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A Week to Remember

A Week to Remember
North Dakota Legislators Travel to Berlin
Rep. Rick Holman

From September 26th to October 3rd I was fortunate to join eleven of my fellow legislators on a week-long study trip to Berlin and Potsdam, Germany. Led by our experienced guide, Jurgen Pinnow, we listened, learned, discussed, and by the end of the week had a fuller understanding of the country where many North Dakotans can trace their roots. There are many similarities between our two countries, but the Berlin and Potsdam area where we visited has experienced war and tragedy that most of us have only read about or seen in movies. 

Our host and sponsor was Global Bridges, a private, non-profit, non-partisan organization committed to fostering dialogue among its members.  It has over 400 members worldwide, from over 40 European countries, the United States, Russia, and China.  From its headquarters at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Global Bridges organizes conferences, study trips, and Global Forums. Thanks must also go to Rep. Bob Martinson and John Martinson for making the connection.

From my rural home to a city of over three million is a cultural adjustment to say the least, but the stories we heard from the many officials that we met with filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge of Germany and cast a new light on why we have both similarities and differences. We met with members of both the Federal Parliament and the State of Brandenburg. Time was spent with the editor of Der Spiegel, the German version of Time magazine. We learned that the Marshall Fund is still operating as we heard from the leaders of that group.

Germany, being a prosperous, well-educated country in the middle of Europe, bordering several other countries is a huge difference from the US. The former East Germany as part of the former Soviet Union for 45 years has a history quite different than even most Germans. Only twenty-five years ago, East Germany, with a population of sixteen million, was an oppressed Communist state with a wall and guards separating friends and families from the West.  In 1945 Berlin was a bombed out city in need of massive reconstruction. Germany’s history guides many of their political actions to this day whether about Germany or about their role as a leader Europe and the world.

That was made clear in how the country is reacting to the massive number of immigrants coming from poorer countries as well as from war zones such as Syria. Immigrants are welcome even though the generous benefits can put a strain on the Federal budget. We met with Barbara John, who working with the German Welfare system must find ways to welcome and integrate nearly a million people, just this year,  into German society.

A big concern for them at this time is the scandal with Volkswagen. One is seven jobs in the country is tied to that company as are a lot of stock portfolios. A humorous note, at least to the twelve of us, was that of the fifteen or twenty officials that we met, we smiled as nearly every one asked about the viability of Donald Trump. One asked about Bernie Sanders. My take from that is that they are closely watching even our presidential candidates and US politics in general when most of us have a problem naming the German chancellor. (Angela Merkel)

One more thing that will stay with me is the attention to the Holocaust. We visited the Museum which told of families no more in picture and audio.  While walking on the street I was struck by the many “Stumblestones”, small brass markers in front of homes with names of Jewish families who were removed. The infamous Berlin Wall is also evident, mostly as special bricking in the street to show where it once was as a visible reminder of a divided Germany’s. It’s 25 years since it came down. The complexity of the Russian/German relationship is also evidenced by German attitude toward Russia’s military actions in the Ukraine and Syria while being a major trading partner. International relations are never tied to just one issue.

Early Saturday morning, after six busy days visiting with a host of government officials, we bid farewell and thanked our guide for all he did to make this visit to Germany one that we will remember.

I had a “small world” moment on Tuesday while visiting with Dr. Dalton McMahon who is a professor at MSU. In 2006 he was with a group of ND teachers visiting Germany. When I said that our guide was named Jurgen, he described him and it fit.  I sent an email to Jurgen and he affirmed that he was the guide for that group from ND.

Our diverse group of five senators and seven house members,(Nine Republicans and three Democrats) will return to our legislative duties with enhanced global understanding as well as a better understanding of how events of the last 100 years have impacted not just Germany and Europe but also the rest of the world.

Thanks must go to Global Bridges for allowing us this great experience.  Rick Holman

Legislators attending.

Representatives: Rick Holman, Mayville; Jon Nelson, Rugby; Tracy Boe, Mylo; Chet Pollert, Carrington; Karen Karls, Bismarck; Jim Schmidt, Mandan; Andy Maragos, Minot.

Senators: Ray Holmberg, Grand Forks; Mac Schneider, Grand Forks; Ron Sorvaag, Fargo; Jerry Klien, Fessenden; Dwight Cook, Mandan. Our host and sponsor was Global

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