Quote of the Week: What her Dad taught Angela Merkel

My father taught me a very important lesson when I was a girl growing up in East Germany. He said, “Always be more than you appear and never appear to be more than you are.”

-as told to Bono (U2) and captured by him in a New York Times opinion piece.

New York Times

November 15, 2009

Op-Ed Guest Columnist

Five Scenes, One Theme: A True if Unlikely Story





The camera cranes over a crowd of thousands gathered in Pariser Platz.

An Irish band plays its song “One” in the city where it was written nearly 20 years earlier. The band is here for an MTV broadcast celebrating the anniversary of the wall’s falling. A helicopter shot glides like a ghost through the architecture of this most modern of cities: the avant-garde Chancellery, the glass dome at the top of the Reichstag, the refurbished Brandenburg Gate. Images of East and West Berlin dancing to the music are projected on the gate, turning this monument to peace into a graffiti wall of the same….

We close in on the band. We can feel its sense of occasion. This is nothing new. One suspects THE SINGER approaches a trip to the bathroom with the same degree of vainglory. (To wit, is he not writing about himself now in the third person? He is.) On stage, he is emotional in the way we’ve come to expect. In this case it’s because a song written to help stop his band from falling apart has somehow become an unsentimental ode to unity — in this instance a bittersweet song for a bittersweet history.

Further abusing the contrivance of a screenplay, we cut to




It has the feel of a house previously used to host visiting dignitaries from the Soviet Union (because it is). Camera pans a not-so-stately bed in which Leonid Brezhnev once slept — soundly, we presume — when he controlled the second-largest nuclear arsenal on the planet. Did the red button sit beside the ashtray on the nightstand?

In the bed is not the burly Brezhnev but a more feral and less justifiable megalomaniac: a very much younger version of The Singer we met in the first scene. The weapons he has in mind are weapons of mass devotion, like the perfect pop song. He is dangerous, but only to himself. In fact, he is very hung over after a night out with his bandmates celebrating the reunification of Germany, an occasion that suits his sense of self-importance and gives him the excuse to abuse himself “for the sake of history.”

Having arrived on the last flight into divided Berlin, he and his bandmates had set out to enjoy the carnival atmosphere of a city testing its new freedom. Instead they joined a crowd of glum faces in gray coats funeral-marching to the sound of no music. “These Germans really know how to throw a party,” one of the band said under his breath.

In fact, the band had gone to the wrong side of Potsdamer Platz (and of history) and took part in a march against the fall of the wall. It was like a bad Irish joke. The bandmates found it darkly funny to imagine the papers back home carrying a photo of them protesting Mikhail Gorbachev’s great drawing back of the Iron Curtain.

The camera takes in the details of the room, which the winter sun shows to be a symphony in brown: brown carpet, brown furniture, even, improbably, a brown stereo, which The Singer, in his underwear, now passes in the living room on a desperate search for a glass of water. His head feels like a smoldering cigar that needs to be doused.

In the hall of this rented villa, he is startled to find a German family: an OLDER MAN and his wife, plus a woman in her 30s and some grandchildren. The Singer rubs his red eyes in disbelief. Conscious of his state of undress, he keeps half of his body hidden.

BONO (THE SINGER) Er, can I help you…?

OLDER MAN (in heavily accented English) Nein. Can I help you? This is my house!

BONO Sorry, there must be some kind of misunderstanding. This is not your house; this is my house.

OLDER MAN You work here?

BONO (still half-naked) No, man, I live here.

OLDER MAN Who is the master of the house?

BONO No one — I mean, I’m in a band. Oh, look, let’s say it’s me. I am the master of the house … and I need you to leave now.

OLDER MAN Leave! You will leave! This is my house and the house of my father! I will never leave again.

BONO (getting it) Oh. (pause) I get it. (pause) O.K., you can have your house back, but can you come back later? There’s a rock band you don’t want to wake up and I feel ill….




We scan inside the cool cathedral of Hansa, a recording studio made famous by David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Nick Cave. In earlier times, it was a ballroom popular with the Nazis. The members of the Irish band hold a prayer meeting to exorcise the demons. (Seriously.) But it is their own personal demons that are present this day.

About to leave their 20s, the bandmates are bumping into one another’s adult-sized egos. Men, they discover, when they become lords of their own domain, can lose the supple nature that a band requires. For these Irish musicians, the love it takes to sublimate one’s ego for the meta-ego of the band is more and more being reserved for families.

BRIAN ENO, a producer, is only half-joking when he tells the band that “possessions are a way of turning money into problems.” The band has had a taste of success and, even worse, a taste of taste, poison to the pursuit of rock ’n’ roll.

The dreamspace in which songs emerge has been filled by nice houses needing not-nice art. ADAM CLAYTON dreams of Jean-Michel Basquiat; Bono of Louis le Brocquy; EDGE of designing furniture; LARRY MULLEN of not being in Berlin.

Edge, the Zen Presbyterian, no longer a study in restraint, is heartbroken, in the middle of splitting up with his wife; he now sees the same fate for his band. He is trying to write an eight-bar lift section for a song called “The Fly.” He writes two, but when he and The Singer put them together a different song emerges … and fresh words and a new melody come out of The Singer’s mouth …. the words fall out.

BONO (sort of singing) We’re one, but we’re not the same … we get to carry each other…

LARRY (charming but hard-nosed, sitting behind his drum kit) Sounds sentimental.

BONO It doesn’t have to be. I can give the verses enough bile to balance the hook. It’s no big kiss, it’s a shrug of resigned optimism. Really, it’s the polar opposite of the kind of hippie nonsense you would expect with a title like “One.”

LARRY So why do you call it “One,” then? You think that’ll help get it to No. 1?

ADAM (one eyebrow permanently raised, thinking they should get on with it as it’s the first good thing the band has done all month) Isn’t “One” a Bob Marley song?

EDGE (deadpan) That’s “One Love.” Completely different.

ADAM I don’t care — as long as I believe you when you sing it.

DANIEL LANOIS (also a producer) I don’t care, as long as there are lyrics. What’s it about?

BONO I don’t know yet …. Er, having to live together rather than wanting to. It could mean a lot of things to a lot of people.

BRIAN ENO For God’s sake, don’t make it a love song, or I’ll retch.

BONO It’s a song about love, not a love song.



JUNE 2007 — DAY

An aerial shot of a grand old hotel on the Baltic Sea … and the security operation surrounding the hotel — tanks poking through bushes, etc. The leaders of the world’s eight largest economies wander the courtyard like students on a campus.

Camera takes in George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin, Tony Blair and Nicolas Sarkozy, then sweeps through a window into a downstairs lounge. There, ANGELA MERKEL, Germany’s chancellor, is meeting a small group of activists to discuss whether Germany will honor the Group of 8’s pledge, two years old now, to commit more resources to help the billion people who live on less than a dollar a day.

The atmosphere is tense. The activists are not getting what they want. The leaders are not getting what they want, either, which is to be left alone by the activists, including the Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour, Bono and another grizzled Irish rocker, BOB GELDOF, and their policy team from ONE. The organization took its name from the song — over the protests of the songwriter, who felt that if history eventually repeats itself as farce, then irony, the next time around, sounds annoyingly earnest.

BOB (whose humor and intellect more than excuse the percussive expletives that pepper even the most formal meetings) Chancellor, what Germany has done is awe-inspiring. You’ve spent most of the last 20 years spending something like 4 percent of your G.D.P. on reunification … and yet you’re still willing to commit 0.7 percent of G.D.P. to global economic development. The lives of people you will never know or meet will be owed to this decision…. The 2008 budget backs that up, but the rest of the world will need to see ’09 to know you’re serious.

BONO (interrupting) Trajectory is everything. If the ’09 is like ’08, Germany will show the rest of the G-8 that they have to put money on the table as well as words.

MERKEL (who has met these men before and appeared to enjoy the encounters, but today is running out of patience with anyone who threatens to rain on her G-8 parade) I’m not prepared to commit beyond 2008. We will of course do our best.

BONO (at his least appealing) Let me just say, Madam Chancellor, that, like Bob, I’m intoxicated by the new Germany. Fifty thousand turned up today to stand in solidarity with the world’s poor. You yourself are so committed…the government…the coalition. And we absolutely take you at your word, but if the others don’t come through … well, you know nothing creates cynics faster than when leaders accept applause for commitments they then fail to meet. It’s one thing to break a promise to yourself or to your own electorate, but to break a promise to the most vulnerable people on the planet is profane.

MERKEL (in a quiet, calm voice) My father taught me a very important lesson when I was a girl growing up in East Germany. He said, “Always be more than you appear and never appear to be more than you are.”

Camera closes in on The Singer’s eyes. The black has devoured the blue. He is a flyweight in the ring with Muhammad Ali. He didn’t even see it coming. She has just summed up his entire life in the reverse of her personal proverb.

Mercifully, we cut to




Twenty years after stumbling into the wrong parade (and not for the last time), The Singer is back in Berlin for that concert at the Brandenburg Gate. After the show, he is at dinner with WIM WENDERS, the German film director, and his wife, DONATA WENDERS, a photographer. They trade impressions of a Germany that is without its wall but still divided economically and ideologically as well as over the role it should play in the world. Unification has not equaled oneness.

Bono is enthusing that Merkel, having underpromised, has now overdelivered on her aid commitment, and has spoken strongly about how the global recession should not excuse the West’s failure to offer humanitarian assistance and investment that can lift so many lives out of extreme poverty.

BONO She may turn out to be the game changer…. Maybe it’s her background growing up in East Germany … she’s such an unusual combination of science and old-school morality. I think her dad was a pastor. She uses this precise, unemotional language, but then a deep sense of fairness and I guess empathy comes through. I was such a jerk. …

WIM That’s your job. She knew that and she also knew the closer Germany is to Europe and the rest of the world the less our internal differences should matter …. Anyway, before the wall came down and way before the Internet was ubiquitous, it was movies and music, it was the MTV generation that ignored it. Politics can never be separated from culture. A large part of what songs, movies, poems or books are doing is creating memory and preserving it — what was, and what might be if we are honest about ourselves.

BONO (getting to vino vérité) I think honesty is the hardest thing for a performer.

WIM And for a politician.

DONATA (wearily, but with hope) For all of us. But you know, whatever divides we’ve still got here, at least now we can see what’s over the wall, and behind the curtain.

Bono, the lead singer of the band U2 and a co-founder of the advocacy group ONE and (Product)RED, is a contributing columnist for The Times.

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