The Day I Saw Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin

by Heidi Obermeyer

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[The views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government and any conclusions drawn are my own.]

So technically, this should really be a post celebrating the end of the second week of class. After all, this was the second week of class. However….
It was my first week instead. During the REAL first week, I decided to skip class and go work for SelectUSA at the Hannover Trade Fair, an ENORMOUS industrial trade show in Hannover, Germany (about 2 hours away from Berlin). Before we get to our good friends Angie and Vladdykins, let’s take a brief interlude to talk about the show for a minute.

The Hannover fairgrounds (called a Messe (mess-uh) in German) are HUGE. They are lit-rally as big as my college campus. No, but really. Each hall must have covered at least 5 acres and there’s over twenty of them. The grounds are so extensive that there are 3 bus lines running between all the buildings to get you from point A to point B. It was INSANE. As far as what was inside those halls was concerned, I was as impressed as any non-engineer could be by products with extremely specific technical uses. Honestly, a lot of it was a total snooze for me, mostly because after a while the sheer magnitude of people telling you that their product is THE innovation and throwing around all these super vague buzzwords like “green” and “top-of-the-line” and “clean energy” turns everything into a dim roar that’s going on around you while you think about which articles you’re going to read on the Washington Post when you get back into the wifi range of the booth. But I’ve digressed.

Back to the hero and villain of the hour, Merkel and Putin!

Each year, Hannover Messe picks one country that’s the featured country for that year, from which they try and get as many companies as possible and a fancy politician to come and open the fair with Merkel. This year, that country was Russia. [Side note: are we not calling Russia Russia anymore? In all politically correct circumstances during the Messe, it was referred to as the Russian Federation. Just wondering.]

ANYWAY!

We went in to the opening ceremony past a pretty solid number of protesters, there to bring attention to a vast number of issues, from the Syrian conflict to gay rights in Russia and human rights abuses in the country. Also at the entrance was a group of Russian folk dancers, who continued to sing along to really loud music in what I suspect was an attempt to drown out the Syrians with a megaphone and other various chants. You have to wonder- what is it like for those random folk dancers who were given the honor of performing for Putin’s arrival only to be placed as a buffer between the audience and the protesters? It was a tense situation. Here’s some of the video footage I shot while pretending I was a news anchor while waiting in line:

Merkel and Putin opened the show with a few speeches and appearances both at the opening ceremony and the show itself. Merkel’s speech was very good, and hit the right notes on themes of innovation, the German-Russian relationship, and the importance of the industries represented to the world at the fair. Before the speeches began, everyone had recieved headsets so that they could listen to translations if they wanted to. Putin, having lived in the DDR for 5 years, didn’t put on his headset at all as Merkel gave her speech or during all of the introductons, all of which were given in German. But when he got up to make his speech (which I didn’t get to listen to because there weren’t enough headsets) he did the entire thing in Russian, without even one linguistic tip of the hat to the host country by saying “Guten Abend” or even “Danke für eure Aufmerksamkeit.” I found it to be rather rude. But then again, Putin isn’t really known for being a particularly polite character. In fact, later on in the show there was a pretty funny incident with some topless protesters- click here if you didn’t see the photo, because this one truly is worth a thousand words.

In conclusion (after taking a really long time to explain this story… thanks for sticking with me until the end here!) it was really interesting to see Putin and really exciting to see Merkel, so missing class and working at the Messe was worth it. Angie in particular was a real treat- having studied Germany in general made it a major fan girl moment. Now all I need to do is see Merkel somewhere in Berlin to make my Germany political experience complete!

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