Trump's rude awakening for Germany

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Front pages of Die Zeit and Die WeltImage source, Die Zeit/Die Welt
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German press reacted with shocked headlines such as "Oh my God!" and "The world is upside down"

A few hours after US President-elect Donald Trump took to the stage to make his acceptance speech, as evening fell in Berlin, small candles were quietly lit and carefully placed in front of aged, stone doorsteps and along the darkening pavements.

Berliners were marking the anniversary of Kristallnacht (when Jewish people and their businesses were violently attacked in 1938).

It was barely noted amid the febrile howl of international reaction to the US election. Neither was the 27th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which shares the same date.

But both events - and all that they represent of this country's past - explain, partially at least, why Germans were so repulsed by Donald Trump's election rhetoric and why so few (4% by one poll's reckoning) wanted him in the White House.

Image source, EPA
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Mayor Michael Mueller joins fellow Berliners in marking the fall of the Berlin Wall

There is almost universal shock and horror here. Even Germany's foreign minister (who once described Trump as a hate speaker) could not bring himself publicly to congratulate him.

One newspaper headline exclaimed "Oh my God!", another "We're in mourning". Another minister described the result as "a nightmare from which we can't wake up".

A poll conducted by national broadcaster ARD found that the majority of Germans don't trust Mr Trump and that most believe his election will result in a deterioration of the transatlantic relationship.

It's a relationship which, for some years now, has fallen into the "special" category.

Image source, Getty Images
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While Angela Merkel offered to co-operate with Mr Trump, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said US foreign policy would become more difficult

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the outgoing US President Barack Obama forged a strong and warm partnership, which survived the revelation that American spies had listened in to her mobile phone calls.

And it was a relationship that had implications for the rest of Europe.

When the US wanted to send arms to the Ukrainians, for example, Mrs Merkel weighed in and deterred them. And as the main interlocutor between Russia's Vladimir Putin and the West, Mrs Merkel - and Germany - have wielded influence.

What will happen to transatlantic trade?

The problem now is that no-one knows what happens next.

As Germany's rather shocked defence minister pointed out, we don't really know where Mr Trump stands on foreign policy.

That uncertainty is not going down well with German business, finance and industry leaders.

"The self-destruction of the West continues," noted Joerg Kramer, chief economist at Commerzbank.

America is Germany's biggest trading partner. More than a million jobs are thought to depend on the export market.

Mr Trump's comments about trade agreements have unnerved many here. TTIP - the controversial, planned trade deal between Europe and the US - was already struggling. Many believe it's now finished.

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The German chancellor has forged a close relationship with President Obama

But shock is turning to pragmatism.

"No-one really expected this result, so no-one had established communication with anyone on his team," says Peter Beyer, spokesman for Mrs Merkel's CDU party on transatlantic relations.

"What everyone is trying to do now is contact anyone we might know who might play a role in his team."

It's accepted in Berlin that Angela Merkel will have to make this relationship work.

Donald Trump was initially scathing about her - and her refugee policy - during his election campaign.

Nevertheless the chancellor - who spoke by telephone with the president-elect on Thursday - has offered her congratulations and co-operation, albeit on the condition that Mr Trump respects "shared values" like freedom and the rule of law, and applies them to all, regardless of gender, creed or background.

'Fragile times' ahead

But, as Mr Trump prepares to take office, arguably Mrs Merkel's greatest challenge is how to hold her country - indeed the EU - together.

Because what's really got German politicians so jittery is that in Donald Trump's victory they see parallels with the sweep of right-wing and populist parties through Europe.

Germany itself goes to the polls next year. The established parties are losing votes to the anti-migrant, anti-Muslim Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Image source, Getty Images
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A protest banner reads: "This Merkel is finished - vote for AfD now, so Germany will not be destroyed"

No wonder, perhaps, that some here see the US election result - following the Brexit referendum - as a wake-up call.

Wolfgang Schaeuble, the finance minister, told the tabloid newspaper Bild: "In politics, business and society the elites don't always make a good impression. Decision-making processes are very often not transparent. Everyone must be prepared to learn - if we're open to the perspective of others and to a change in the direction of our thinking then populism will have a hard time."

Mr Trump's victory has been described as a political earthquake.

The aftershocks will shift the German and European political landscape. Berlin wants to continue an important transatlantic relationship and maintain global influence while upholding values it holds dear. These are, as Peter Beyer puts it, "fragile times".

"This will bring changes to the world. It's not the same place as before 8 November. Someone with the character of Donald Trump has an effect not just nationally but internationally, globally."

Mr Beyer speaks for many here as he adds: "Maybe he'll prove us wrong. I hope so."