NPR Special: 'The Berlin Journal' Examines U.S.-German Relations

Nov 25, 2013

This episode of The Berlin Journal features interviews with fellows from the Fall 2013 semester at the American Academy in Berlin.

From the current distress over U.S. spying to Bauhaus icon Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to cooking a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, host R.Jay Magill and special guests take listeners on a tour through some of the Academy's projects this semester.

American Academy fellow and architectural historian, Dietrich Neumann.
Credit Annette Hornischer / American Academy in Berlin

In recent weeks, news media in both the U.S. and Germany have devoted a great deal of attention to the revelation that the NSA has been hacking into private cell phone conversations of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In the U.S., the revelations about the eavesdropping come amidst a number of other disclosures about the NSA spying on foreign leaders who are also American allies.

But in Germany, sensitivity about wiretapping carries an even more sinister meaning. Chancellor Merkel was born and raised in communist East Germany, one of the most Orwellian surveillance states in all of history.

Andrew Nathan, a professor of political science at Columbia University and an Axel Springer fellow at the Academy this fall, is one of America’s leading authorities on global efforts to build and strengthen international human rights norms. 

Producer Jeff Rosenberg sat down with Nathan to talk about the question of privacy as a human right and how his vantage point here in Berlin this semester has altered his view of the recent worldwide revelations about the nature and extent of government espionage.

A New Biography Of Bauhaus Icon Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe

Later in the show, Brown University architectural historian Dietrich Neumann investigates Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the Bauhaus icon who first startled the world with his elegant pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona, and led what has come to be considered the vanguard of modern architecture. 

The graceful Barcelona chairs he designed for the building still sell today by the thousands each year.

Mies van der Rohe came to Chicago in 1938 to teach at what is now the Illinois Institute of Technology, and his American architectural work developed the concept and look of the American skyscraper, including the iconic Seagram Building on Park Avenue in New York City.

Dietrich Neumann has been researching the early works of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Berlin, as well as one of his late masterpieces, the Neue Nationalgalerie, built in 1968 in what was then West Berlin’s Kulturforum.

Robin Schuldenfrei of Humboldt University, and and former student of Neumann’s, sits down with Dietrich Neumann to talk about his nearly completed critical biography of the architect.

Nazi Germany And The Atomic Bomb

Why was America successful in building an atomic bomb, but Nazi Germany not?

Hitler’s atomic bomb should have materialized. Nazi Germany was a technologically developed state. It’s scientists and engineers were among the world’s best. Nuclear fission had been discovered in Berlin in 1938, and the German Army was the first to militarize nuclear energy research and development. Early German and American feasibility studies of nuclear weapons were not far apart.

So why did Nazi Germany’s reactor and atomic bomb projects fail, while simultaneously the American all-out efforts, known as the Manhattan Project, yielded a successful atomic weapon?

These questions form the core of the project of Wolf Schaefer, a historian of science and the associate dean of international academic programs at Stony Brook University. As a fellow this semester at the American Academy in Berlin, his project "Finalization and Failure: A Comparative Management Study of Big Weapons Programs in World War Two," explores the functional and DYS-functional management factors likely to make or break large scale R&D programs.

Wolf Schaefer speaks with host R.Jay Magill in the Academy’s library about what he’s uncovered.

Americans' Attachment To The Thanksgiving Meal

And finishing out the show, Reinold Kegel, executive chef at the American Academy, talks about how he learned to cook an American Thanksgiving dinner for the Academy's temporary expat fellows.

Kegel has cooked for presidents, secretaries of state, chancellors, world leaders, and celebrities of every stripe, and of course for the Distinguished Visitors at the Academy. It's quite a responsibility, but his cuisine has become legendary.

But before coming to the Academy, Kegel had never cooked a Thanksgiving meal. That first November, when a number of fellows approached him with their concerns about what would be offered at the holiday feast, he learned firsthand about the singular importance Americans attach to the Thanksgiving meal.

The Berlin Journal is a production of the American Academy in Berlin and NPR Berlin. The show is hosted by R.Jay Magill. This edition was produced by Jeff Rosenberg.