Build Bridges, Not Walls

Emma Krause, 1st year Public Policy student, reflects on the aftermath of the US election from her new home in Berlin.

I am a dual US-Canadian citizen living in Berlin, Germany. Several weeks ago, I cast my vote for Hillary Clinton. On 9 November, it became painfully clear that Donald Trump had become the President-elect of the United States. It was a day of shock and disappointment. I’d spent the day before watching the election returns, first from my apartment, then from my graduate school, trying to make sense of it alongside friends from around the world. Throughout the day, I found myself feeling completely uncertain and yet, inspired. Why?

I am a Jew living in Germany.

It’s bizarre when you think about it. My ancestors are from shtetls, small towns with large Jewish populations that were spread across Eastern and Central Europe throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. My mother’s family comes from Hungary, Austria and England. In the early 20th century, fearing growing anti-Jewish sentiment, my 16-year-old great grandfather and 14-year-old great uncle left their homes, shovelling cow manure on a shipping boat to secure safe passage to Canada. They were able to start a furrier business, support their own families, and begin a four-generation legacy of proud Canadian citizens.

My father’s family is from Lithuania, Poland, and Russia, specifically from a shtetl called Bialystok that changed hands multiple times between the 18th and 19th centuries. They left when the Russian pogroms, large-scale anti-Jewish riots, began in the 19th century. As they arrived at Ellis Island, they were welcomed by Lady Liberty’s outstretched arm and their new home, the New York skyline. While moving through the immigration lines, they were processed by a German border guard who could not pronounce their last name, Bialystokski. He looked at my great-great grandmother and chose to rename them ‘Krause’, roughly translating to ‘curly hair’ in German. Five generations later, we’re spread from New York to California, Massachusetts to Alabama, and still have plenty of curly hair to go around.

And now I live in Berlin, mere blocks away from the Nazi torture rooms of the “Dicke Hermann” tower, unafraid and proud of my heritage, and oddly inspired by the absurd events of 9 November 2016. I, an Ashkenazi Jew, ride my bike along the same routes once marched by Hitler’s Nazis, in a city in which, 70 years ago, I would not have survived. I go to graduate school in the capital of a country that tried and failed to install a new world order, and which is now a leading figure in the world economic and humanitarian crisis. Engaged and driven public policy students from 46 different nations surround me; something made possible only 27 years ago. On the day that Donald Trump’s victory was announced, which also happens to be the anniversary of both “Kristallnacht” and the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was my German friends who felt especially compelled to hug me, to understand what had happened, and to discuss it over and over again, with their coming election in sight.

Today I was inspired. We understand that we need to build bridges, not walls, to take our shock and fear and use it as a motivator, not a deterrent. There are voices we are not hearing and people we are not seeing, and we know that the key to making them heard is finding common ground. More than ever, as my ancestors did years and years ago, we see that we have work to do, not for us, or our parents, but for the generations to come.

I was inspired, because in 70 years this kind of history and progress is possible. The world is horrible and wonderful all at once, so we take today to feel it all, in its entirety; but tomorrow, the work begins.


Emma Krause is a class of 2018 Master of Public Policy candidate at the Hertie School of Governance, interested in energy and urban policy. Prior to coming to Hertie, she worked for the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources on solar PV policy, renewable energy financing, and municipal sustainability. She has also worked for former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s political committee and on the 2012 Obama Campaign. She obtained her Bachelor’s in Communications and Political Science from Emerson College in Boston. When not at Hertie she can be found on her bike and/or in one of Berlin’s many public parks.