Dr. David Sirakov, Director
Translated by Margaret LaPré
What a year we have put behind us. To say that 2020 was out of the ordinary for everyone, including the Atlantic Academy (AA), is in understatement. We saw the end of Donald Trump’s Presidency, which demanded more explanation and commentary than usual, Democratic Party primaries, and what many considered fateful presidential and congressional elections. On top of all that, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic presented enormous challenges that demanded academic flexibility, creativity, and innovation. We at the Atlantic Academy can say with the utmost confidence that we passed this test with flying colors.
The digital infrastructure we began developing well before the pandemic and our quick migration to a virtual format allowed us to seamlessly transition to working from home and hosting online events. Despite the restrictions on our programming and working conditions more broadly, we were able to achieve record-breaking results in the past year. In total, almost 5,000 participants—more than ever before—took part in our independent and collaborative events. We also welcomed more new members to our association than in any year since 1997.
The AA’s largely digital programming focused on the various facets of American democracy as well as specific policy fields such as environmental, climate, health, migration, foreign, and security policy. Recurring series like the Brown Bag Luncheon on Entrepreneurship and our lectures on US National Parks continued. Of course, the presidential and congressional elections were center stage this year. We offered a variety of digital events (presentations, workshops, conferences, on-demand seminars, and podium discussions) on the subject that reached approximately 1,500 participants.
The infection rate meant that the diverse cultural events planned for the year either couldn’t take place or took place in a very limited capacity. For example, the student art exhibit held by the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) and local schools in collaboration with our “Welcome to Rhineland-Palatinate!” Program, the German American Community Office of Kaiserslautern, and the city of Ramstein-Miesenbach was cancelled. To the extent possible, we developed and carried out alternative programming.
All in all, the Atlantic Academic was able to once again offer an exciting and diverse program that resonated widely and positively in 2020.
The Academy and the Corona Crisis
The SARS-CoV-2-Pandemic caught the Atlantic Academic by surprise, just as it did the overwhelming majority of people in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, and worldwide. Because of the pandemic, most of our work has been conducted from home since March 16, 2020. The technical equipment we purchased over the past few years, including laptops for all team members, and our ability to access our server remotely made the transition much easier. With the US Embassy’s support, we were able to entirely modernize our server last year. When restrictions were eased between July and November 2020, we were able to resume limited office operations. We use online communication platforms such as Slack and Trello to streamline our remote work and keep in touch with one another.
Setting up our work stations was only phase one of our transition to remote work. Relocating events and meetings to a virtual environment posed the greatest challenge to our work and was made a top priority in the first weeks of the pandemic. The AA Team undertook comprehensive research on online event platforms. We concerned ourselves not only with the user-friendliness of the platforms, but also their technical stability and fulfillment of data protection regulations (DSGVO). After extensive tests, we chose the ClickMeeting platform provided by a European company headquartered in Poland. Our experience, as well as that of our participants, has been extremely positive, so we plan on extending our annual subscription in March 2021. Fortunately, we were able to entirely cover the costs of our ClickMeeting subscription and equipping our home offices with better webcams, podcast microphones, and lighting with third-party funds provided by the US Embassy and the Federal Agency for Civic Education.
We were able to conduct the Atlantic Academy’s first virtual event on April 23, 2020. The reading entitled “This is America: Traveling through a country in turmoil,” held by journalist Daniel C. Schmidt reached the maximum of 100 registrations in just five days. The last virtual event of the year, “Fake News? Combating Misinformation in the Digital Age,” took place on December 10, 2020 in collaboration with the Pedagogical State Institute of Speyer.
In addition to shifting to virtual events, the Atlantic Academy expanded the materials available on our website. In response to the school closures in early 2020, we developed our online offerings under the navigation tab “School Materials.” There, teachers and students can access information on exchange programs, scholarships, and online learning opportunities as well as a selection of lesson materials on racism.
From in-person to virtual: Programmatic work in 2020
The program year 2020 began as usual with events and workshops in places such as Mainz, Koblenz, Ramstein-Miesenbach, Kaiserslautern and Ingelheim. Thirteen events with a total of 527 participants took place in person, amounting to an average of 41 participants per event.
As the pandemic set in, in-person events were severely limited and all event providers were forced into the digital realm. As previously mentioned, the AA managed this transition in a very short period of time. Because opportunities to host in-person events continued to be extremely limited, we decided early on in 2020 to commit to digital events for the foreseeable future. Given how the pandemic developed, this was certainly the right decision.
The first virtual event demonstrated a trend that held for the remainder of the year: our online events attract markedly larger and more diverse audiences than our in-person events. We welcomed 4,412 participants—more than ever before—to the 39 virtual events we held in 2020. The resultant average of 113 participants per event is the highest average attendance in the history of the Atlantic Academy. We suspect that the actual number of attendees was even greater because online platforms like ClickMeeting can only count the number of devices logged in to an event, not the number of people sitting behind each screen. By posting recordings of certain events on our YouTube channels, we and our collaboration partners reached an even larger audience.
In the last year, we held 52 events attended by at least 4,939 participants, with an average of 95 participants per event (see Figure 1). A particular boost in participation stemmed from a collaboration with the German American Conference at Harvard University. The conference included six collaborative events featuring speakers and panelists such as Constanze Stelzenmüller (Brookings), Federal Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Hubertus Heil, Sudha David-Wilp (German Marshall Fund) and Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn. These six events alone were attended by more than 2,212 participants. Even excluding this outstanding event series, we reached a record-breaking average of 59 participants per event.
Figure: Average Number of Participants per Event, 2006-2020
Our Cooperation Partners and Third-Party Donors
The Atlantic Academy worked on the conception, organization, and implementation of projects with 37 cooperation partners in the last year. The US Embassy, the US Consulate General Frankfurt am Main, various institutions of the Technical University Kaiserslautern, the Fridtjof-Nansen-Akademie Ingelheim, the Rheinzeitung, and DIE RHEINPFALZ remain among our strongest partners.
In 2020, we established new partnerships with Bard College Berlin, the German American Conference of Harvard University,and the Humboldt Foundation.
Our biggest third-party donors in 2020 were the Ministry of the Interior and Sport (specifically for the “Welcome to Rhineland-Palatinate!” Program), the US Embassy, the Federal Agency for Civic Education (BpB), and the Rhineland Palatinate Center for Political Education.
US Elections 2020: Selected Events
As previously mentioned, the Atlantic Academy handled a wide variety of topics in 2020. The US primary elections were, of course, at the forefront of our programming. The Atlantic Academy offered an abundance of opportunities—including six workshops (one in person, five digital) and thirteen events (one in-person and twelve online)—for the public to learn about the various aspects of these fateful elections.
For example, we featured John Nichols, journalist and domestic politics correspond at the American magazine The Nation, at one of our last in-person events in Mainz organized in cooperation with the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation. He spoke to an audience of almost 60 people about the role of the media in the upcoming presidential election.
We also conducted various training seminars for teachers in cooperation with the Pedagogical State Institute of Rhineland-Palatinate, the US Embassy, and the Association for Political Education of Rhineland-Palatinate. In these trainings, German and American experts provided their assessments of the election process, outcome, and consequences for the US as well as the transatlantic relationship.
Converting our flagship Summer School program to a virtual format presented a unique challenge. Under normal conditions, our Summer School is an intensive five-day course on US domestic, economic, foreign, and security policy made up of 17 presentations and discussion panels. This year, it had to be entirely reconceptualized. The result was an on-demand seminar that stretched over two months. Participants watched two pre-recorded lecture per week. Discussions with the 18 renowned US experts were possible on a time delay via the chat function. The lectures included presentations by speakers such as Junior Professor Dr. Rebecca Brückmann (Ruhr-University Bochum), Dr. Eva Marlene Hausteiner (Universität Bonn), Dr. Jörg Hebenstreit (Universität Jena), Prof. Dr. Christian Lammert (Freie Universität Berlin), Prof. Dr. Welf Werner (Heidelberg Center for American Studies, HCA), Suzanne Loftus (George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies Garmisch-Partenkirchen) and Dr. Marco Overhaus (German Institute for International and Security Affairs). Our keynote speaker Frances Lee, professor at Princeton University, gave a talk on polarization in the US and the US elections. As at the in-person version of our Summer School, we offered a transatlantic piano concert by Jens Barnieck. The redesigned program had 68 participants, the highest number to ever attend our Summer School.
Our “Atlantic Summer” program was also converted to a digital format and focused on the impact of the November 2020 election on the transatlantic relationship.
The highlight of our programming in 2020—in addition to the Summer School—was our virtual event about the presidential and congressional elections on November 3rd, 2020. The diverse and exciting event, attended by 260 participants, consisted of two live presentations, live and pre-recorded interviews, election advertisements, and additional information about the elections. The first 200 registrants received a surprise package in the mail with a blank map of the US, red and blue pens, AA post cards, and information about our work. The event began with a welcome address by Roger Lewentz, the Interior Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, who expressed his hope for an election outcome that would benefit both the United States and the transatlantic relationship. PD Dr. Martin Thunert from HCA and Mike Cowburn from FU Berlin provided introductions to the election at the federal and local levels. We were able to incorporate American politicians, journalists, scholars, and former AA interns living in the United States as interviewees. Participants had the opportunity to hear from Democratic Congresswomen Sarah Anthony of Michigan, the American political scientist Sean Theriault (University of Texas), and the US Tagespiegel correspondent Juliane Schäuble. This almost six hour event demonstrated the complexity of planning and executing a television broadcast to the AA team.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic and the increased prevalence of pre-recorded educational opportunities, the AA team developed yet another format through which to promote greater understanding of American society and politics. Since December 28, 2020, we have been producing our new podcast “America’s Constitution: Politics and Society in the USA,” twice per month. In each episode, Dr. David Sirakov and Sarah Wagner report on and analyze political and societal developments in the US. The podcast is available at www.atlantische-akademie.de/podcast and on all major podcast platforms.
The AA’s programs were a resounding success this year, as evidenced by the positive feedback we received across our various platforms, including via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We’ve included a selection of the feedback we received at the end of this report.
Welcome to Rheinland-Pfalz!
Our “Welcome to Rhineland-Palatinate! Our American Neighbors” Program and its coordinator John Constance had an unusual and volatile but nonetheless successful 2020. The necessity of minimizing contact called for a fundamental change to the program, which usually centers on in-person exchanges. Nevertheless, all three activity fields of the program (1. support and advising of program communities, 2. cooperation with US actors, and 3. digital materials and outreach) were advanced and measures to promote a feeling of community were initiated. The number of communities that the program reaches increased from 20 in 2019 to 29 by the end of 2020. Eight more municipalities have indicated their intention to participate in writing and will be assisted in building the appropriate structures to do so.
Before the pandemic prevented large gatherings, the year began with some tried and true WiR! welcome events such as the Stammtisches that took place in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Mehlingen, and Spangdahlem. Other highlights included our events in February and March featuring high-ranking representatives of the state government. In February, Prime Minister Malu Dreyer helped with the “Welcome Bag” event for American households in our WiR! Community Kottweiler-Schwanden and was excited to see the engagement of local WiR! volunteers. In the same week, Interior Minister Roger Lewentz recognized American DoDEA and local German schools as “WiR! Schools 2019/20”. In mid-March, State Secrectary Nicole Steingaß bestowed this honor on the Reichswald-Gymnasium Ramstein-Miesenbach and the Ramstein Middle School, whose exchange program has been in place since 2008. The title “WiR!-School” recognizes the maintenance of school partnerships that promote German-American understanding and facilitate cross-cultural learning.
Especially at the beginning of the first lockdown, many locals and Americans recognized the societal need for assistance and started various aid campaigns. Our WiR! program showed support and solidarity in various ways, including starting a mask sewing campaign on social media. Americans living in the area sent us dozens of masks which we donated to German Red Cross senior centers in Westpfalz. We started another impressive contactless volunteer initiative in a few WiR! Communities called the “German-American chain of hope”. The chain joined together hundreds of hand-painted stones to symbolize our neighborly solidarity in a time that mandated physical distance from one another.
Even under these difficult circumstances, we were able to strengthen the program’s already extensive network of US actors. Leadership briefings with the US bases’ new commanders proved central to maintaining our relationship with US military leadership, even in 2020. Meetings were held with General Major Randall Reed, 3rd Air Force Unit; Brigade General Joshua Olson, Ramstein Air Base; and Sergeant Major Hope Skibitsky, Ramstein Air Base. At the meetings, we discussed German-American coexistence in the region, the WiR! program’s role, and future opportunities for collaboration. In addition, we honored Donald Brett Waterhouse, former Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army Garrison Rhineland-Palatinate, with the first “WiR! Appreciation Award” for his outstanding engagement promoting German-American cooperation in Rhineland-Palatinate.
As the pandemic evolved, we dedicated ourselves to developing the program’s digital presence for the WiR! communities’ and American families’ long term use. We filmed 360-degree videos of three central locations in each of our 37 WiR! communities and posted them our YouTube channel. With the help of these videos, Americans can gain their first impression of the region and get excited about exploring it in-person. In addition, we offered a diverse array of online programming that allowed participants to meet one another virtually and become more familiar with different facets of German culture. For example, we held a virtual beer tasting, German holiday cooking class, German language course, and two Brown Bag Luncheon information sessions for American freelancers.
We are looking forward to the 2021 program year and have already begun working on a wide array of projects. We plan on holding a diverse array of online events, such as a painting course, an exhibit of German and American student artwork, a baking class, or a wine tasting. We are also working with the mayors of a few WiR! municipalities to create virtual tours that will give newcomers more detailed insight into in their town before they arrive. Another exciting project we have in store is a collaboration with American bloggers living in the region who will provide their personal perspectives on life in Rhineland-Palatinate. Another important plan we have in store for 2021 is a large WiR! online survey for American households. In the survey, we hope to obtain feedback on the WiR! program—specifically, the availability of information for newcomers, our social media channels, website, events, etc.—and information on the needs and desires of local families. We will use this knowledge to work with WiR! communities on optimizing local resources and further developing our program offerings.
The Atlantic Academy Team’s Sought-After Expertise in Media, Science, and Civic Education
The Atlantic Academy’s staff were sought-after speakers and panelists on matters concerning the US and the transatlantic relationship in the past year. The electoral campaign and ensuing presidential and congressional elections prompted a particularly high number of press inquiries.
AA staff members gave 70 interviews on topics such as the reduction of US troops, the election campaign, domestic and foreign policy, and the transatlantic relationship over the course of the year. They can be divided into the following categories:
- Print: 33 (Rheinzeitung, Trierischer Volksfreund, dpa, gmx/web.de, Tageblatt Lëtzeburg, among others)
- Radio: 19 (SWR, BR, Schweizer Rundfunk, Deutschlandfunk, RPR, among others)
- Podcasts: 15 (Aspen Institute, hr-iNFO, Drahtbericht der Landesregierung RLP, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Heidelberg Center for American Studies, among others)
- TV: 3 (ARD-Tagesthemen, niederländisches Fernsehen NPO, SWR Fernsehen)
The AA team also published prolifically in 2020. Director Dr. David Sirakov published an article in the Rhein-Zeitung entitled “How We Can Be Closer to the US.” The German Institute for International and Security Affairs appointed Dr. Sirakov to its group of US experts. Dr. Sirakov was part of a working group made up of experts at various transatlantic institutions (the German Marshall Fund, Aspen Institute, Bundesakademie für Sicherheitspolitik, Münchener Sicherheitskonferenz, Brookings Institution, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, among others) that drafted a research paper on the future of the transatlantic relationship. In the aftermath of the presidential and congressional elections, the State Parliament of Rhineland-Palatinate’s Committee for European Affairs and One World consulted our director on the election’s implications for the relationship between Rhineland-Palatinate and the USA.
The AA made ten contributions to books, journals, teaching materials, and publication series in addition to publishing one collection and nineteen blog posts of our own. In collaboration with Junior Professor Dr. Florian Böller (TU Kaiserslautern), Dr. Steffen Hagemann (Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Tel Aviv), and Dr. Christoph Haas (Universität Freiburg), Sarah Wagner and Dr. David Sirakov released an assessment of the Trump administration’s record that appeared in Nomos Publishing House’s “New American Studies” series. The authors tackle the various institutional and political implications of Donald Trump’s presidency. The collection was reviewed very positively on the Center for Ethical Education in the Armed Forces’ political science portal and in the journal “Security+Peace.” In addition to their contributions to this collection, Sarah Wagner und David Sirakov contributed articles to a teacher’s manual entitled “Elections in the USA” in Bermoser + Höller’s “Politics affects us” series. On top of that, Ms. Wagner examined the Democratic party in an article for the Federal Agency for Civic Education’s USA dossier and developed the current issue of the “BpB Spickers” about the American political system. Dr. Sirakov published an article in collaboration with Dr. Florian Böller on American foreign and security policy in the journal “WeltTrends.” A detailed list of our staff’s publications is available on the AA Website at www.atlantische-akademie.de/akademie/team.
The greater regional, national, and international attention the Atlantic Academy has received from the media and academia in the past five years shows the growing importance of our institution as an established actor in the transatlantic space.
The past year wasn’t just a record year for our programmatic engagement. Our association benefitted from the greater visibility and accessibility of our digital events. In 2020, we welcomed 23 new members (15 regular members, 4 students, and 2 couples). Only one member withdrew from the association. This made for a membership increase of 36%, the largest increase since 1997. In the first two months of 2021, we have already been able to add 11 more members (9 regular members, one couple). With these additions, the association is made up of 96 individuals (75 regular members, 11 students, and 5 couples), four institutions (two associations, one state institute, and one sponsor), as well as six ex officio members.
Building a Broad Sponsorship Base: Third Party support in 2021
The Atlantic Academy also recorded major successes in third-party funding this year. Over the past four years, we have used a variety of means and engaged in countless conversations to make the case that the AA should be incorporated into a funding mechanism of the German federal government. This past year, our efforts were rewarded. The German Parliament’s appropriations committee incorporated the Atlantic Academy into the group of institutions supported by the Federal Foreign Office via the “Protection of cultural relationships with foreign countries,” act (Titel 687 17, Ziffer 6.1.2). This gives us access to up to 90,000.00 Euros in funding that will have implications for the scope of our projects and the size of our staff. We are already recruiting for a project coordinator position.
We submitted an application for a German Chancellor Fellowship to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation last year. Our candidate from North Carolina would work at the Atlantic Academy for one year should her research be awarded a grant. She has advanced to the second round of the selection process.
We received further support from the US Embassy in the form of the U.S. Year End Grant 2020/2021, the Federal Agency for Civic Education, the Rhineland-Palatinate State Center for Political Education, and the State Chancellery of Rhineland-Palatinate. Our cooperation with the State Chancellery provided the means to initiate a new program, the Rheinland-Pfalz Transatlantic Ambassador Internship. This program allows a Georgetown University graduate student to complete a three month internship at the State Chancellery, the Atlantic Academy, and the Department of Defense Liaison Office of the US military in Mainz.
The Atlantic Academy’s 25th Anniversary: Program Year 2021
The upcoming year of programming will largely be shaped by the Atlantic Academy’s 25th anniversary. In light of this, we have a number of formats in the works. In addition to a celebration, we will be active on our social media channels and hold one-off events such as a discussion series.
Of course, our regular programming will touch on the domestic and foreign policy implications of the new Biden Harris administration as well as current cultural and political topics. With the support of the Federal Foreign Office, we will expand our school program offerings to include Haupt- and Realschule.
We have seven workshop topics and 79 events planned:
- 6 Podiums, 5 Atlantic Forums, 8 Seminars
- Summer School 2021, Atlantic Summer, and DGfA Conference
- 42 Projects financed by the Federal Foreign Office
- 13 Projects financed by the US Embassy
- 8 Projects finances by Ministry of the Interior and Sport (Support for the WiR! Program)
The coronavirus pandemic will continue to determine the formats in which the AA’s events can be delivered. Taking what we learned last year and the unpredictable nature of the pandemic into account, we have already decided to hold the Summer School 2021 online.
It is already clear to us that the future of political education, including the Atlantic Academy’s educational offerings, lies in a mixture of in-person, online, and hybrid events. We have already overcome many of the infrastructural challenges presented by this new model. In our grant applications for the coming year, we have highlighted our intention to continue developing our knowledge and acquire any outstanding equipment needed to deliver high-quality educational materials.
In addition to training our staff, we have hired interns to support our work. The AA’s internship position is so well-known and popular, even outside of Rhineland-Palatinate, that it has been filled for the entirety of the coming year. We are already working on contracts for 2022.
All in all, our program for 2021 will utilize both new and familiar formats to continue providing exciting insights to German and American audiences. We hope to welcome you in great numbers.