This story is over 5 years old.

The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

Watching the Terrifying Election as an American in Berlin

Even with a language barrier, Berlin feels more like home than most of non-urban America does.
The East Side Gallery, a series of murals painted on an old section of the Berlin Wall. Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The East Side Gallery, a series of murals painted on an old section of the Berlin Wall. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on VICE US

Probably a lot of us have some moment of election hubris replaying in our minds right now. The thing I wish I hadn't said came out on Tuesday night at about 11 PM Central European Time. I was in a bar in Berlin and telling two British people how it will be interesting to see if all these European countries who have elected conservative governments in recent years start viewing America as the more progressive place, given that we were on track for 12 years of Democratic presidents. I was wrong—I wasn't the only wrong one, but I was way, way wrong.


My girlfriend and I came to Berlin on a two-month working vacation for the same reason most young Americans come here. It 's cheap, it's pleasant, and we know people who have moved here from their respective countries to take advantage of that cheapness and pleasantness. When these people have asked me about Trump 's appeal, as the token American I 've tried to explain about white resentment, the decline of good jobs for the working class, our lackluster Democratic candidate, and the international rise of populist rage.

I knew why some Americans wanted Donald Trump, and I could articulate those reasons pretty well. But I couldn't feel what those people felt. It 's like how someone can explain all the reasons they love football or the Kardashians, and I believe they mean it, but I can't imagine myself ever even liking those things. Maybe a better way to put it is that some people see a man get shot with a gun and think that we should try to get rid of guns, and some people see a man get shot with a gun and think they 'd better get two guns.

My British friends warned me about what could happen. They had seen the same polls I had, but they also remembered the feeling of waking up twice in the last year to horror, first with the Labour Party 's parliamentary defeat and again with Brexit. I knew that the experts had been wrong about everything this election cycle and that the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA finals, but I also thought that every smart and not-so-smart person saying Hillary Clinton would be America 's first female president was reason enough to believe it.


We left the bar feeling confident at around 2 AM. We got home and brushed our teeth and lay in bed and, though we 'd decided there was no point in staying up—it 's not like our watching election results would affect them—we checked Twitter anyway. Trump was… not losing. Then he was winning. Then he had won.

I watched all that unfold over the next five hours, franticly refreshing my timeline, fluctuating somewhere between panic and intense disappointment. Turning on the lights or getting out of bed never occurred to me. Being six hours away from the US, I felt especially powerless and disconnected from what was going on. I wasn't a huge Clinton fan—I didn't vote for her in the '08 or '16 primaries—but I never seriously considered not voting for her in the general election. I saw her as basically a continuation of Obama, and hoped to wake up today with America facing the same problems we faced yesterday, as opposed to all of those problems plus a yet-to-be-determined set of potentially catastrophic what-ifs.

It's freezing and gray right now, but Berlin is a beautiful city—and so much less stressful than New York. There are parks and the sidewalks are wide and no one honks or seems to work too much. The horror of that war, seven decades after it ended, is always in the back of my mind, made all the more incomprehensible by how pleasantly livable it feels now. (As the expatriate author German W.G. Sebald put it, "No serious person thinks of anything else.") I think about if something similar could happen in America, and I think about if 70 years later America could be pleasant and beautiful again. Of course Trump hasn't done anything yet that would make me feel like I need to permanently leave America, and I hope he never does.

But, well—I've been to rural and exurban parts of America and gotten those"you're not from around here" looks. I've felt how hostile that dividing line between Trump's America and mine can be. Even with a language barrier, Berlin feels more like home than most of non-urban America does. Here I see stickers reading " Nazi Trumps Fuck Off"; in Southern California I see Confederate flags. A few days ago, I felt confident explaining American culture. Now when people ask me about the election, about my country, I just tell them, "I don't know." It's become my answer to everything.

Follow Hanson O'Haver on Twitter.