Trump's win: The view from Berlin

The World
Activists pose on a "United To Stop Trump" cardboard wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany to urge Americans abroad to vote, on Sept. 23.

It's as true in Berlin as it is in Washington: Wednesday was a historic day. Donald Trump became president-elect of the United States.

But in Germany, Nov. 9 means something else. It's the day that, in 1989, the Berlin Wall finally started to crumble. Every year on “Mauerfall,” Germans remember the moment when a divided country began the difficult process of reunification.

Germans chose words other than “unity” to describe the outcome of the US election on Wednesday. The front page of the Berliner Zeitung newspaper blared: “The Dis-United States of America.” A local radio station played the David Bowie song “This is Not America.” An editorial in Die Zeit went so far as to declare “the end of the American century.”

Americans in Germany didn't miss the irony that, around the anniversary of one wall falling, the US elected a candidate who made building a wall one of his loudest campaign promises. The Berlin Wall emerged from very different historical circumstances from Trump's proposed US-Mexico border wall, but that didn't stop expats in Germany from drawing a connection. In September, at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, a group of protesters assembled and tore down a symbolic wall that read “United to Stop Trump.”

These aren't the only unexpected parallels between American and German politics. In a country led by one of the world's most powerful women, Chancellor Angela Merkel, many welcomed the prospect this year that a woman might be elected president of the US.

After Trump's victory, Merkel made a brief statement of congratulations, but she emphasized that cooperation between Germany and the US hinges on shared democratic values like a belief in universal human rights.

Merkel's far-right rivals the Alternative for Germany, or AfD in their Germany initials, sound far more optimistic about Trump. They've quickly risen from fringe party to a major player in German politics, largely through aggressive anti-immigration rhetoric.

"This night changes the USA, Europe and the world!" AfD leader Frauke Petry wrote on Twitter, according to the website The Local. "Americans have chosen a new beginning free of corruption and sleaze. This is a historic chance," she added.

'Broken glass'

Germans consider Nov. 9 to be first and foremost a day of unity, but it's also a day that recalls trauma. On this day in 1923, Adolf Hitler was attempting a coup of the Weimar Republic, widely known as the Beer Hall Putsch. In 1938, on the same date, he ordered the destruction of synagogues and Jewish businesses across Germany, in a pogrom known as Kristallnacht, "the night of broken glass."

A few American critics of Trump have controversially compared him to Hitler, and they might consider the coincidence apt. But in Germany, such comparisons are rare. The history of World War II continues to weigh heavily on the country. Several acquaintances here told me that they're very careful not to overstate perceived parallels with the Nazi period.

One respected historian of Germany, Timothy Garton Ash, was accused on Twitter of trivializing the pogroms of November 1938 when he mentioned them alongside the election results.

Along with the surprise and dismay some Germans expressed about Trump's victory, there is also a sense of relief that the election has ended. Plenty of Americans share that sentiment, too.

Endlich ist es vorbei,” read the Berliner Zeitung article — “Finally, it's over.” The story continued: “The dirtiest election that the Western world has ever seen is past.”

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