Robert McCartney remembers Joe Biden’s visit to divided Germany well, even though the encounter was well over 30 years ago. McCartney was a correspondent for the Washington Post in Bonn in the 1980s. The then Senator Biden wanted to meet McCartney during his stay on the Rhine to find out more about the (West) Germans, more precisely their attitude to the intermediate-range missiles (INF).
Those missiles were later limited in a 1988 treaty between Washington and Moscow. So the foreign politician Biden made an appointment with his compatriot McCartney to gauge public opinion in West Germany.
“We talked for about 45 minutes and I found that he was very interested in what average Germans were thinking and that he was quite knowledgeable on these issues,” reports McCartney, who is now senior editor of Washington Post” works at their headquarters, WELT.
At the time, Washington was very concerned that the Germans were not “reliable” allies and that they could leave NATO if Moscow offered a chance for reunification with East Germany.
“I told Biden that this was NOT my experience,” McCartney recalls today, “that West Germans are very loyal to the US and very suspicious of the USSR, and that Helmut Kohl in particular presented himself as a friend of the US during the election campaign. “
For Biden, this was just one of many visits to Germany. He had previously been a guest in Bonn, and later he was to visit Germany many more times, again in Bonn, as well as in Munich and Berlin.
When he comes to Germany for the first time as American President for the G-7 summit at Schloss Elmau on Sunday, he will be an old, experienced traveler to Germany. No other US President in recent history has visited Germany so often, knows the country and its political structures so well.
Biden has been “a political figure of national importance for 50 years, who has always attached particular importance to American foreign policy,” says Jeffrey Rathke, president of the Institute for German Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington.
As a senator and chairman of the foreign affairs committee, Biden often traveled to Europe. “The only other post-war presidents who knew Germany comparably well were Dwight Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush.”
On one of his first trips as a young senator, Biden honored the nickname given by Donald Trump: Sleepy Joe. When Biden visited Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (SPD) in the late 1970s, he overslept and arrived late at the Chancellor’s office. Schmidt was initially “not a simple guy,” writes Biden in his memoirs.
It’s no wonder the world is in such bad shape. You young people don’t know anything,” Schmidt replied to the young guest from Washington. “Well, Mr. Chancellor,” he, Biden, Schmidt replied: “We can’t mess up this world any more than your generation did.”
That answer, Biden writes in his memoirs, “seemed to please Schmidt, and we got along well after that. He had a lot to tell me that day.”
As early as 1979, Biden, then 36 years old, traveled to the then federal capital Bonn, among other places. He becomes an important interlocutor for Schmidt. He urgently needs a good connection to the Senate, to the Democratic Party. The relationship between Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Schmidt is bad.
Biden also meets with his successor Helmut Kohl (CDU). He now leads the subcommittee on Europe in the Senate. Kohl informed Biden in 1988 that Bonn welcomed the planned dismantling of medium-range nuclear weapons.
President George W. Bush asks Biden for advice before his first trip to Germany and welcomes him as a Germany connoisseur. He explains to Bush the peculiarities of the German party system, of coalitions, the red-green coalition.
As Vice President (2009 to 2017), Biden took care of Ukraine and therefore traveled to Europe several times. Biden and Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) meet several times, for example on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.
Their meeting in February 2015 was tense – after the Russian annexation of Crimea almost a year earlier and the escalation in the Donbass.
“The Chancellor was strong in her speech the next morning … but she wasn’t strong enough for my liking,” Biden writes. “And I was disappointed when, after the speech, she coolly refused to provide real weapons to the overwhelmed Ukrainian military.” place.”
Merkel and Biden also disagreed at a joint meeting with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Merkel asked what concessions Poroshenko she could bring to a meeting with Vladimir Putin the following day: “She was of the opinion,” writes Biden, “that the Russian head of state must be able to win some kind of victory.”
Biden didn’t like that. In his memoirs he notes the course of the conversation: “‘We can’t blame the victim here,’ I said and nodded to Poroshenko. When the meeting ended, Merkel seemed frustrated with me.”
American (vice) presidents sometimes travel abroad with family members. Biden took his granddaughter Finnegan, then 16, with him when he visited Munich in 2015. He took her to the Dachau concentration camp memorial site, which he had visited decades earlier, each time separately, with his children Beau, Hunter and Ashley.
His own father often talked about the Holocaust at home, he writes in his memoirs: “The idea that the German people didn’t know that this was happening is devoid of any logic.”
At the memorial, Biden and his granddaughter Finnegan met the Dachau survivor Max Mannheimer, sitting in a wheelchair, who died a good year later. Biden familiarized his granddaughter with the quote from Martin Niemöller: “When the Nazis got the communists, I kept quiet, I wasn’t a communist…”
After they walked through the gas chamber in the cold of winter, he turned to his granddaughter, Biden writes. He wanted Finnegan to experience the same shock that his political journey had fueled.
“Listen, darling,” he said to Finnegan as we walked through the gate, “Something like this can happen again. Something like this is happening in other parts of the world now. And you must raise your voice, you cannot remain silent. Silence is complicity.”