So, a Jew, a Black, a Pakistani and a President Go to Germany

Bestselling Author Visits Berlin and Doesn't Like What He Sees

Alone Among Germans: Author Tuvia Tenenbom (holding sign) takes part in a small demonstration just a few blocks away from Barack Obama’s speech at Brandenburg Tor.
Stefan Gilles
Alone Among Germans: Author Tuvia Tenenbom (holding sign) takes part in a small demonstration just a few blocks away from Barack Obama’s speech at Brandenburg Tor.

By Tuvia Tenenbom

Published June 27, 2013, issue of June 28, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

On the eve of Barack Obama’s arrival in Germany, security measures are unparalleled, media sources claim. People tell me that America’s first black president is Germany’s dream and they want to make sure the dream never ends. This, of course, might explain why residents near the Brandenburger Tor have been asked to keep their windows shut while Obama is in town. Great dreams require shut windows and, naturally, I want to be part of the dream.

And so, just ahead of Obama, I land in Germany.

I arrive at an airport in northern Germany where I meet a black man by the name of Ben.

“I’m from Africa,” he tells me.

Is he excited about the black president?

Not really, he says. “That’s all politics,” he tells me, and reality has nothing to do with it. What’s reality?

“I’m black.”

Well, I got that. Maybe it’s politically incorrect to say, but Ben’s skin is much darker than Obama’s, and so what’s his point?

“I am African, and I live here for 30 years and I can’t get nowhere,” he tells me. “I’m a taxi driver because I can’t get up on the social level because I’m black. Back in Africa I was an air traffic controller, but the Germans told me that I better forget my profession. They said to me, very openly, that this job is reserved for white Germans.”

I take a train to Berlin. It’s hot inside, the air conditioning doesn’t work properly, the windows are hermetically closed and the place is packed but for a couple of empty seats next to a bearded man with a shaved mustache. I sit down.

Hallo man, who are you?

The man looks at me, probably thinking that I’m retarded.

Where are you from, I ask.

Now he gets suspicious.

“Excuse me?”

Where are you from? Are you German?

“No, no.”

What are you?

“I’m from Pakistan.”

Where are you going?

“To Berlin.”

To see Obama?

At this point I start feeling like a CIA agent, and the Pakistani seems to concur. He does not reply.

You live in Germany?

“No. No.”

You like Germany?

“Very nice place. Nice people.”

Feel welcome?

“Yes, yes.”

Do you like the bombs that the West drops on your cities?, I ask him.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.