"The danger isn't over": Americans in Berlin react to Capitol riots

US citizens living in Berlin feel that the storming of the US Capitol could be the beginning of a disturbing "new reality".

Scenes that made Americans in Berlin shudder.
Scenes that made Americans in Berlin shudder.imago images/Pacific Press Agency

Berlin-Jess Brazen has to make herself a coffee first. As an American living in Berlin, she stayed up late on Wednesday night following the events in her home country. First, she was rejoicing with a German friend about the success of the Democrats in the Senate elections in her home state of Georgia - only to be shocked by the turmoil unfolding at the Capitol in Washington D.C.

Brazen, a freelance creative director, is not alone. Many US citizens living in the city reacted on Thursday with relief to the confirmation of Joe Biden as the next president, but with horror at the storming of the Congress building.

"I was shocked and kept shouting: Where are the security forces?" says Brazen. She said that the protests showed the country's disunity and that the police were applying double standards: leftwing protests such as Black Lives Matter were dealt with much more harshly. The fact that the election of Joe Biden was confirmed by Congress after all and that Trump partially withdrew his election fraud allegations does not reassure Brazen: "I'm pissed off because Trump is adding fuel to the fire of the crazies and will probably continue to do damage on other platforms."

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, former European correspondent for NPR who now hosts the podcast Common Ground, has an appointment on Monday in Berlin to apply for permanent residency. "But for a few hours yesterday, we wondered whether an asylum application would be more appropriate. The siege of the US Capitol is a "Schande" [disgrace] that nearly stopped the heart of American democracy. We fear the danger is not over."

Jillian C. York, the Berlin-based Director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said she wasn't especially suprised by the turn of events, considering Trump's past actions. "The president has essentially been calling for a coup, and a number of people, from Black Americans to journalists who’ve worked abroad, have been warning for quite some time that an insurrection like this could happen, so I’m not surprised in the least, but I am angry and hope to see the domestic terrorists who took over the Capitol building brought to justice."

There is a general sense of indignation in the American community in Berlin about the conditions at home.

"In both Germany and Great Britain the journalistic response seemed even faster than in the United States," says Daniel Brunet, artistic director at English Theatre Berlin. He hopes "that the EU can overcome its own problems with autocracy in a number of member states and serve as a bulwark for those values implied and enshrined in the response of Josep Borrell, European Union Minister for Foreign Affairs to yesterday’s events: 'This is not America.'"

Neither Biden supporters nor Trump sympathisers gathered in front of the American Embassy on Pariser Platz on Thursday.

Cameron Seglias from Pennsylvania, and doctoral student at the John F. Kennedy Institute of the Freie Universität, also belongs to those not surprised by the events: "I had heard that these circles had planned a storming of the Capitol. I am shocked at how indifferently the police behaved - and that these Nazis, for all their incompetence, were so well organised to carry out their plan." He said the events were a warning signal for the future, "the new normal" that had to be dealt with.

Even long-established Americans in Berlin are livid. Like Victor Grossman. He defected from the US Army to join the Soviet Army in 1952 because he was threatened with imprisonment as a leftist during the McCarthy era. A writer who came to East Berlin in 1958, he still lives here today. "It was frightening, but I had suspected that something like this would happen," is how he sums up his feelings about the images coming out of Washington. "I think you can call the people who stormed the Capitol fascists. In the sense that they are subliminally racist - it was only white people - and extremely anti-left."

"What happened was predictable because Trump had called on his mob to come to Washington to prevent him from being deposed as he sees it."

Powen Shiah of the Democratic Party's Berlin branch speaks of "one of the most eventful days in US history. From Berlin, we could only watch in horror as Trump apparently incites terrorists." The behaviour of the Republican members of Congress who supported him was "more than irresponsible".

Lily Cichanonwicz, a student from New York, fears that the storming of the Capitol is "the beginning of something bigger". She believes that over the years Trump has nurtured the disenchantment and resentment of Americans who feel unrepresented by politics.

Joseph Aguilar, like the other Americans interviewed, believes that the police failed, with some officers even taking selfies with the attackers. At first, he was shocked that the woman who was shot was from his hometown of San Diego, California. What worries the Master's student is: "It will continue. The fascist Trump will gain more influence among those who do not want to lose their leader. Because he won't have to mince words once he's no longer president." He was surprised that many of the ostensible defenders of American freedom did not come with the Stars and Stripes, but with Trump banners and Confederate flags.

In August 2020, rightwing demonstrators tried to storm the Reichstag. They were initially confronted by only three officers, but reinforcements quickly arrived.
In August 2020, rightwing demonstrators tried to storm the Reichstag. They were initially confronted by only three officers, but reinforcements quickly arrived.imago images/JeanMW

US citizens living in Berlin are also discussing the matter excitedly, sometimes sarcastically, on Twitter.

"Hey @polizeiberlin!" wrote comedian Drew Portnoy. "So those three cops who protected the Reichstag? Are they available right now? Asking for my country."