Wednesday, June 8, 2011

State Dinner at the White House: Chancellor Merkel Dined and Wined with President Obama - The Wines they Drank and the Wines they did not Drink

Picture: President Obama and the First Lady with Chancellor Merkel and Joachim Sauer, Angela Merkel's Husband (Source: White House Press)

When President Obama honors foreign guests with a State Dinner, he likes to serve American wines with some connection to the country where the guest comes from. When President Obama welcomed President Calderón of Mexico and Mrs. Margarita Zavala to the White House, the dinner had a Mexican soul, both the food and the wines. Two of the wines were made by Mexican-born American winemakers who worked their way up to become America’s best. Which wines did the President serve for Chancellor Merkel? And which wines did he not serve, but could have served?

Chancellor Merkel was in Washington DC for 28 hours. She arrived in the late afternoon of the June 6 and had a private dinner – alone - with the President at the Georgetown Restaurant 1789. Tuesday was filled with the official arrival ceremony, a bilateral meeting , a press conference with the two leaders and the state dinner in the evening. Immediately after the dinner, the delegation flew back to Germany after the dinner.

President Obama and Chancellor Merkel at Restaurant 1789 (Source: White House Press)

This was President Obama’s fourth State Dinner (China, India, Mexico) and third German guest of honor at a State Dinner at the White House. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush hosted President Richard von Weizsacker and in 1995, President Clinton hosted Chancellor Helmuth Kohl for a state dinner.

At the State Dinner, Merkel was presented with her 2010 Medal of Freedom, which was awarded to her and twelve others earlier this year in a White House ceremony Merkel was unable to attend. Chancellor Merkel was honored for her commitment to freedom and her contribution to German unity. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom alongside President George H. W. Bush, Congressman John Lewis, and twelve others who, according to President Obama, “have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place.” The career of Angela Merkel, born and raised in communist east Germany to the head of Government of the united Germany remains highly fascinating for the Americans, who see in her a living proof that anybody can achieve anything.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the United States’ highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private

The Guests

The dinner was once again held outdoors, on the South Lawn in the Rose Garden. Angela Merkel was accompanied by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich and Economics Minister and Vice Chancellor Philipp Rösler. On the German side, Thomas Gottschalk and Jürgen Klinsmann were among the guests, as well as 2 German artists with GDR background: the writer Freya Klier und the photographer Andreas Mühe, son of the late Ulrich Mühe.

Compared with other State Dinners, there was not much glamour – Dirk Nowitzki, Leonardo di Caprio, Bruce Willis, Sandra Bullock, to name a few of possible guests who were not invited or did not accept the invitation.

Picture: Welcome Ceremony at the White House (Source: White House Press)

During and after dinner, legendary singer-songwriter James Taylor who in March received one of the National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony and his band performed as well as the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the German Christophe Eschenbach, with performances by Nurit Bar-Josef on violin and 15-year-old piano sensation George Li.

The Menu

Here’s the menu:

White House Garden Chopped Salad
Fine Herbs
White House Honey Gastrique

Tuna Tartare with Rye Crisps
Pickled Young Carrots and Mustard Oil
Spring Pea Salad
Shaved Ham and Ginger Snaps

Petit Filet
With Maryland Crab Ravioli
Wild Ramp Puree

Apple Strudel
Golden Raisins and Topfen

The menu was an All American meal, with artisanal and seasonal ingredients from six different States. The White House spotlighted some of the ingredients.

The Spiced Mammoth Pecans used in the White House Chopped Salad were from Georgia. The Blue Crab that accompanied the entree was from Maryland. Wild ramps from West Virginia accompanied the main course, too.

The White House Kitchen Garden Chopped Salad contained lettuces and fine herbs from the White House Kitchen Garden, tossed in a Honey vinaigrette made with White House Beehive Honey. The carrots and peas featured in the second course were from the Kitchen Garden, too.

The dessert was a faux pas. It was supposed to pay homage to one of the traditional sweets from Chancellor Merkel's homeland: Apple Strudel. But Apple Strudel is typical for Austria, not Germany. The Apple Strudel was made with apples from Maryland and topped with golden raisins from California and Topfen, a Farmer's Cheese sourced from Vermont.

The Wines

Unusually, the official White House Press Release said this time that "a selection of American wines will accompany each course" and did not identify these, when the menu was released. I have contacted the White House to find out what the President served. There were some rumors that among others he might have served Walter Schug wines, but he did not. Here are the wines that were served.

Woodward Canyon Chardonnay "Washington" 2009

Kosta Browne Pinot Noir "Koplen Vineyard" 2008

Schramsberg Cremant 2006

As for the two still wines, no link whatsoever to Germany! No wonder that the White House did not identify the wines, when the menu was released.

In 1826, in the small town of Pfeddersheim Germany, along the Rhine River, Jacob Schram was born. He came from a winemaking family. When he was sixteen, the young Schram immigrated to New York. He was educated in the trade of barbering, and in 1852 sailed across the Caribbean, crossed-over the Panama Isthmus, and continued up to San Francisco. He spent the next several years barbering, eventually moving his way north, to the Napa Valley.
In 1859 he married Annie Christine Weaver, also from Germany, and they started a family. For several years he continued to barber full time. Never far from his thoughts were his homeland and his roots in the vinelands of Germany. In 1862, Jacob purchased a large piece of land on the mountainsides of the Napa Valley. He was going to be a part of the emerging efforts by many fellow German countrymen in the Napa Valley to make wine; thus Schramsberg was born.

What President Obama could have served
Here is a listing of wines I would call American-German wines. All these wines were made from grapes grown in the US, but the winemaker had in some way or another links to Germany. They could have been served at the State Dinner in honor of Chancellor Merkel.

Ernst Loosen’s Eroica in Washington State and J. Christopher Pinot Noir in Oregon

Eroica is a collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle, the huge Washington State winemaker, and Dr. Ernst Loosen, the eminent Riesling producer from the Mosel region of Germany. The wine is made at Chateau Ste. Michelle north of Seattle from grapes grown in the Columbia Valley.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller and Ernst Loosen

Promoting the worldwide ascendancy of Riesling was a big reason why Ernst Loosen began a joint venture with Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington State a bit more than 10 years ago. He was convinced that it would take a seriously good New World Riesling to help bring the variety back to the forefront. Eroica was launched in 1999. Named for Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Eroica is supposed to reflect not only its variety and site, but also its heritage: bold and forward from its Washington roots, elegant and refined from German inspiration.

Chateau Ste. Michelle and Ernst Loosen make three kinds of the Eroica. The regular Eroica, an icewine and a single berry selection. The latter is made in the traditional German Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) style and is one of the few TBAs in North America. Literally, the word means a wine made from a selection (Auslese) of individually picked grapes (Beeren) which have been left on the vine until so ripe as to be practically dry (trocken) or raisened. They are raisened because of noble rot (Botrytis). This wine is made in very limited quantities, typically less than 75 cases a year.

Ernst Loosen’s second – and relatively new - project in the US is a joint venture with Jay Christopher Somers in Oregon. Located in Oregon’s Northern Willamette Valley, J. Christopher Wines is a small winery that specializes in Pinot Noir made in the traditional style of Burgundy. The winery also produces Sauvignon Blanc modeled after the great wines of Sancerre. Owner Jay Somers has been making wine in Oregon for more than 15 years, including with Bill Holloran. Jay’s wines are hand-crafted in small lots and are sourced from some of the best vineyards in Oregon. The philosophy at J. Christopher is to produce wines in an Old World style that emphasizes focus, length and balance.

Jay Somers and Ernst Loosen met years ago, and quickly realized that they shared a similar taste and passion for Pinot Noir. Their friendship led to a partnership, and in 2010, they began building a winery and vineyard in Newberg, Oregon. The new venture, Loosen Christopher Wines LLC, produces wines under the already-established “J. Christopher” brand. As winemaker for the joint venture, Jay is in charge of all winery operations. Ernst sees his role as that of an investor who both supports the growth of the brand and broadens the winery’s exposure to Old World ideas and techniques.

The new venture, Loosen Christopher Wines LLC, will produce wines under the already-established J. Christopher brand. The venture has purchased a 40-acre property for a new vineyard and J. Christopher Winery on Hillside Drive in Newberg, Oregon. Planting of the first block of Pinot Noir will begin this spring. Barrel cellar construction is planned to occur before the 2010 harvest.

As part of the J. Christopher Wines, the two winemakers have started to produce a boutique bottling of Oregon Pinot Noir called Appassionata after their passion for Pinot Noir. So far, they have produced four vintages of their boutique wine but released none giving Appassionata extra time to barrel- and bottle-age. Appassionata is a collector’s item which retails in the $70 –$80 range.

Armin Diel’s Poet’s Leap

Long Shadows has become, in a short time, one of the premier wineries in Washington State . Based in Walla Walla, it is an unusual set up. Former Stimson-Lane CEO Allen Shoup works with renowned winemakers from around the world for this venture. Each winemaker creates a single wine using Washington State fruit. Add resident winemaker Gilles Nicault to shepherd all of the wines along.

The Poet’s Leap Riesling is made by Armin Diel, one of Germany’s most highly regarded Riesling producers. His family has owned the celebrated estate of Schlossgut Diel in Burg Layen in the Nahe river valley since 1802. Schlossgut Diel is international renowned for its white wines, predominately Rieslings, across a wide range of styles. Armin Diel is also one of Germany’s leading wine writers. Armin and his wife Monika live in Burg Layen. Their daughter Caroline just completed her studies in enology in Geisenheim,Germany’s UC Davis equivalent, and is now co-managing the winery in the Nahe valley.

Koerbel Champagne

Sparkling wine production in California dates to the late 1800s, when two groups -- Almaden Vineyards and the Korbel brothers -- offered their first bottles of sparklers (“Champgane”) for sale. Korbel Champagne Cellars was founded by 3 brothers -- Francis, Anton, and Joseph-- from Bohemia, which has historically been home to both Czechs and Germans now is part of the Czech Republic. The first German University was founded in Bohemia. When the Korbel brothers were born, they were born in the Kingdom of Bohemia, which was, along with 39 other sovereign states, part of the German Confederation (Deutscher Bund).

It was the timber that first attracted the Korbel brothers to the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County in 1872. When the building boom subsided, they began to grow alfalfa, beets, corn, prunes, and wheat, and also began to plant vineyards on their Russian River property. In 1984, they brought a Prague winemaker named Frank Hasek to California. Hasek used the methode champenoise approach to making sparkling wine. By 1894, the Korbel brothers began to sell their sparklers and by the end of the 1800s, Korbel was an award-winning, internationally recognized label.

In the early 1950s, the Koerbel family sold the business to Adolf L. Heck, a third generation winemaker whose family had roots in the Alsace Loraine straddling France and Germany. In 1956, Adolf L. Heck reintroduced Korbel Brut, making it much lighter and drier than other American sparklers. He developed his own yeasts and introduced Korbel Natural, Korbel Blanc de Blancs, and Korbel Blanc de Noirs. Adolph Heck ran Korbel until his death in 1984. His son, Gary, took over as chairman of the board and Robert Stashak became Korbel's sparkling wine master.

Walter Schug’s Pinot Noirs

Walter Schug is one of California’s Pinot Noir pioneers. His home is Walter Schug Carneros Estate winery in Sonoma, California, but he was born and grew up in Assmannshausen in the Rheingau in Germany. He also received his formal training as winemaker in Germany. Walter Schug first made Pinot Noir in 1954, with his father in Assmannshausen in the Rheingau.

Walter Schug was the first winemaker at Joseph Phelps in 1973, where he initially built a reputation for Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon, but also made Pinot Noir. In 1989, Walter purchased 50 acres in the Sonoma portion of the Carneros Appellation for their new Carneros Estate.

Robert Stemmler’s Pinot Noirs

Robert Stemmler, a native from Germany, is another early and passionate producer of outstanding California Pinot Noir. He arrived in Napa Valley in 1961 after making wine for nearly a decade in Germany. In 1976, he founded his own winery in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley and in 1982, having found a cool-climate Russian River Valley fruit source, released his first Pinot Noir to great critical acclaim. Robert traveled tirelessly promoting his Pinot Noir at tastings dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay producers, and he steadily developed his own following.

Dr. Konstantin Frank and the Vitis Vinifera Revolution

Dr. Konstantin Frank (1897-1985) was a viticulturist and wine maker in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, USA. He was born in Europe, in Odessa, now Ukraine into a Russian-German family. Dr. Konstantin Frank ignited the so-called vitis vinifera revolution, which changed the course of wine growing in the Finger Lakes and the North-East of the US.

Well, was Dr. Konstantin Frank a German? He was born in the former Soviet Union into a family with German roots. The Germans came in waves from the West to Russia and settled there from the 16th century onwards. A big wave of German immigration occurred in the 18th century under Catherine the Great, who herself was a German from Anhalt. The Frank family belongs to the Black Sea Germans. At the time Konstantin Frank was born, Odessa belonged to the Russian Empire. When he left for the US, it was part of the Soviet Union. Now, after his death, it has become Ukraine. I met Dr. Konstantin Frank's grandson, Fred, who now owns and runs the estate this year; we communicated in German. Fred got his wine growing and wine making training at the wine college in Geisenheim in the Rheingau, Germany.

Dr. Konstantin Frank’s achievement is that he was the first to find a way to plant vitis vinifera varietals in the cool northern fringes of the north-eastern US. The struggle to do this goes back many centuries.

In the original charter of the 13 colonies was a royal commission to pursue three luxury items that England was unable to provide for itself: wine, silk, and olive oil. Every colony made attempts to satisfy the requirements of its charter, but made only limited progress. The problem was that on the one hand there were the native American grapes. All these native American grapes were cold tolerant and disease and pest resistant, but not that well suited for wine making, due to their coarseness, high tannins, and foxy flavors. On the other hand, the vitis vinifera which settlers brought from Europe, were well suited for wine making, but uniformly unable to survive long enough to produce a crop.

Despite many years of failure, the early Americans persisted in their efforts. And they had some success. A big step forward was made in 1740 when a natural cross pollination occurred between a native American grape and a European vitis vinifera. Other successful crossings followed.

So, only native American grapes and European American hybrids were grown in the Finger Lakes area, when Dr. Konstantin Frank arrived in the United States in 1951, finding work at a Cornell University experimental station in the Finger Lakes region. Having grown vitis vinifera back home in regions so cold that "spit would freeze before touching the ground" Dr. Frank believed that the lack of proper rootstock, not the cold climate, was the reason for the failure of vitis vinifera in the Finger Lakes region. He thought that European grapes could do well on the rolling, well-drained hills around the Finger Lakes provided they were grafted onto early maturing American rootstock.

With the help of the French champagne maker Charles Fournier, Dr. Frank put his ideas into practice. He developed the right root stock and grafted European vitis vinifera on them. He planted these vitis vinifera in the slate soil around Lake Keuka and he opened a winery, Vinifera Wine Cellars, in 1962. Despite his success, other winemakers still doubted him for many years and he had trouble getting New York distributors to handle his wine.

Today, Dr. Frank is recognized as having led the revolution in wine quality in New York State and the East Coast. With the help of his cousin Eric Volz as vineyard manager, Fred Frank, Konstantin's grandson took over the winery in 1993. Fred’s business degree from Cornell University and his study of viticulture and enology in Germany helped prepare him to take over the family business.

Hermann J. Wiemer and the Riesling Revolution

Hermann J. Wiemer is another pioneer of viticulture and winemaking in the Finger Lakes region with German links. He was born and raised in Germany, and arrived in the US in 1968. His first wine was released in 1980. In the 30 years since then, the winery has been lauded as one of the nation’s premier white wine producers, in particular of Riesling. Hermann J. Wiemer was born in Bernkastel into an influential family in the wine business. Hermann's father was the head of the Agricultural Experiment Station in Bernkastel and was responsible for restoring vines in the Mosel region after WWII. He came to the US in the early 1970s. When he arrived, wine making in the Finger Lakes area was dominated by native American grapes and American European hybrid grapes. Riesling, for which Hermann J. Wiemer has become famous, was not grown. Initially, he made hybrid and American wines for Walter Taylor at the Bully Hill winery on Keuka Lake.

In 1973 Hermann J. Wiemer bought 140 acres of land, the barn and a mid-19th-century house on the west side of Route 14, which runs along Seneca Lake and turned it into one of the premier vineyards and nurseries in the region. Starting with four acres, he developed the right root stock for grafting European vinifera on them. The first vintage, a 1979, was released in 1980. Hermann Wiemer quickly became known for his German-style vinifera wines. He claims that he made the first dry Riesling in the US and said that many scoffed at him for making Riesling even though today it's the flagship wine grape variety of the region. Wiemer has three estate vineyards within 10 miles of the winery on the west side of Seneca Lake: Magdalena, Josef, and HJW. The vineyards are farmed under strict sustainable agricultural practices.

Hermann J. Wiemer retired a few years ago. Today the winemaking process is managed by Hermann J Wiemer’s long-term winemaker Fred Merwarth who has worked closely with Hermann as one of his winemakers for the last 8 years. Hermann is still passionately and practically involved in the life of the winery, and Fred continues faithfully executing the Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard legacy and heritage.

5 Rieslings from around the world – 3 from Germany, 1 from Alsace and 1 from the US – were on last year’s Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines List. The Riesling from the US was: Hermann J. Wiemer, - Riesling Finger Lakes, Dry Reserve, 2008, 91 Points, $23.

Johannes Reinhard from Anthony Road Wine Company and the Riesling Du Monde Competition

The Anthony Road Wine Company, a top winemaker in the Finger Lakes region, caught international attention recently with their 2006 Finger Lakes Riesling Trockenbeeren, when it was awarded one of the 7 Trophies of Excellence of the Riesling Du Monde Competition 2010 in France.

Ann and John Martini opened the winery in 1990. It is on the west shore of Seneca Lake in the town of Torrey, about 10 miles south of Geneva. The German connection? The winemaker, Johannes Reinhardt, is a German native, born in at little village of Franconia, 80 miles east of Frankfurt. Johannes grew up in a family that has been in the wine business since 1438. He has been in the vineyards and wine cellars all his life. He joined Anthony Road in 2000.

The award winning wine was released in the Martini-Rheinhardt Selection Series. These are special wines named after the Anthony Road’s vineyard manager, Peter Martini, and winemaker Johannes Reinhardt to honor the collaboration between the vineyard and the winery.

This is a lusciously sweet wine. How was it made? Mother Nature, under normal circumstances, produces dry wines in the vineyard - everywhere in the world. All the sugar in the grapes at harvest disappears during fermentation and no sweetness remains in the wine. There are, however, plenty of sweet wines made around the world. Different techniques exist to make a wine sweet. One of them is to let the noble rot – botrytis cinerea – suck the water out of the grape, so that the degree of sugar in the grapes is extra-ordinary high. Botrytis cinerea is a fungus that under the right conditions attacks already-ripe grapes, shrivelling them, concentrating the sweetness and acidity. The grapes end up looking disgusting but they make profound sweet white wines.

The 2008 Finger Lakes Riesling Trockenbeeren was produce with this method. 2008 was a good year for noble rot in the Finger Lakes region, with some rain, enough heat and fog or dew in the morning at harvest time.

Botrytis cinerea is the key to the success of many of the world’s most famous noble sweet wines. These include the Sauternes in France, the Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese in Germany and in Austria, the Austria Ausbruch and the Tokaji from Hungary. No doubt, the first noble rot wines were created by accident - both the Hungarians and the Germans have similar stories of how the harvest was delayed for some reason, but the over-ripe grapes were vinified anyway and then the resulting wine found to be delicious.

Christian Wuelfer and Roman Roth in the Hamptons on Long Island in New York State

The Woelffer Estate is located in the Hamptons on Long Island in New York State. The Woelffer Wine Estate, one of the top wine estates on Long Island, New York State, would not be what it is today without the two Germans Christian Woelffer, its founder, and Roman Roth, its wine maker.

Christian Wölffer was born in Hamburg, Germany. He made a successful career in investment banking, real estate, venture capital and agriculture in different countries, before moving into wine and establishing the critically acclaimed Woelffer Estate.

Wine making in Long Island began in the late 1970s. Since then, in little over a quarter of a century, the Long Island wine industry has grown to 3,000 acres of vines and over thirty wineries producing outstanding wines. Located in New York State, on the East Coast of the United States, Long Island extends some 120 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Its maritime climate, geography and soil characteristics provide ideal conditions for producing wines of exceptional quality.

Christian Wölffer purchased land on Long Island in 1978. He joined the wine movement in 1987, when he started to grow wine, and became a driving force of wine making in the Long Island in the following years until his untimely death in 2008. In 1997, Christian Wölffer completed work on his state-of-the-art winery, unquestionably the most stylish on Long Island.

The other driving force behind the Wölffer Estate is the German winemaker Roman Roth. Born in Rottweil, Germany, Roth was a choirboy in his youth. In 1982, at age 16, he began a three-year apprenticeship at the Kaiserstuhl Wine Cooperative in Oberrotweil. Turning 20, Roman Roth traveled to California, where he worked at the Saintsbury Estate and Australia, where he worked at the Rosemount Estate. Back in Germany, for further study, Roth worked at the Winzerkeller Wiesloch in Baden.

The year 1992 became a turning point for Roman Roth for two reasons: first, he earned his Master Winemaker and Cellar Master degree from the College for Oenology and Viticulture in Weinsberg. And second, he accepted Christian Wölffer’s invitation to join him in New York to be the winemaker at what was then the mere start-up of a winery, at that time known as Sagpond Vineyards in Sagaponack.

Arriving at Sagaponack, Roth found 28 acres of vineyards and rudimentary winemaking facilities. In quick order, he established a temporary winery and a tasting room and began the exacting task of bringing forth the Sagpond Vineyards’ first vintage, a Chardonnay.

Over the next several years, Roth managed the cultivation and expansion of the vineyards, which today number 50 acres, and the vinification, ultimately producing wines that embody the essence of the Hamptons appellation—ripe fruit and natural acidity born of a unique terroir, a lush combination of soil, sun, moisture and the ever-present maritime breezes from the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

The Beringer Brothers and the Rhine House

Beringer Vineyards is the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley. In 2001, the estate was placed on the National Register for Historic Places as a Historic District.

Jacob Beringer left his home in Mainz, Germany, in 1868 to start a new life in the U.S., enticed by his brother, Frederick, who had sailed to New York five years earlier and wrote home constantly of the grand opportunities to be found in the vast new world. New York did not appeal to Jacob, however. He had enjoyed working in wine cellars in Germany when he was younger and had heard that the warm, sunny climate of California was ideal for growing wine grapes. So in 1870 he traveled by train from the East Coast, first to San Francisco and then on to Napa Valley. To his delight, he discovered rocky, well-drained soils similar to those in his native Rhine Valley.
Jacob and Frederick together bought land in 1875 and set about making wines that compared to the best in Europe . In 1876, they founded the Beringer Winery. In 1883, Frederick permanently moved to the Napa Valley and began construction of a 17-room mansion – the Rhine House- that was to be his home—a re-creation of the Beringer family home located on the Rhine River in Germany.

Today, Beringer Winery is owned by the Beringer (Wolfgang) Blass Group from Australia. The Beringer Winery has 4200 hectares of land under vine, more than the whole Rheingau region. Incidentially, Wolfgang Blass is also a native of Germany and considered to be the “father” of the Australian wine industry.

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President Obama Serves a “German” Riesling at State Dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao

German Winemakers in the World: Hermann J. Wiemer, 1900/2000, Finger Lakes, US

German Wine Makers in the World: Dr. Konstantin Frank (USA)

German Winemakers in the World: Christian Woelffer and Roman Roth

German winemakers in the World: Robert Stemmler (USA)

Celebrating the Rieslings of the Finger Lakes Region, New York State, US East Coast

1 comment:

  1. What a great post. I hope somebody at the White House sees this and saves it for the next visit from a German dignitary!