Posts Tagged ‘Angela Merkel’

The Striking German Chancellery

Monday, July 18th, 2016


The German Chancellery in Berlin, known as the Bundeskanzleramt, is one of the largest government headquarters in the world. Occupying 129,166 square feet, it is more than twice the size of the White House in Washington. While the Chancellery’s architecture is modern, Germany’s Parliament, the Reichstag, just across the adjacent open plaza, has an “old-world” look. The Bundeskanzleramt’s simple and open design is to symbolize transparency in government.

German Chancellery in Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

German Chancellery in Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

Location and architecture of the Chancellery

The German Chancellery is located in a bend in the River Spree and consists of three connected structures. At the heart of the grouping stands a nine-story white cube. Its entrance is framed by a series of freestanding columns. Large glass facades give it an airy look. This is where official receptions and presentations are hosted. The two connecting wings house the administrative staff.

German Chancellery in the bend of the River Spree. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

German Chancellery in the bend of the River Spree. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

History of the German Chancellery

The German Chancellery was established in 1871 as Reichskanzlei (Imperial Chancellery) of the German Empire. The Reichskanzlei was located in the Wilhelmstrasse, just a little over a mile southeast from the current location. In 1939, construction was completed on the Neue Reichskanzlei (New Imperial Chancellery) in the Vossstrasse, also close to the current location. The New Imperial Chancellery was damaged during World War II and subsequently razed by Soviet occupation forces.

After World War II and the division of Berlin and Germany, Bonn became the seat of the West German government. In 1949, the West German Chancellery moved to Bonn. At the same time, East Germany created the Volkskammer (People’s Chamber), the East German Parliament. The Volkskammer eventually moved into the Palace of the Republic in East Berlin.

In the summer of 1999, the government of the reunited Germany returned to Berlin. Until the new German Chancellery building was completed, the Chancellor’s offices were temporarily housed in the former State Council building (Staatsratsgebaeude). In spring of 2001, the current Bundeskanzleramt opened for business.

The Chancellor’s apartment

While located in Bonn, a separate bungalow had served as the private residence for the Chancellor and family. Although an apartment for the Chancellor is located on the top floor of the central Chancellery cube, current Chancellor Angela Merkel prefers to live in her private apartment. She and her husband, Professor Joachim Sauer, reside at “Am Kupfergraben 6,” across from Museum Island in the Mitte District of Berlin. Contrary to the extensive security that surrounds top State officials in the United States, Merkel’s apartment building is watched over by just two policemen. There are no blocked streets, no police vans and no armed guards.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of












Germany’s word of the year: 2015

Monday, December 21st, 2015

Germany’s word of the year for 2015 is Fluechtlinge – refugees. After having taken in 1 million refugees during the past twelve months – most of them from the Middle East – the word Fluechtlinge has been on the collective German mind. TIME Magazine named German Chancellor Angela Merkel “Person of the Year 2015” for standing her ground relative to the refugee crisis Despite growing discontent among the populace, Merkel has continued to put humanity, generosity and tolerance above all else and stated repeatedly, “Wir schaffen es – we can do it.”

How is the word of the year selected?

The Gesellschaft fuer Deutsche Sprache (Society for the German Language), located in the city of Wiesbaden, chooses a word or a group of words every December. The word is to embody a key topic that dominated German political, economic or social life during the preceding twelve months. This year’s word was chosen from close to 2,500 entries and published in “Wort des Jahres” (Word of the Year), the group’s annual publication.

Runner-ups for the word of the year

This year, the Gesellschaft fuer Deutsche Sprache selected Fluechtlinge as the word of the year. Runner-ups were Je suis Charlie – I am Charlie, the mantra of solidarity with Paris in the wake of the attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Another strong contender for the word of the year was Grexit, which refers to the scenario of Greece leaving the Eurozone. And lastly, Wir schaffen es – We can do it, coined by Angela Merkel and expressing her conviction that Germany can successfully cope with the massive influx of refugees.

Previous words of the year

Each year, the word of the year has reflected the zeitgeist. In 1989, the word was Reisefreiheit – Freedom to Travel, the demand of the East German people that led to the fall of the Wall. Post-unification in 1991, former East Germans sensed that their West German brothers had come to regard their achievements under communist rule as inferior. That’s when the term “Besserwessi” cropped up. “Besser” and “wissen” refer to knowing everything better, and “Wessi” was an informal name for a citizen of West Germany. The changeover from Deutsche Mark to Euro made Germans question whether the introduction of the Euro had not prompted a hidden price increase. And in 2002, the new currency came to be referred to as the Teuro, a pricey Euro, based on the German word “teuer,” meaning expensive.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

Unique Berlin Wall Segment in D.C.

Monday, August 17th, 2015

A unique Berlin Wall Segment arrived at the State Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. last Thursday, August 13, 2015. It arrived on the 54th anniversary of the closure of the border from East to West Berlin.

Plans call for the piece to be put on display in the State Department’s Museum and Education Center, which is currently under construction. The Center is scheduled to open to the public at the end of 2017.

What did the Berlin Wall really look like?

The actual Berlin Wall actually consisted of two walls: The eastern so-called Hinterland Wall, and the western wall, which we usually think of when we speak of the Berlin Wall. A death strip separated the two. Today, the graffiti-decorated western wall segments are more popular with tourists, collectors and investors. Although souvenir shops sell small pieces of the Berlin Wall for just a few dollars, an entire wall segment measures 10.5 feet in height, 4 feet in width and weighs 2.9 tons. Between 1961 and 1990, around 54,000 of these concrete slabs made up the western side of the Berlin Wall. Their costs, even without shipment and handling, can be astounding.

Typical stretch of the western Berlin Wall, Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

Typical stretch of the western Berlin Wall,
Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

The Berlin Wall is all over the world

Berliners started chiseling away at the wall immediately after the border opened on 9 November 1989 and continued to do so for the next few years. I hammered out a number of small pieces myself. But some people immediately looked beyond mementos. They recognized the profit-making opportunity. A Bavarian businessman, for instance, made an offer on an entire wall Berlin Wall segment only one day after the border opened. The bidding went from there. A Japanese company offered $185,000 for a single section. So far, around 600 segments have found new homes outside Germany. Twenty-six years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, more pieces are scattered across the globe than remain in Berlin itself. South Korea acquired five sections of the Berlin Wall for a different reason. For South Korea the Berlin Wall segments symbolize their country’s hope that North and South Korea may also peacefully reunite one day.

Why is this Berlin Wall segment so unique?

The Berlin Wall segment that arrived at the U.S. State Department on Thursday bears twenty-five personal signatures on its front face. These signatures belong to statesmen who played key roles in the reunification of Germany. The section of the Berlin Wall that just arrived in D.C. was signed by former US President George H.W. Bush, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, former US Secretary of State James A. Baker, former prime minister of the German Democratic Republic Lothar de Maiziere and others. Initially, the German energy company Verbundnetz Gas AG owned this particular wall segment. Verbundnetz Gas presented it to the Atlantic Council, a think tank devoted to international affairs, and the Atlantic Council put it on temporarily display at the German embassy in Washington. Last Thursday, the Atlantic Council gifted this unique Berlin Wall segment to the U.S. State Department, its permanent home.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.


Angela Merkel

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

On this day in 1954, Angela Merkel was born in Hamburg. The city was part of West Germany at that time. In 2005, she became the first female chancellor of the unified Federal Republic of Germany and has been in office ever since.

The year Angela Merkel was born, her father, a Protestant pastor, secured a pastorate at a church in Quitzow. The town was located in the former East Germany, and the family moved to nearby Templin, 50 miles north of Berlin. Here, Merkel learned to speak Russian fluently and went on to pass the Abitur, the higher education entrance qualification. From 1973 to 1978 she studied physics at the University of Leipzig. Until 1990 she worked and studied at the Academy of Sciences of the German Democratic Republic, which was considered the most important research institution in East Germany. While there, she published several papers and in 1986, she was awarded a doctorate in physics for her thesis on quantum chemistry.

Angela Merkel did not get involved in politics until the fall of the Berlin Wall when she joined the party, Democratic Awakening. Following the East German state’s first and only multi-party election, she became the deputy spokesperson of the short-lived East German pre-unification government under Lothar de Maiziere. He ran on a platform of a speedy reunification.

Angela Merkel Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

Angela Merkel
Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

In 1977, Merkel–nee Kasner–married physics student Ulrich Merkel. The union ended in divorce five years later. In 1998 she married professor Joachim Sauer, a quantum chemist at Berlin’s Humboldt University. Angela Merkel is known to be a fervent soccer fan.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.




Obama spoke in Berlin

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Today, President Barack Obama spoke in Berlin, 50 years after President John F. Kennedy’s famous address in the then-divided city. The last time Obama visited Berlin was during his 2008 run for president.

Fifty years ago, a euphoric crowd of 450,000 cheered Kennedy in front of Schöneberger Rathaus (city hall) when he declared, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” I stood in that crowd 50 years ago and was also swept away by those words, which were spoken at the height of the Cold War. Five years ago, Obama addressed a gathering of over 200,000 at the Siegessaeule (victory column) when he ran for president. Today, Obama spoke at Berlin’s historic 18th century Brandenburger Tor.

Obama Spoke at Berlin's Brandenburger Tor today

Obama Spoke at Berlin’s Brandenburger Tor today

President Obama arrived in Berlin as part of a three-day International Summit tour to discuss a variety of issues. At the top of German Chancellor Angela Merkel agenda were questions relative to global electronic and phone surveillance programs. Public outcry over the intrusion into the lives of private citizens is strong in Germany, far stronger than in the United States. The reason is that Germans have a deep-rooted distrust in governments that spy on their citizens. Germans have lived under the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei) during the Nazi regime. More recently, East Germans citizens have lived under the Stasi–(Staatssicherheitsdienst). Both were secret police spying organizations. They have made Germans distrust any government that claims that broad surveillance activity is necessary for its citizens, safety. Merkel hopes to see a more equitable balance struck between providing security and protecting personal freedoms.

Obama spoke in Berlin today in the midst of a crushing heat wave that followed weeks of heavy rains and severe flooding throughout the country. The extreme temperatures, ranging in the 90s, reduced the number of guests in attendance. Instead of the invited 6,000, closer to 4,000 guests came. However, the poor attendance does not reflect a significant drop in Obama’s popularity in Germany. A recent poll indicates that Obama still holds close to a 90% approval rating in Germany.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.