What I saw in Washington, D.C.

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I will be writing about my perspective on the political implications of the November, 2016 election in other outlets, but the shift in the country is having many personal impacts that I will be writing about in the coming months.  I have been dismayed by the racism, xenophobia, misogyny and anti-lgbtq sentiment on display in the last few months, the blatant use of power by ICE and CBP agents, stopping individuals from places like Australia and even the former Prime Minister of Denmark at airports (not that these types of stops are new). The weekend that the first executive order on immigration was released I barely slept – but quickly realized that I couldn’t keep up that kind of pace. We are in a marathon not a sprint. I’ll have to pick my battles carefully and not get caught up in every issue where I have some expertise.

My last trip to D.C. was in 2013 for Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Since then, the country has, of course, gone through some major changes that I could not have foreseen at that time. I expected a very different place when I took a quick trip to Washington D.C. in late February. This trip was for a meeting at the American Political Science Association, and I was curious to see what the atmosphere would be like under the new administration.

I arrived early evening to my hotel and immediately headed to one of my favorite restaurants near Dupont Circle for some dinner. I rarely watch TV news, I tend to listen to NPR, but CNN seemed much more relevant as I sat at the restaurant bar in our nation’s capital. CNN was reporting on the breaking news that Reince Priebus had asked the FBI to discount the reports that Trump’s campaign had contacts with Russian officials. As I sat enjoying my meal, I couldn’t help but overhear a group of twenty-somethings discussing the political situation.  I chatted with them for a bit, sharing our interest in politics, and the need to understand populism and racism in the current climate.

The next day I made my way to the White House and was surprised to find it surrounded by fencing and no trespassing signs.

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The obstructions are there ostensibly because of the inauguration, but this is the longest it has ever taken to tear down the stands and construction after the inauguration. It also conveniently keeps protestors away from the White House. I did find the peace protestors who have had a long-standing presence near the White House and they explained the situation – the Park Service has been accommodating, but they are subject to the dictates of the White House. It does not feel like the people’s house anymore. I’m glad I was able to visit with my boys while Obama was still President.

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Later I met with friends who talked about how the helicopters used by Trump and Pence would “buzz” the bike paths and I even noticed how the helicopters would fly low over residential areas – under Obama the helicopters would do their best to fly over the Potomac and avoid residential areas and the park. Friends who work in government agencies are concerned that they still don’t have agency heads, don’t know what will happen to their funding, and are concerned that programs that provide a lot of bang for the buck will no longer be funded, hurting the U.S,’s standing in the world.

These are the small changes that don’t get into the news – but they have great impact on those who work and live in DC, and ultimately, the way our government functions. We need to pay attention to all of these changes.

Berlin Day 1: An ever changing city

I have been visiting Berlin since I started focusing on German politics in graduate school in the mid-1990s.  I have gotten used to watching the city change, when I first visited Germany, the capitol was still in Bonn and the Reichstag hadn’t yet been refurbished. Parts of the Berlin wall still stood in their original locations. Over the years, each visit would bring major changes as construction cranes took over the skyline. The original Checkpoint Charlie became a fashionable shopping avenue. The Reichstag gained a glass dome. Four years ago I had spent 3 weeks in Berlin with my family, conducting research at the Free University of Berlin. I made a quick visit a year and a half ago, but I went straight to a conference and didn’t spend any time touring the city. I was excited to see what four years had wrought in a city that was in the middle of so much change.

I arrived in Berlin the morning of June 2nd after an uneventful flight. After a nap, I headed out of my hotel to enjoy the ambiance of the Ku’damm – a major shopping area in the heart of the city. Compared to my trip to the Netherlands a year ago, when most of the stores seemed in distress and were having major price reductions, things seemed normal, maybe even more expensive than I was used to. My first meal was a chai latte from Starbucks to wake me up, and the traditional curry wurst and pommes from a nearby outdoor stand.


Currywurst with pommes (french fries)Image

Ku’damm on a sunny afternoon…


Wittenberg platz – this is the station we used all the time the last time we were in Berlin


The last time we were here they were raising funds to refurbish the Gedachtnis-Kirche – a reminder of the tragedy of the war. It is clearly being refurbished now. Also, most of the fountains weren’t running four years ago – it was nice to see them working, although I did notice many more homeless people, particularly young people, hanging around the square. This was the first time that I visited this area and felt a bit uneasy.


After a bit of shopping for some World Cup gear for my boys (and a few cute items for myself from Desigual), I took a break. Later I headed off in the direction of the Tiergarten and eventually hoping to go into the Reichstag where the German legislature sits (the Reichstag fire led to Hitler and the Nazi’s taking control of the German Government, so it is a potent symbol). For the first time since i have been visiting Berlin the Siegessäule (victory column) was open – here are a few photos of that monument:


The view towards the Brandenburg gate.


I know Andrew, my military history buff, will be interested in the frescoes on the sides of the monument.

As I walked towards the Brandenburg gate, I noticed that the TIergarten gets it’s name for a reason – actually, a few years ago I was running through the park and saw a fox with a rabbit in it’s mouth, so these guys do have natural predators out there…



Germans are almost as much into cycling as the Dutch, so I was dodging a lot of bikes on my way to the Brandenburg Gate.

To my surprise, I ran into a peace protest which mainly seemed focused on the ills of capitalism, avoiding war in Ukraine and pushing for peace in general.


The protesters have been meeting regularly on Mondays and draw on themes from the Monday protests before the fall of the Berlin Wall – this is the first protest of this type I have seen in Berlin


Here’s a link to some video from the protest: http://youtu.be/ihoDS2MLpPE

The next surprise for me was the new security at the Reichstag. Four years ago you could just walk up and get in if they were open – now there’s a registration process and security barriers. I guess I won’t be seeing the inside on this trip, luckily I’ve been inside before. Here’s a few pictures from around the Reichstag:


This is a memorial to legislators murdered by the Nazis.


These bricks mark where the Berlin wall was located.


These crosses are for people who died trying to cross from East to West Berlin during the Cold War.Image

a chalk tribute to currywurst


The Reichstag with newer, modern government buildings in the background.

Another new memorial is one to the Roma and Sinti who were part of the genocide during WWII

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As I walked back to the Brandenburg gate, I had to take a picture of the US Embassy, which sits in a very prime location. The UK Embassy is around the next corner, both require a lot of security.


Looking East, you an see the Fernsehturm (TV tower) which was a symbol for East Berlin

Image I saw another group gather down the street and went to take a look. This time it was a group of Spanish protestor, who were calling for an end to the monarchy in Spain, the Spanish King abdicated the throne to his son today.


This sign is referring to the large numbers of Spaniards who have migrated to Germany to find work.Image

The last set of pictures are just some interesting shots from the rest of my day, I’m sure I’ll have more tomorrow, and I’ll be talking about some of the political issues in my Europe blog – http://givenseurope.blogspot.com