II Study Trip for Legislators from North Dakota in Germany
Berlin and Potsdam, Germany
November 5-11, 2017
On Sunday, November 5, a delegation of North Dakota State Senators and Representatives landed at Berlin Tegel Airport, marking the start of Global Bridge’s second annual North Dakota Study Trip to Germany.
The week commenced with a day of meetings and discussions. To begin, Mr. Hans Ulrich-Klose, former member of the German Bundestag (SPD), discussed general foreign affairs, as well as examined the current political situation in the US and its impact on Germany. Professor Barbara John, Chairman of the Welfare Organization Parität Berlin, followed with an analysis on the immigration and integration of refugees in Germany and in Europe on a wider scale. Before our tour of the Bundestag, Mr. Steffen Bilger MdB (CDU) helped summarize the basic functions and breakdown of the German Bundestag. He also touched on the idea of a “Jamaika Coalition” for the new German government.
Later in the evening, State Secretary Wolfgang Schmidt of the Landesvertretung Hamburg delved thoroughly into the inner workings of both the Hamburg government and the German political system at the federal level, explaining their symbiotic relationship. Curious to hear the American perspective on the US democratic system, Mr. Schmidt also opened the floor for the group to share their personal opinions on the current political climate in the United States. As Ray Holmberg, North Dakota Senator and study group leader, said, “North Dakota is still strongly in the Trump camp,” which resulted in a conversation as to why the majority of North Dakotans still show support for Trump as President.
After exploring the Sophienkirche in former “East Berlin,” where Martin Luther King Jr. gave a sermon in 1964 when Germany and Berlin were still divided, we met with Mrs. Christiane Hoffmann, Deputy Director of Der Spiegel in Berlin, who analyzed and addressed the concerns of the new division in the German Parliament. Some of her main discussion points included whether the recent changes within the political system are positive and what we can expect Germany to look like in the future from a political standpoint.
The rest of the week was rich with cultural and historical significance. From visits to the German Resistance Memorial and the Hohenschönhausen Memorial, a former Stasi political prison complex, to the Holocaust Memorial, the group was truly able to experience Berlin’s diverse dynamics and vast history.
Similarly, exploring KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) gave the group some insight into the German social scene. The Christmas decorations were already in full swing, which the group took advantage of by taking home some holiday themed souvenirs.
In addition to the sightseeing bus tour, the delegation was able to discover parts of Berlin on foot while taking a stroll through Kreuzberg guided by Mr. Özcan Mutlu, former member of the German Parliament (The Greens).
The dinner highlights consisted of a lovely meal at the charming farmhouse home of Alexander Zeihe, member of Global Bridges e.V. and Managing Director of Waldeigentümer, AGDW e.V. and a wonderful Turkish dinner with Özcan Mutlu in Kreuzberg. Our farewell evening in Wildenbruch, Brandenburg, which began with a small organ concert in the town church and a Glühwein reception by the fire, was followed by a delicious three-course autumn meal, was also a highlight.
The week concluded with a day in Potsdam, with visits to Palace Sanssouci and Cecilienhof Palace, where the Potsdam Agreement was signed by the Allied Forces: President Truman (US), Prime Minister Attlee (Great Britain), and General Secretary Stalin (Russia).
Overall, the delegation found the week to be an “informative, rewarding, and wonderful experience,” and it sparked their interest to learn more about the country and to hopefully visit Germany again in the future. For most of the North Dakota Senators and Legislators, this was their first time in Germany.