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The Trabant: An East German marvel makes a comeback

NEW YORK — After the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989, news footage of East Germans rolling across the border in boxy little cars was broadcast across the world. With those grainy broadcasts, millions outside Germany were introduced to the Trabant, or “Trabi,” as it is affectionately known. A small car with a two-stroke engine and a series of identifying characteristics: a plastic body, its own specific sound — a staccato of constant misfiring — and a trail of foul-smelling, blue oil smoke.

The sinister echoes of November 9

EVANSTON, Ill. — Anniversaries are the times to remember where we were when something significant happened. For Germans, Nov. 9 recalls 1989 when the Berlin Wall suddenly opened a crack and swiftly  crumbled. That ended the division so painfully imposed on their nation at the end of World War II. It also signaled the imminent collapse — like a huge house of cards — of the mighty Soviet satellite empire that spread across the eastern half of Europe under the Red Army in 1945. Thus ended the Cold War.

Opinion: Remembering a good news story

BOSTON — During half a century in the news trade there have been only two unalloyed good news stories that I covered. One was Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977, and the other was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, now coming upon its 20th anniversary.

Will Berlin, and its soccer team, succeed?

BERLIN, Germany — It would be wrong to say that Berlin’s main soccer team, Hertha BSC, has been a total failure this season — it still has a foothold in Germany’s top league, if just barely after a disastrous start.

How to politicize a book fair

BERLIN, Germany — The annual Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest trade fair for books, normally serves as a week-long stage for literary events.

Is Germany's health care a good model for the US?

BERLIN, Germany — With all the outlandish, scurrilous and otherworldly aspects of the health care reform melee in the United States, it is strange that the German model is almost never invoked — neither by the Obama administration nor its foes on the right. This is particularly odd since its mix of public and private insurance plans is much more like the Democrats’ vision than those of the health care systems of France or Great Britain, which are so often cited. Also, it works pretty well and might be something Americans could profit from examining. 

Planet Health Care

BOSTON — Health care reform was the main event in Washington, D.C., again this week. With good reason: the fate of America's troubled system will no doubt affect the $14 trillion U.S. economy for good or ill, depending on how the drama plays out. Moreover what happens in the U.S., which produces more than 20 percent of global economic output, matters greatly to the economies of the rest of the world. So, yes, play close attention to the health care debate and all the politics behind it.

Merkel's aura of mystery

BERLIN, Germany — What Americans know about Angela Merkel: Named by Forbes as the world’s most powerful woman for the fourth straight year, she was the world leader who grimaced at then-U.S. President George W. Bush’s shoulder rub. What Germans know about "Angie": She is a confident chancellor who has made steady assurances that she would guide the world’s third-largest economy through the financial crisis. But they don’t know much more about her than that.

Many Germans voted, though few expected change

Update: The voters have decided that Angela Merkel will remain chancellor of Germany. Of course, that much was certain going into election day. But, the election did determine that Germans will, in fact, see a change in their national government. While the final tallies of the vote have yet to be made, it seems all but certain that Merkel's CDU and the free market Free Democratic party together will receive just enough seats in parliament to form a governing coalition that promised to revive the slumping national economy with tax cuts.

On the campaign trail with Gunter Grass

HALLE, Germany — In depressed, eastern German market towns like Halle, public visits by VIPs of any sort, much less Nobel Prize winners, are rare events. This is exactly why Germany's internationally acclaimed novelist, Gunter Grass, has come to Halle in the final stretch of Germany's nationwide election campaign. Grass, 82, is stumping for his lifelong party, the Social Democrats.
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