ever since I started my internship at the German Embassy, I kind of waited for this very week to finally come around: Federal President of Germany Joachim Gauck arrived with his delegetion in Japan on Monday – and as a part of the department for Culture and Communication at the German Embassy, I had the chance to experience the planning and realisation of such a high rank visit in person.
For a long time his visit had not been official and was therfore classified until the end of October. In our weekly meetings it was always the first item on the agenda.
Most of these topics to be discussed were challenges to the department for Political Affairs, like cooperations with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Federal President’s Office or arranging the meetings with Prime Minister Abe and the emperor.
The department of Culture and Communication took care of the German press on the one hand and organised two own events on the other hand. I was involved in the organisation of those events, namely a drawing contest and the Presidents main speech at a Japanese University.
The “Watashi no Doitsu” Drawing Contest
Every year since 2007 the German Embassy organises the drawing contest watashi no doitsu – my Germany. Japanese elementary school and middle school children can take part in this contest and submit their pictures at the embassy. They are usually given a subject to work with and this year’s one was “Cool Germany”.
The aim of this drawing contest is for one to make the kids think about Germany and what images they have of it and to maybe broaden those or even reconsider them entirely. For another, it is always a great chance for us at the embassy to observe, what aspects of Germany are popular at the moment and what stereotypes are being reproduced by those kids.
This year we celebrated the 10th realization of the drawing contest and with more than 500 pieces we had as many drawings as never before. As to be expected, a lot of those drawings featured beer, bratwurst and bretzels but nearly equally as much were recycling, wind generators and solar energy. The winning pictures among the elementary pupils pictured Angela Merkel, the Ampelmann and football players, while the middle school students drawings depicted the Berlin Wall Fall, the Christmas Truce of WWI and a scene at a German bar.
Tuesday evening we held a short award ceremony for the children and then arranged everything for the arrival of the President, who would also congratulate them afterwards and look at their paintings.
I helped entertaining the super nervous kids and guiding them and their parents around. In an unplanned and very improvised simulation of the visit I even performed the role of Ms. Schadt, the first Lady of Germany, alongside my boss. The kids loved that and one of my co-workers keeps commenting on our performance, so we really must have left an impression 😉
When the President and Ms. Schadt arrived, in summary, it all went well and it was rather cute how the youngest one completely lost his voice when the President adressed him to ask about his picture of the Ampelmann.
The President’s Speech at Waseda University
As one of Tokyo’s most renowned Universities and because of their impressive numbers of international cooperations and international students, Waseda University was chosen for the President’s most important speech of his visit.
Besides the students and lecturers of Waseda, many seats were reserved for the embassy’s guests. Of course, this meant mainly the Presidents delegation, but also many of the German Institutions were given a VIP seating to attend the speech. It was my task to categorize those guest. I was constantly updating lists and regenerating name tags during the last week and some, who had already announced their attendance, cancelled in the last two days. It was really stressful.
The speech was held this morning and besides some unfortunate no-shows, everything went really smoothly at the admission. I did however enter about ten minutes after the speech had already started, because of one specific no-show. Apparently it made me miss the very charismatic mistake of President Gauck confusing Tokyo with Kyoto, which everyone was talking about afterwards.
Also strongly discussed was the Q&A session afterwards, where the subjects of security policies, refugee acceptance and work/life balance were adressed by students. Everyone remarked how open President Gauck had spoken. He did state that he does not have a say in executive politics, but still voiced his opinion that both Germany and Japan will have to prepare on not being able to rely on the US’s military support anymore and should consider strengthening their own forces.
By now, President Gauck has left Tokyo and probably already arrived in Kyoto. The last stop of his visit to Japan will be Nagasaki on Friday, where he will visit the Atomic Bomb Museum to lay down flowers and Ms. Schadt, will lay down thousand origami cranes, a very strong symbol of anti-nuclear warfare.
According to a legend, if one folds a thousand cranes of origami, that person is either granted a wish or cured from an illness.
In memory of a young girl, who was exposed to radiation of the nuclear bombing and prayed for a cure with those cranes, it is a very popular custom to lay down these thousand cranes at the memorial.
Still, driving an entire hour to the German School of Yokohama to collect the cranes and then driving back to the embassy for another hour was probably a bit out of scale 😛