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Germans and Americans Together: The Human Dimension of Partnership
By Daniel Hamilton

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 other country.
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 nations.

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 in America.
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 1970s.

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 history.

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 of globalization.
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.

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U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany /Public Affairs/ Information Resource Centers 
Updated: August 2001