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An everyday estrangement

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Jens Thurau
May 31, 2019

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has just been to Berlin. The composed diplomatic courtesy shows just how far Germany and the US have drifted apart, writes DW's Jens Thurau.

Merkel and Pompeo wave to reporters
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kumm

Three flags fluttered peacefully in the breeze side-by-side at the Federal Chancellery on Friday: the US one, the German one and the European one.

It was almost like a throwback to decades past, when the German capital was practically an American city. But the sight was misleading: Next to nothing is going right in official relations between the US and Germany.

No time to pay Germany a visit

Pompeo has visited 40 countries since he took office. Yet he has never found time for Germany until now. There was a visit scheduled a few weeks ago. However, Pompeo canceled because he had to make a trip to Iraq at short notice.

Such an affront to Germany — formally such a close ally — would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

Naturally, diplomatic niceties were observed. So far, Pompeo has not adopted the brash tone characteristic of his president when he visits Germany.

It almost served as a wistful reminder of the better times when Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Pompeo emphasized shared values or even when Pompeo recalled his time serving as a US soldier in Germany.

But then the areas of conflict raised their head: Iran, Syria, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the German defense budget, relations with China. To search for a topic where there is no conflict would be to search in vain. Even worse is the impression that this estrangement has long been routine.

All parties were at pains to emphasize that they are constantly in contact.  But having to do so merely highlighted the lack of anything meaningful to offer at the moment.

The German chancellor made her true feelings towards the US government abundantly clear in a much-lauded speech that she gave at Harvard on Thursday.

It was a passionate plea for multilateralism, for climate protection, for the ascendancy of facts over lies. Not once did Merkel mention US President Donald Trump by name, but the reference was evident in every sentence.

Merkel speaks to Harvard grads

Living on different planets

Countless personal contacts are currently holding up the trans-Atlantic relationship — namely business and culture exchanges. However, in reality, the respective governments are living on different planets.

And Berlin barely took note that the US secretary of state was in town. Such visits used to be a huge event. For better or worse, they were always accompanied by fierce protest in the past. But there was never such a lack of interest in a guest from Washington.

Now though, the government district in Berlin echoes with the sound of silence. Things can only get better.

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Jens Thurau Jens Thurau is a senior political correspondent covering Germany's environment and climate policies.@JensThurau