholars and journalists. Virtually
the entire generation of German leaders who came of age in the Bonn
Republic had at some point in their lives studied, worked or traveled
Making the Bonn Republic a success was the shared goal through which
Germans and Americans found a new sort of relationship at a point when
each of our societies faced dramatic changes in our national and international
life. Each of us invested heavily in our partnership; each drew strength
and orientation from the other and from our joint success.
Intrigued by my childhood encounters, I returned to the Bonn Republic
in the 1970s and 1980s. My student years were shaped by studies in Baden-Württemberg
and host family stays in Bavaria. And my professional life was formed
by life in Berlin and significant amounts of time in das andere Deutschland
- die DDR. I came to realize in those years that our early postwar success
had bred a certain degree of superficiality. Just as Americans had idealized
their own role in the Bonn Republic, Germans had formed an idealized
image of American society which focused primarily on Germany and its
needs. As the Bonn Republic came of age, my German friends grew restless
with their Cold War constraints. And as the United States entered a
particularly turbulent period - reflected in such events as the murders
of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, racial and social upheavals,
Vietnam and Watergate - in the eyes of many Germans, America the special,
the exceptional was turning out to be an ordinary mortal nation which
was capable of mistakes and injustices. For many younger Germans, America
became less a model to be emulated than a foreign power to be tolerated.
American leaders, in turn, guided by their own idealized image of their
role in postwar Germany, wondered why their generosity was not being
as readily acknowledged in the form of quasi-automatic German support
for American leadership. They were also disappointed by German reluctance
to shoulder responsibilities commensurate with the Bonn Republic's growing
weight in the world. These discordant tones were framed, however, by
a far more powerful and deeply-rooted sense of mutual identification
and common purpose between Germans and Americans. This caused each partner
to react to the other's concerns with greater emotion and sensitivity
than either did in their separate interactions with other close allies,
such as the French or the British. Even today, Americans as a whole
seem more bemused when Germans question American policies than when
other allies do the same.
Ironically, this period of dissonance spawned a transatlantic counterculture
that itself served to broaden and strengthen the human dimensions of
the German-American partnership. Cheap air-fares and charter flights
enabled young people to study, travel and work more easily across the
Atlantic. Budding environmental, consumer and women's movements derived
energy and direction from transatlantic exchanges among young activists
and academics. And many methods of direct political action employed
by local grass roots activists in the United States were transplanted
to Germany by the wave of Bürger-initiativen that demanded more
direct citizen participation at mu-nicipal and Land levels in the early
New institutions were created to deepen German-American flows of ideas
and people. Willy Brandt announced the creation of the German Marshall
Fund of the United States as a thank-you from the German to the American
people for the Marshall Plan. The Aspen Institute Berlin began to bring
American leaders to the divided city to consider, together with their
German and European counterparts, ways to overcome the continent's divisions.
Concerns about the successor generation also sparked another burst of
exchange programs in the 1970s and 1980s-the Bosch Foundation and Bundeskanzler
Fellowships for American "young leaders"; McCloy Fellowships
at Harvard for German counterparts; Centers of Excellence in German
and European Studies at Georgetown, Harvard, the University of California,
and later, Brandeis and the Universities of Minnesota and Wisconsin;
the Congress-Bundestag Exchanges and German-American Partner-ship Programs
for high school students; the creation of the Congressional Study Group
on Germany, together with regular congressional and Bundestag staff.
Aspen Berlin, the American Council on Germany and the Atlantik-Brücke
each devoted considerable attention to young Länder programs whose
alumni today are carrying on much of the relationship.
At Aspen, where I had served as Deputy Director under Shep Stone, we
had also been building the first tentative contacts between Americans
and East Germans, an obscure and - for some - questionable form of German-American
contact that quickly proved its value when the Wall suddenly and dramatically
opened in November 1989. Then, I found myself in the unusual position
of introducing "exotic" East German activists to West German
and American leaders who had suddenly acquired an urgent interest in
life east of the Elbe. America's wavering support for German unity during
the ensuing Two Plus Four negotiations evoked the solidarity of the
early postwar years. Once again, Germans were reassured about an America
that not only seemed to understand German problems but actually did
something about them.
But the new situation also brought new challenges - particularly the
concern that with the Cold War over and Germany unified, our strategic
priorities would not overlap to the same degree they once did, and that
we would each be distracted by our domestic problems that a new generation
of leadership would fail to give the relationsh-ip the same priority
it once had. When I again returned to Germany the mid- 1990s, now at
the Embassy in Bonn, I encountered a curi-ous longing for the days of
the Cold War. My German friends asked whether the United States still
considered Germany and Europe important, whether America's heart had
shifted to the Pacific, or whether unilateralism had become the prevailing
fashion. And sixteen million East Germans were just beginning to learn
about an America they had known only in a systematically distorted way.
Americans, in turn, were surprised and troubled by the immense domestic
difficulties that acco-mpanied German unification. They wondered how
soon a united Germany would surmount its domestic divisions and live
up to the broader influence it had earned.
These concerns linger today. They are serious and should be treated
seriously. But they pose false choices. We have every right to be proud
of our partnership during the Bonn Republic, but if we merely dwell
on past achievements, we forfeit the opportunity to use our partnership
to deal with new challenges. Nostalgia for an idealized past will not
hold the relationship together in the future. We can best honor the
achievements of the Bonn Republic not by lamenting its passing but by
building on its success-a prosperous, democratic and united Germany
at peace, surrounded by democratic allies for the first time in its
Our interests are so intertwined that we need never doubt whether we
are part of the same community. We live in a violent and uncertain world
and the military component of our partnership remains essential. Sixty-five
thousand U.S. troops will remain in Germany - the bulk of the 100,000
troops we will continue to station in Europe as a whole. Their presence
remains important to our common security and continues to give thousands
of Americans a real experience with the German people.
But the Bonn Republic's success has freed Germans and Americans to define
our partnership less in terms of what we, together, op-pose, and more
in terms of what we support - advancing prosperity and social justice
at home, open societies and open markets abroad. This opens new areas
of common concern. Trade, of course, remains an important element. But
in the new global economy investment flows may actually prove more consequential
for jobs and productivity. U.S. firms account for a solid 30 percent
of all foreign direct investment in Germany and have invested more than
$8 billion in eastern Germany alone since the fall of the Berlin Wall
- making them the largest source of such investment both in the new
German states and in united Germany as a whole. German direct investment
in the United States, in turn, accounts for about 30 percent of total
German efforts abroad - making the U.S. the primary target of German
foreign investment around the world. More than 600,000 Germans work
for American companies and more than 500,000 Americans work for German
com-panies. Transatlantic mergers are shaping our relationship as much
as, if not more than, government demarches and military exercises. Private
initiative is providing a new glue for our partnership.
Shared strategic interests make cooperation necessary. Similar political
values make cooperation possible. But in the end both are insufficient.
It is our complementarity, the fact that each of us brings something
special to our relationship from which the other can learn and profit,
which makes German-American cooperation so potentially rewarding. This
also presents an opportunity to make a positive, tangible difference
in people's daily lives. Each of our societies faces challenges unique
to our national situation, of course, but in our own way we face similar
challenges: creating jobs, training workers, reforming our social welfare
and pension systems, reinventing government, fight-ing drugs and organized
crime, improving the environment, dealing with immigration and coping
with the possibilities and problems posed by ethnic and cultural diversity.
Each of our societies provides a frame of reference for the other. Collaboration
on a variety of common domestic challenges helps us avoid working at
cross-purposes or duplicating efforts. It allows us to make more efficient
use of scarce political and economic resources. It provides the material
for new transatlantic networks, for truly "new traditions."
Moreover, both the United States and Germany are federal republics.
The relationship between individual American states and the German Länder
is a rich area for exploration, not just because it offers another avenue
to expand human ties but because so much of the future agenda is concerned
with how our cities, states and regions can cope with the consequences
As in the past important initiatives are under way. Americans have learned
a good deal from German models of environmental planning and workforce
development. The German political foundations have served as a model
for the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute
and the National Republican Insti-tute. The Transatlantic Business Dialogue
of leading European and American CEOs was largely a German-American
impulse. An intense transatlantic exchange on ecological sciences and
environmental prac-tices occurs between our NGOs and our governments.
Recent initia-tives, such as the German-American Academic Council, the
Körber Foundation's "Transatlantic Classroom" and "US-ABLE"
awards pro-grams, the Transatlantic Learning Community initiative of
the Bertelsmann Foundation and the German Marshall Fund, new con-tacts
between German Länder and American states, the RIAS Berlin Commission,
the GLOBE program, the Lauder Foundation's efforts to reinvigorate Jewish
life in Germany, American "Friends of Dresden" who are helping
to rebuild the Frauenkirche, and the American Acad-emy in Berlin are
but the most recent and visible examples of our common initiatives.
All are part of the continuing efforts of millions of Germans and Americans
to build a 21st century partnership wor-thy of those who forged our
alliance a half-century ago.
Dr. Daniel Hamilton is Associate Director of the Policy Planning
Staff in the office of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. He
was Policy Advisor to Ambassador Holbrooke and the US. Embassy in Germany,
Deputy Director of the Aspen Institute Berlin, and is author of Beyond
Bonn: America and the Berlin Republic.
From: A Vision Fulfilled.
50 Jahre Amerikaner am Rhein. United States Embassy Bonn, 1949 - 1999.
Edited by Christine Elder and Elizabeth G. Sammis. Published by United
States Embassy Bonn. © Department of State, 1999.