• <div class="header-image" style="background-image: url(/live/image/gid/4/3256_shutterstock_1302963724.rev.1575383343.jpg);" data-share-image="/live/image/gid/4/3256_shutterstock_1302963724.jpg"/><div class="header-background-color"/>

Freiheit and the Presidency

October 22, 2015

The University of Pennsylvania welcomed the eleventh and current president of the Federal Republic of Germany, Joachim Gauck, on October 6, 2015. President Gauck gave a speech in German on the topic “Freedom – our shared bond” and shared insights on the relationship between Germany and the United States. President Gauck provided the Penn community with a better understanding of the U.S.-German relationship, and hinted that Germany should adopt a more assertive leadership role in international politics. 

German President Joachim Gauck
German President Joachim Gauck addresses Penn faculty, students, and distinguished guests at the University of Pennsylvania on October 6, 2015. Source: Scott Spitzer, Office of University Communications

Weizsäcker’s Legacy

Germany functions under a parliamentary form of government. Unlike states such as the United States and China where the president is the head of the executive branch and serves as the commander of the armed forces, Germany’s presidency is to a certain extent ceremonial. General executive work is led by the Chancellor, currently Angela Merkel, who is elected by members of the parliament, the Bundestag.

One of the most famous and highly regarded German presidents, Richard von Weizsäcker, did not shy away from the political side of his title. In a remarkable speech on the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.[1] he argued that the guilt of war was individual, but not national. Furthermore, he relieved the younger generations of the war guilt that was so central to post-war German identity hitherto, and acknowledged the end of the war and the fall of the Nazi regime as a “liberation” to the German people. This audacious view played an important role in reestablishing Germany’s identity and helped her regain footing in the international community peacefully, in contrast to the immediate post-WWI years. Weizsäcker remained an important political figure who oversaw the reunification of Germany, and was even accepted by hardline Jewish politicians who detested their German counterparts.

To a certain extent, President Gauck built the premise of his speech at Penn based on the same values stressed by Weizsäcker. In his speech, Gauck highlighted the fact that “Germany is not an island between the US and Russia but fully integrated in the Europe and NATO.” Gauck also reiterated the importance of Germany’s increased responsibility in the international system despite the country’s hesitancy to do so since the Second World War; Gauck provided a rather convincing explanation to this – the negative connotation, perhaps even taboo, in the use of the word führer (leader). The deep implications of Hitler being the self-proclaimed führer of the Third Reich caused Germans to be hesitant to take on such a role in the postwar era. For Gauck, his country has long since adopted a new identity in the international system, but is afraid of being the world leader. Despite the recent financial crisis, Germany has emerged as the Eurozone’s leading economy; it has the financial resources and economic might to serve as a key representative of Europe in intercontinental discussions. Weizsäcker was right when he asserted that that Germans are now free to take on more responsibility, and that this generation’s actions should no longer be constrained by the atrocities committed by the Nazis. It is time for Germans to understand the importance of this freiheit and step up alongside the United States to play an important role in the security of the West..   

German-American Relations: Deep Historical Ties

Starting with the establishment of Germantown in Pennsylvania by a few trailblazing German families who travelled across the Atlantic to settle in the New World, Gauck listed in his speech the rich historical relationship and set of exchanges between the United States and Germany,  He then went on to describe how Germany was jointly administered by the four main victorious powers, United States, Britain, France and Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War. This division foresaw the separating of the state into East and West Germany. After the consolidation of the three Western zones into the Federal Republic, the Allies established the Basic Law in 1949. The Basic Law was revolutionary in the sense that it showed the willingness of the United States, then the world’s most powerful country, to allow Germany to reestablish a tenable federal and democratic system with principles not unlike those in the unification and Weimar constitutions. The rest was history, with Konrad Adenauer becoming the first West German Chancellor and overseeing the Wirtschaftswunder, the economic miracle.[2]

It is debatable whether West Germany would have been able to become the locomotive of the post-war European economy had the Allies dominated the newly reborn state like the Soviets did with East Germany. American involvement in the infant stages of West Germany ensured a stable foundation for the country’s long-lasting unification up until the present.. Gauck underscored this cooperation, calling American soldiers “liberators but not occupiers” and by reminding guests of the Berlin Airlift and the Marshall Plan, which greatly helped European states regain footing economically. America’s push for reunification during the Cold War also played a significant role. The cries of “ich bin ein Berliner” by John F. Kennedy and “Tear down this wall” by Ronald Reagan were reassuring gestures to West Berliners that America never left them alone in the exclave. Gauck also praised George H. W. Bush’s administration for actively promoting the formation of a unified Republic.

This close transatlantic relationship ensured the friendship between the two nations in the past and the integration of Germany into both the European community and NATO in the post-war era. Yet today, there are calls of scrutiny to this relationship. Incidents such as the NSA spying incident that Gauck mentioned have indeed brought America into an awkward position. Obama’s rebalance towards the Pacific region also led to some Europeans to fear the unknown ambitions of Russia, just as she easily annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

Gauck called on America to foster a closer partnership with European allies through NATO. Especially in the face of the Ukrainian and migrant crises facing the European Union, Gauck’s call for greater cooperation is warranted. With the recent suspension of the Schengen Agreement in several EU countries and the recent “Grexit” debacle, some states have casted doubts on whether EU integration remains on paper. British public opinion has flirted with a “Brexit”, culminating with a proposed referendum likely to take place in 2017. With Britain’s unwillingness to engage deeper into EU affairs, symbolized by maintaining the Pound Sterling as its currency and remaining outside of the Schengen Area, Germany remains America’s most trusted and capable ally in Europe.

As exemplified by the migrant crisis, Germany is one of the only EU countries to embrace challenges by actively addressing the problems. As Gauck mentioned, Germany’s appeal to migrants today resembles the aura of the Statue of Liberty back in the days when steamboats traversed the Atlantic and docked in New York. Challenges to EU sovereignty and integration will continue to arise and Germany should be ready to take the helm. America’s role here is to reassure its allies that it has not abandoned the region in favor of the Middle East or the Far East. Along with the Ukrainian front, recent Russian air strikes in Syria show that she is trying to maintain her own alliance in the region. America should do the same. As Russia flexes her muscles, Germany and the United States should take on more assertive roles in security affairs within the framework of NATO and the United Nations to bring the two countries closer. This partnership will further deter others from challenging this union and stabilize the region that has been volatile since the end of the bipolar Cold War.

Another Freiheit

Gauck provided the following advice at the end of his speech: “Freedom should be worth something to us. Germany and America should work together to keep this freedom alive, not just for their people, but also for those who are fighting for the same freiheit Americans and Germans fought for years ago. America should assist Germany’s transformation into a European and global leader, just as Europe oversaw the peaceful American rise after its industrialization in the late 19th century. History repeats itself, but this time, it is about peace and cooperation.

Student Blog Disclaimer
  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.


  • <h3>Congressional Budget Office</h3><p><img width="180" height="180" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/180/380_cbo-logo.rev.1406822035.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image380 lw_align_right" data-max-w="180" data-max-h="180"/>Since its founding in 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.</p><p> The agency is strictly nonpartisan and conducts objective, impartial analysis, which is evident in each of the dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates that its economists and policy analysts produce each year. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies. <strong>CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.</strong> Products include baseline budget projections and economic forecasts, analysis of the President’s budget, cost estimates, analysis of federal mandates, working papers, and more.</p><p> Quick link to Products page: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products</a></p><p> Quick link to Topics: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/topics" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/topics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Bureau of Economic Research (Public Use Data Archive)</h3><p><img width="180" height="43" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/43/478_nber.rev.1407530465.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image478 lw_align_right" data-max-w="329" data-max-h="79"/>Founded in 1920, the <strong>National Bureau of Economic Research</strong> is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.</p><p> Quick Link to <strong>Public Use Data Archive</strong>: <a href="http://www.nber.org/data/" target="_blank">http://www.nber.org/data/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The World Bank Data (U.S.)</h3><p><img width="130" height="118" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image484 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1406" data-max-h="1275"/>The <strong>World Bank</strong> provides World Development Indicators, Surveys, and data on Finances and Climate Change.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states" target="_blank">http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>NOAA National Climatic Data Center</h3><p><img width="200" height="198" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image483 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 3x" data-max-w="954" data-max-h="945"/>NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation’s treasure of <strong>climate and historical weather data and information</strong>.</p><p> Quick link to home page: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCDC’s climate and weather datasets, products, and various web pages and resources: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links</a></p><p> Quick link to Text & Map Search: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>MapStats</h3><p> A feature of FedStats, MapStats allows users to search for <strong>state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district data</strong> (demographic, economic, and geographic).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/" target="_blank">http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p><strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.rev.1407788243.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right" data-max-w="222" data-max-h="97"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p><a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p><strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.rev.1407787656.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="80"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p><img width="180" height="124" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1233" data-max-h="850"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul><li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li><li>Food Distribution Programs </li><li>School Meals </li><li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p><img width="155" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg 2x" data-max-w="463" data-max-h="596"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p><img width="100" height="100" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 3x" data-max-w="550" data-max-h="550"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>