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Election night pulls crowds in Stuttgart, Frankfurt

At an election party in downtown Stuttgart, residents listened to debates about the merits of the respective candidates on Tuesday, Nov. 8,2016.

JOHN VANDIVER/STARS AND STRIPES

By JOHN VANDIVER AND DAN STOUTAMIRE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 9, 2016

As Michael Pierce, a retired Army officer, tried to make the case for a Trump presidency, a flurry of catcalls came from the peanut gallery.

During a panel debate at an election night party in downtown Stuttgart, Pierce seemed to be a voice in the political wilderness as he faced off against anti-Trump panelists and a couple of outraged audience members.

“Ma’am, if you want to come up here you are more than welcome to,” he said, before continuing on.

As it turns out, Pierce’s voice may have been a lone one in Stuttgart, but he spoke for a majority of Americans who voted in Tuesday’s president race.

Pierce’s clash with others at the election party was a flicker of tension in an otherwise festive night at such organized gatherings in Germanywhere the U.S. election took center stage. The spectacle of Trump vs. Clinton that has obsessed many Americans struck a chord among Germans, too.

In Frankfurt, home to the largest U.S. State Department consulate in the world, nearly 1,000 people — mainly Germans — turned out to the mission’s election night party at downtown Frankfurt’s Gibson Club.

As the doors opened about 10 p.m., a line stretched some 200 yards outside the door. Tight security at the event slowed entry to a trickle. Guests in the packed club were treated to live music and election trivia and had the chance to vote in an informal straw poll.

“The real point tonight is to have a party, to have fun, and the American people are going to make the best choice for president, and we’re going to start building for the next administration tomorrow morning,” Consul General Jim Herman said in a speech to the crowd.

By early Wednesday morning, it appeared increasingly likely that would mean working with President Donald J. Trump.

In Stuttgart, some 300 people gathered at a convention hall downtown, mainly Germans, where various debates and trivia games were held.

Ralf Eichert, 56, donned a homemade anti-Trump T-shirt, and expressed wariness over a Trump presidency several hours before the first results came in.

He said he had taken a special interest in the U.S. election since his daughter resides in the States. While the election in 2008 captured the interest of many in Germany, the enthusiasm for then Sen. Barack Obama was replaced by anxiety and unease over Trump.

“There is something that changed in the American spirit, and Trump has sensed that frustration that people seem to have,” Eichert said.

For some Americans who have lived abroad for years, the race has been fascinating to watch from afar.

“I have been following this election with some interest, ... I try to keep up with it,” said Mokihana Arnest-Hean, a translator with Boston Consulting Group who was born to American expatriates and has lived in Frankfurt most of her life. “The hardest thing is trying to understand from here what’s going through their (American voters’) heads.”

While the majority of those in attendance appeared to be in favor of Clinton, which was borne out in a convincing Clinton victory in the straw poll, , a smattering of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hats could be seen among the crowd.

Arnold, a 41-year-old German who lived in the U.S. for a time, said he was a Trump supporter because of his strong stances on immigration and crime.

“(Trump) understands that a nation is only a nation if it has well-protected borders,” Arnold said. “He understands how important it is to fight crime, and I believe he’s a patriot who believes in his country, unlike Hillary Clinton.”

Dwan Gibson, an American consulate employee who came to the late-night party despite having to work early Wednesday morning, said he came out to show his support for America in general.

“I came out to support American democracy — this is what we do. This is our time here, to support our candidate whoever it is,” he said. “I know it’s going to last through the night and it’ll be a tight race, because a lot of people have different vibes, have different feelings about what’s going on.”

One young German who has worked as an intern at the consulate, said American elections have something that German elections lack — intrigue.

“The interesting thing for me is the difference from German policy; we have a really calm and not such a hard election fight, and then you have the U.S. and this election is one of the dirtiest fights ever, and all the scandals come out,” he said. “We don’t have that here, but I like scandals.”

Pierce, the American Republican in Stuttgart, said the Democrats failed to grasp the level of frustration of white, working-class Americans, those who in previous elections may have tended Democratic but have lost faith in the system.

“Trump has tapped into something,” Pierce said. “People want change.”

vandiver.john@stripes.com

stoutamire.dan@stripes.com
 

Ralf Eichert dons a homemade anti-Trump shirt during an election party in Stuttgart, where about 300 people gathered on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.
JOHN VANDIVER/STARS AND STRIPES

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