The temperature outside has tempered and cooled a bit in Berlin. A little rain did the trick. But the conversations were interesting and steamy today as fellows with the RTDNF German/American Journalists Exchange met with Thomas One and Thomas Two. Thomas Habicht is a former “radio man” who has now taken his expertise to newspaper as Berlin correspondent for “shz” media group. Habicht said no matter what some may think, no country is more important to Germany than the United States. And he says former President George H.W. Bush is a major reason why.
He says Bush I (who turned 90-years-old Thursday) and the US, supported Germany’s reunification, when its neighbors, including France, did not. Habicht says today, polls continue to show more than 95% of German citizens support reunification as the country marches closer toward the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Well, who has benefitted the most from Germany’s reunification? Habicht says “old people” and “young people.” But those in the middle, including a lot of teachers have it hard – “Too young to retire and too old for a fresh start,” said Habicht. It reminds me a lot of North Carolina, which continues to try to transform its economy. There is a “former” middle class in North Carolina who lost their wealth when traditional manufacturing crumbled. When the East and West reunited here, many in East Berlin, who were less educated and had lower wage jobs suffered the most. I’m told the unemployment rate in the former East Berlin is twice as high as in the former West.
After a short visit to the Federal Foreign Ministry offices, we headed to ZDF television studios. Our walk reminded me of high-end Manhattan. With the large Russian Embassy in view, this section of former East Berlin was now the home to stores like Hugo Boss, Mont Blanc and a Westin Hotel. So you may be thinking, how did a “public television station” afford this address?
ZDF “Public” Television gets to play around with a budget of $2.2 billion a year! Each German household has to pay a monthly fee of about $20 (no T-shirt, no mug) to subsidize its public stations. The total pot is $8 billion – a big chunk goes to the “other” public television network and the rest to regional TV and Radio stations.
“Thomas Two,” Thomas Walde is Senior Berlin Correspondent for ZDF, and he wears the part well. He says they have about 500 employees in Berlin and 7,000 or more around the world. Wherever Chancellor Angela Merkel goes, they go. But ZDF – which seems like a mix of the BBC, CNN and CBS – is more than politics and documentaries. It covers entertainment in a big way. I am watching the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Brazil and the game on ZDF. Yes, they beat out the commercial stations to co-carry the event with the other public network. I think I need a ZDF t-shirt!