Why US President Trump is avoiding visiting Germany – again

Trump has yet to pay a bilateral visit to Germany, which is very unusual for a US president. What is holding him back, and what does it say about the US-German relationship?

Why US President Trump is avoiding visiting Germany - again
Trump and Merkel meeting outside of Germany at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan in 2019. Photo: DPA

Next week the American Air Force One plane will embark on its next transatlantic flight – US President Donald Trump’s 15th trip abroad.

First off, he will fly to the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, and just a few days later the President is due to visit Poland and Denmark. 

Yet Trump, once again, is avoiding stopping in Germany, traditionally one of the closest allies of the US.

The US president has now been in office for more than two and a half years, and there has been no bilateral visit – or one not linked to a summit meeting – to the Bundesrepublik. Nor is any planned. That says a lot about the relationship between Berlin and Washington.

A brief stopover

Until now, Trump only made stops in Hamburg for the G20 summit in July 2017, when he came from his first visit to Poland.

On his way back from Iraq in December, the President also made a brief visit to the US military base in Ramstein in Rhineland-Palatinate to meet with soldiers. 

Trump visiting the military base in Ramstein in December 2018. Photo: DPA

Bilateral visits to other European countries have already taken place: Besides Poland, the President has already paid visits – twice – to France and Great Britain, the two most powerful European states besides Germany.

He has also visited Italy, and G7 countries – except Germany. 

Trump also stopped in Ireland, where his sprawling golf resort might have played a role.

An unusual absence

Compared to Trump's predecessors, his absence from Germany is unusual. Less than five months after his inauguration, Barack Obama travelled to Dresden to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in June 2009, before the two travelled together to the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar.

George W. Bush was in office for just over 16 months when he met Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in Berlin in May 2001 and addressed the Bundestag.

It took Bill Clinton just under 18 months to meet Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Bonn in July 1994, and give a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

However, there would not be many pleasantries to discuss at a meeting with Merkel. No US ally is more at the centre of Trump's criticism than Germany. Trump is a bitter opponent of the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline, which is to bring gas from Russia to Germany. 

SEE ALSO: Trump tearing up diplomatic rules by attacking UK and Germany

He accuses Germany of paying Russia billions of euros for gas supplies, and at the same time relying on the protection of the US.

Again and again, the US president had criticized Germany's defence spending, which in his view is too low. The US is also openly threatening to withdraw part of its troops from Germany. 

“It is really offensive to expect the US taxpayer to continue paying more than 50,000 Americans in Germany, but the Germans to use their trade surplus for domestic purposes,” US Ambassador Richard Grenell recently told DPA.

SEE ALSO: 'Total diplomatic failure': US Ambassador sparks anger in Germany

Conversely, the German government has sharply rejected the US military mission to protect merchant ships in the Persian Gulf.

It is still unclear to what extent Germany will participate in the US-led alliance against the terrorist organization Islamic State.

Berlin and Washington are also at heads when it comes to climate protection and the nuclear agreement with Iran.

Trump's threat to impose punitive customs duties on car imports from the EU to the US, which would affect Germany in particular, remains in the foreground. 

The bottom line is that the list of German-American differences is longer than ever before in the post-war period.

Left on the sidelines

So it's actually no wonder that Trump has left Germany on the sidelines. But that's not all: he is now visiting two countries – Poland and Denmark – that are on his side in central conflicts with Germany.

Increasingly conservative Poland meets NATO's two-percent target, is regarded as Trump's most loyal friend in the EU and is against Nord Stream 2 – just like Denmark.

It is no secret that Merkel and Trump have not become friends. Over and over, Trump has attacked the Chancellor for her refugee policy. At the end of 2015 – just before his election victory in the following year – Trump described Merkel as the person “who is ruining Germany”. 

When Merkel travelled to the US at the end of May, Trump had no time for the Chancellor. Merkel gave a highly acclaimed speech to graduates at Harvard Elite University, which was dubbed by many journalists as her first openly “anti-Trump speech” – although Merkel never mentioned his name once.

SEE ALSO: Merkel cheered for diplomatic 'anti-Trump' speech at Harvard

The official university newspaper “Harvard Gazette” – who had a close relationship with Obama – celebrated its visitor as the as “Chancellor of the Free World”. The term was a suble stab to Trump: The Americans traditionally see their president as the leader of the free world.

Merkel's commencement address at Harvard University in May 2019. Official video from Harvard.

Trump likes to be celebrated, and he is unlikely to receive much applause in Germany.

“Some people have said that it was the best speech a president has ever made in Europe,” Trump said recently in his usual brand of immodesty, following a speech in the Polish capital of Warsaw in June 2017. 

In Germany, on the other hand, Trump is more likely to encounter protests. According to a survey published last October by the opinion research institute Pew, only 10 percent of Germans surveyed trusted the US president, while the same figures for Obama stood at 88 percent. In Poland, 35 percent said they trusted Trump.

Finding his roots

Beyond politics, however, there is actually another reason for Trump to come to Germany: His ancestors come from Kallstadt, a small wine-growing town in the far western state of Rhineland-Palatinate. 

The US ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell, announced at the end of last year that Trump was determined to visit the tiny town.

“I don't know when, but he told me that he wanted to come and see his family's hometown,” Grenell said. Since then, however, there has been no talk of it.

The next meeting with Merkel will now take place on “neutral ground”: At the G7 summit in Biarritz. 

And in Warsaw, on September 1st, Trump will take part in a World War II commemoration event together with Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. 

This relationship is not unburdened either. Even as Foreign Minister, Steinmeier avoided diplomatic statements about Trump in the 2016 presidential elections, calling him a “preacher of hate”.

But as increasing uncertainty in the world looms, it pays to have friends. Can Germany and the US ever mend their relationship?

Member comments

  1. Please remember that the issue is not US-German relations…the issue is Trump, who will be remembered as the worst president in the history of the US (provided, that is, if the US survives).

  2. A negative comment from someone from Austin. What a shock. The city is a dump and is following the example of San Fransicso. I used to go there in the 80’s; no more.

  3. There’s no mystery at all to Trump’s behavior. He’s a low class clod. Everything he does has to be about him. The fact that Merkel, a world class leader, is female, highly popular, and has criticized him publicly has damaged his fragile ego.

  4. Donald Trump often projected the notion that he is of British ancestry. In fact his mother had British roots. Trump’s grandfather,however, was born in Kallstadt,West of Mainz. This is the area where hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania Germans (aka Pensylvania Dutch) came from as the fled religious oppression during the 1700’s. Grandpa,however,came to America much later , after he evaded the Bavarian draft. This part of eh Rhineland was under Bavarian control until the unification of Germany in the late 1870’s We visted Kallstadt in 2018. Today it is a beautiful wine village at teh northern end of the “Deutsche Wein Strasse”.There were no signs anywhere that we had arrived in the town where the trump Family came from. We finally asked a residetn if we were in the right town “Oh yes ” was the reposne, and we learned the street address of grandpa’s birth house. The young man knew the street address,but advised us that “there is no number on the house”. We found it,and I have photos. Tehre was no pride expressed anywhere concerngin the Trump family. There was great pride,however over the fact htat Kallstadt is also the town where Pennsylvania’s Heinz Family (ketschup) came from. Fore=mer US Senator John Heinz (R) not only visted Kallstadt, but he donated a new organ that races one of town;s churches. I suspect that Trump avoids visting Germany ,land of his grandpa’s birth ,because he is so beholden to Russia. Russians to this day talk in terms of Fascists and Nazis that overran their country . Trump is committed to furthering the interests of Putin’s Russia in 2019,not to Germany which has risen as a democracy from the ashes of World War Two.

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Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the ‘die’ and carnival lingo

From the push to reform long-term unemployment benefits to the lingo you need to know as Carnival season kicks off, we look at the highlights of life in Germany.

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the 'die' and carnival lingo

Deadlock looms as debates over Bürgergeld heat up 

Following a vote in the Bundestag on Thursday, the government’s planned reforms to long-term unemployment benefits are one step closer to becoming reality. Replacing the controversial Hartz IV system, Bürgergeld (or Citizens’ Allowance) is intended to be a fair bit easier on claimants.

Not only will the monthly payment be raised from €449 to €502, but jobseekers will also be given a grace period of two years before checks are carried out on the size of their apartment or savings of up to €60,000. The system will also move away from sanctions with a so-called “trust period” of six months, during which benefits won’t be docked at all – except in very extreme circumstances. 

Speaking in parliament, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said the spirit of the new system was “solidarity, trust and encouragement” and praised the fact that Bürgergeld would help people get back into the job market with funding for training and education. But not everyone is happy about the changes. In particular, politicians from the opposition CDU/CSU parties have responded with outrage at the move away from sanctions.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz has even branded the system a step towards “unconditional Basic Income” and argued that nobody will be incentivised to return to work. 

The CDU and CSU are now threatening to block the Bürgergeld legislation when it’s put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Monday. With the conservatives controlling most of the federal states – and thus most of the seats in the upper house – things could get interesting. Be sure to keep an eye out for our coverage in the coming weeks to see how the saga unfolds. 

Tweet of the week

When you first start learning German, picking the right article to use can truly be a roll of the “die” – so we’re entirely on board with this slightly unconventional way to decide whether you’re in a “der”, “die”, or “das” situation. (Warning: this may not improve your German.) 

Where is this?

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Residents of Frankfurt am Main and the surrounding area will no doubt recognise this as the charming town of Kronberg, which is nestled at the foot of the Taunus mountains.

This atmospheric scene was snapped on Friday morning, when a drop in temperatures saw Kronberg and surrounding forests shrouded in autumnal fog.

After a decidedly warm start to November, the mercury is expected to drop into single digits over the weekend. 

Did you know?

November 11th marked the start of carnival season in Germany. But did you know that there’s a whole set of lingo to go along with the tradition? And it all depends on where you are. First of all, the celebration isn’t called the same thing everywhere. In the Rhineland, it’s usually called Karneval, while people in Bavaria or Saxony tend to call it Fasching. Those in Hesse and Saarland usually call it Fastnacht. 

And depending on where you are, there are different things to shout. The ‘fools call’ you’ll hear in Cologne is “Alaaf!” If you move away from Cologne, you’ll hear “Helau!” This is the traditional cry in the carnival strongholds of Düsseldorf and Mainz, as well as in some other German cities.

In the Swabian-Alemannic language region in the southwest of the country, people yell “Narri-Narro”, which means “I’m a fool, you’re a fool”. In Saarland at the French border, they shout “Alleh hopp!”, which is said to originate from the French language. 

Lastly, if someone offers you a Fastnachtskrapfe, say yes because it’s a jelly-filled carnival donut. And if you’re offered a Bützchen? It’s your call, but know that it’s a little kiss given to strangers!