Protecting the World’s Most Influential People: Same Problem, Different Solution

Maria Rentmeister

Ms. Maria Rentmeister was a research intern at AICGS during the fall and winter of 2016/17. She writes for the AICGS Notizen Blog, conducts research for current projects as well as for our resident fellows, manages databases, operates front desk duties, and helps organizing, realizing and documenting events. Her research interests lie in foreign policy, international relations, and immigration as well as the outcome of the 2016 US presidential elections and its influence on US-German relations. She is also interested in exchange programs to foster intercultural relations between countries.

Prior to joining AICGS, Ms. Rentmeister gained professional experience in the field of North American studies through other internships at the Embassy of Canada in Berlin, Germany and the German-American Institute (DAI) in Heidelberg, Germany. Maria also volunteers at the German organization that encourages and supports students from a non-academic background to enroll in university. She holds a BA in American Studies with a major in Political Science and Geography from Heidelberg University, Germany, and is currently enrolled in the North American Studies Master Program at the University of Bonn, Germany. Maria grew up and attended high school in Germany and participated in a high school exchange program in Michigan in 2008/09 for five months.

Ever tried to come up with a list of what German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President-elect Donald Trump have in common? Presumably, for most people, the list will be short.

However, commonalities exist: both were announced most influential person in the world by TIME Magazine (Merkel in 2015, Trump in 2016). Both also made it on to Forbes’ World’s Most Powerful People list.

There is another similarity between the two: both call their private apartments, located in major cities with tourists and traffic passing by, home.

But the striking difference in these two similar living situations is the precautions that Germany and the United States take to protect these highly influential individuals.

Even though the Kanzleramt is ten times larger than the White House, all German state leaders live in their private homes. Merkel’s private apartment is in the center of Berlin and the address is a well-known tourist destination. Only two police officers stand in front Merkel’s home, and tourists can walk up to the building’s front door. No one in Germany seems concerned with introducing more security measures, including the chancellor herself. The world’s most influential woman visits public concerts and no one in the audience goes through security checks. Germany’s highest-ranking politicians have a 24 hour protection detail that often includes their spouses as well, but more information than this is generally not available. Of course, Merkel rides in an armored car and has a team of ten to fifteen personal bodyguards, all part of the Federal Criminal Police Office, who work in shifts for her personal protection.

However, in the United States, it is unprecedented that a president plans to live among other people on weekends and that his wife and son will not move into the White House right away. The president traditionally lives in the White House. The Secret Service has well-established measures and practices at the White House, but it is challenged now with establishing permanent security measures at Trump’s apartment in New York City, one of the most densely populated places in the world. For security reasons, Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue has been turned into a White House North. Until the end of Trump’s presidency, the Secret Service will be vetting every person that enters and exits Trump Tower. Whenever Trump moves, the city has to shut down major streets and airports. The enormous security measures affect traffic for millions of people; retailers on Fifth Avenue and the streets surrounding Trump Tower reported a decrease in sales due to security road blockages. As a result, there has been a media outcry about the costs to protect a jet-setting president-elect and his family. In the first week of December 2016, New York City asked the federal government to reimburse it $35 million for the security costs for the president-elect until his inauguration on January 20, 2017.

Calling a private apartment home causes the same problem for Germany and the U.S. when it comes to protecting the world’s most influential people, but the countries have found very different solutions.

However, both countries have certain reasoning behind their protection measures. A myriad of reasons for this exists, but perhaps the three main reasons are: the U.S.’ gun culture makes armed attacks on the president more likely; the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 led to increased security, such as a motorcade of 16 cars, including an ambulance; and, due to the different political systems of both countries, the U.S. president is more hyped in the public than the German chancellor, and therefore a more prominent target.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.