It's a tight program with a little excitement. Mike Pompeo and Heiko Maas have already been to the Bavarian-Thuringian border on this sunny autumn day. They visited the once-divided, small village Mödlareuth, went there from west to east and back again. In the motorcade of the US Secretary of State there was a small accident with sheet metal damage on the way there.
Somehow the little incident seems like a symbol of the current German-American relations. Things are not going well, but the caravan is still moving.
In the late afternoon Pompeo stands by the side of Maas in the hall of the Old Town Hall of Leipzig. Outside, large parts of the city center are closed off, snipers have positioned themselves on the roofs around the market. An impressive column of about 40 cars secures the visit of the US Secretary of State and awaits further deployment.
Inside, in the historic hall, German-American unity will be celebrated in abundance on this day – in the midst of the tense world situation. It is stressed easy. "Mike" and "Heiko", that's how it sounded, when the US-American came to Berlin for the delayed entry-visit in May and met Maas. This time Pompeo is in Germany for two days, on Friday – like six months ago – he will once again meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel, in the capital. Meetings with Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and Secretary of Inmate Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer are also planned.
The 55-year-old American has a personal history with Germany; in the 1980s he was stationed as a US soldier in West Berlin. On Thursday morning, he, the former officer, met in the Bavarian Grafenöhr with US soldiers for breakfast. In Leipzig, he refers to his stationing during the Cold War: in the defense of freedom, he once played a "modest role," says Pompeo.
They are incantations of the German-American relationship, the past and the present. Relations between the two countries have been a constant ups and downs since the end of the Second World War in the past few decades. Roughly up to Barack Obama's time, quite deep down in Donald Trump's reign. They were all the better in 1989/1990, when then US President George Bush decisively influenced German unity and whereabouts in negotiations with the Soviet Union against resistance from the Western camp – France and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Today, in times of trade tariffs and an erratic US foreign policy, the visit of a US Secretary of State is like a gauge. The German side is required. Foreign Minister Maas had caused irritation only this week with a guest contribution to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 26 EU states. In it he emphasized the role of Eastern European states and actors, to the "Western allies" he addressed a summary thanks, without appreciating the role of the United States. In the Bundestag Maas had been criticized on Wednesday in a question time by the opposition, he himself rejected the allegations.
In Leipzig, the 53-year-old now deleted in the Old Town Hall, which was missing in his guest contribution. He does it with so many sentences that it is unmistakable. "Without the leadership of America there would not have been reunification," he quotes US Secretary of State James Baker. That, he adds, "is still valid today". The European neighbors and the former Soviet state and party leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the perestroika also mentioned Maas, as before in his guest contribution, before he once again pivots over to the foundation of "common values" with the US. For the former US presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush had "significantly contributed". "We owe our freedom and our unity to you," says Maas. It seems as if he wants to fulfill an oversoll of friendliness. The US remained Europe's most important ally and "Germany's most important ally outside Europe," says Maas.
Pompeo is not less behind. He recognizes Germany as a "great partner" for many international problems. "We have the same principles, the same concerns, and sometimes we have a different approach," he says. That, Pompeo adds, "happens among good friends and allies." Of course, the two ministers also discussed the world situation – Syria, Iran, Turkey, Ukraine. Also on the recent statement by French President Emmanuel Macron, Maas is addressed in Leipzig, according to which NATO is "brain dead". He does not see it that way, says the German foreign minister, an interest in cohesion and the functioning of the alliance should "have everyone".
Pompeo's visit is also a journey into the German present. He explicitly insisted on visiting the synagogue in Halle on Thursday evening. There, a right-wing extremist had recently attempted to make an attack during a service, but failed at the locked door and then killed a woman and a young man in the area. In Leipzig, Pompeo speaks of a "vicious anti-Semitic attack" that urges "to stand up for freedom of belief".
How past and present mingle in Leipzig, where 30 years ago the mass demonstrations broke the rule of the SED, Pompeo also experiences this in the Saxon city. In the Nikolaikirche, the starting point of the Monday demonstrations in the final phase of the GDR, he met former civil rights activists and contemporary witnesses. But one – the 57-year-old former civil rights activist Uwe Schwabe – had previously canceled his participation. The current US foreign policy, he said, is contrary to the goals for which the demonstrators took to the streets in 1989.
Addressed in the press conference, Pompeo circumvents the topic. He says diplomatically that Leipzig is an important place where people were "very courageous" and "admitted to freedom".