May 11, 2023
World Affairs Table: Germany
The World Affairs Table series features discussions on topics pertaining to bilateral relationships between the U.S. and other countries. This event, presented in partnership with the German Society of Pennsylvania, focused on US-German relations and was followed by a tasting event with food and drink from Germany. The World Affairs Table allows audience members to both engage in substantive foreign policy discussions and experience culture and cuisine, all in the span of one evening.
About the Event
The World Affairs Table allows audience members to both engage in substantive foreign policy discussions and experience culture and cuisine, all in the span of one evening. This event, presented in partnership with the German Society of Pennsylvania, focused on US-German relations and was followed by a tasting event with food and drink from Germany.
The conversation took place with the Consul General of Germany in New York, David Gill and was moderated by Maiken Scott, Host, Creative Director of WHYY’s The Pulse.
During the event’s introduction, City Representative Sheila Hess presented a mayoral citation to Consul General Gill in recognition of his dedication and service to the city and its German community. Ms. Hess noted the strong connections between Philadelphia and Germany, including its sister city relationship with Frankfurt and Germany’s role as a top trade and investment partner.
Consul General Gill began his remarks by reminiscing on the time when he used to live in Philadelphia and how he enjoyed visiting the German Society of Pennsylvania. He then recounted his background growing up in East Germany and the persecution he faced as the son of a Moravian Church pastor, including being denied a high school education. Consul General Gill explained that even though members of his church were under constant government supervision and repression, he felt that such faith communities were the only place where East Germans spoke freely since persecuted Christians had nothing more to lose. Another example of this paradoxical freedom was how he could easily visit the embassies of countries beyond the Iron Curtain, an action that others avoided for fear of incrimination. His church’s international connections also brought him in contact with foreign visitors, including some from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Ms. Maiken asked the Consul General whether, at the time, he had any hope that the authoritarian regime would be defeated during his lifetime. He replied that he was unsurprised by the slow easing of restrictions but did not expect the miraculous overnight fall of the Berlin Wall.
On the matter of his work dissolving East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi, the Consul General explained that the process was necessary to merge the futures of the two Germanys. The state needed to secure evidence of Stasi activities to prosecute crimes. Furthermore, opening secret police files to East Germans presented an opportunity to gain closure and move on from the era of self-censorship. Many files contained difficult information, such as proof that friends or family members had acted as informants, but the open questions of the Soviet era needed to be answered.
To finish his remarks, Consul General Gill summarized the major policy matters for Germany in the modern era. He described the large presence that German companies have in the U.S., such as the Siemens factory in the Northeast and automotive factories in South Carolina. The Consul General explained that the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused an energy crisis that is harming citizens and businesses across Europe. He predicted that the energy supply will become stable after shifting to Norwegian petroleum, American liquefied natural gas, and increased solar and wind power. He further explained the war’s impact on Chancellor Scholz’s “zeitenwende” policy, describing it as a historical turning point where the threat to democracy and rule of law has convinced historically dovish German voters to support higher military spending.
During the audience Q&A, an audience member asked the Consul General about his view on the Polish ban on Ukrainian grain exports. Although he was not familiar with the specific details of the situation, the Consul General noted that Germany and many countries around the world have long depended on Ukrainian grain and stated that the European Union has the right to regulate prices across its market. Another audience question was whether the United States remains a reliable partner for Germany and whether anything has changed in the relationship since the 1990s. Consul General Gill replied that the U.S. unquestionably remains the most important partner of Germany. He elaborated that German leaders are recognizing that the election of a pro-NATO government is no longer a guarantee, hence why they must broaden the transatlantic partnership to involve all parties and all regions in the two countries. Returning to the topic of East Germany, an audience member asked why the Alternative for Deutschland party has been more successful in the East than the rest of the country. The Consul General surmised that civil society in East Germany has been damaged from living multiple decades under authoritarian regimes: first under the Nazis and then under Soviet rule. He further stated that East Germans have had less exposure to diversity because of the isolation forced upon them by the repressive authoritarian state. Lastly, he noted that the East has endured a worse economic situation over the past three decades than the rest of Germany. He concluded that these three factors have led to some East Germans turning to xenophobic parties to find community and protest hardship. The final question of the night was about which German-Pennsylvanian connection is his favorite. The Consul General gave several replies, including the historical settlement of Pennsylvania by Christian denominations from his home region, the commonalities between Pennsylvania Dutch and specific dialects from Germany’s West, and the German-born Pennsylvanian architect of the famous Brooklyn Bridge.