Die Zeit reporter visits Denison

Kerstin Kohlenberg, the USA correspondent for Die Zeit newspaper, talks with Mike Rauch, of Denison, during the caucus on Monday night. Photo by Dan Mundt

One of the news reporters in Denison for Monday night’s caucuses came from a bit farther away than the others.

Kerstin Kohlenberg is the USA correspondent for Die Zeit (The Time), which is the biggest weekly newspaper in Germany.

She was here to give German readers a better understanding of the ongoing presidential race in the United States.

Kohlenberg’s official title is foreign correspondent for the Die Zeit Washington, D.C. office.

She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

“Most of the people in Germany, like in America, wonder whether Trump will be reelected or not,” she said. “With impeachment in the background the whole politics became so absurd and theatrical in a way that it is hard to follow.”

She visited Denison on January 29 to get a sense of what area residents thought about the candidates in the days leading to the caucus.

“I spoke with a few people from here and tried to find a main character for my story,” Kohlenberg said. “I asked, ‘What are you deciding? How do you see the Democratic Party? Do you think the (Bernie Sanders) fraction wins or the center fraction wins? Is there a battle in the party?’”

She said Germans are very interested in the outcome of the election.

“They see it as something that affects us at some point in Germany, in terms of relationships to America, NATO Alliance and trade,” Kohlenberg said. “All these topics are sort of lifelines and very important for Europe.”

Kohlenberg’s plan for Monday night was to file a late story about whether the Sanders or Biden “fraction” had prevailed in Iowa.

The story would have been printed on Tuesday.

That plan apparently fell by the wayside along with the caucus confusion that began Monday night and stretched into the middle of the week.

Her story went online on Wednesday, instead.

She wrote that a favorite had stumbled and two “outsiders” were in front as the partial numbers showed Sanders and Pete Buttigieg leading and Biden trailing significantly.

The delayed announcement of caucus results was an embarrassment for Democrats and showed the delicate state of the “American opposition,” according to Kohlenberg.

The Democrats can’t afford inner conflict against Donald Trump; Joe Biden’s poor performance was a big shock for the Democratic Party, she wrote.

Her visit to Denison to report on the caucuses was not her first time here.

She read the book “Denison, Iowa” and contacted the author. He connected her with Nathan Mahrt, who was one of the book’s sources.

“We talked on the phone and he told me about Cronk’s and Republicans meet there for breakfast every once in a while so I thought I’d come down here and talk to some of the Iowans at Cronk’s,” Kohlenberg said. “I met Nathan and we stayed in contact.”

Her first visit was in 2016 during the run-up to the election that year.

Kohlenberg returned to Denison two years ago to write a story about immigration.

“I profiled one of the ladies that works here and her family,” she said.

She wrote about the inability of politicians to find a clear answer to the question of how the country should deal with illegal immigration.

Kohlenberg came back to Denison this year to observe the caucuses, which she had not seen before.

The political landscape in 2020 is very different from what she observed in 2016.

“I think what is different is that Democrats are very surprised by this situation,” she said. “They did not think Bernie Sanders would be so strong and so strong of a candidate.”

She said Sanders would not be considered radical in Germany.

“He would be a Social Democrat in Germany,” Kohlenberg said.

She does not think Biden is a popular choice for a majority of people.

“So now they have to figure out if there is somebody else or will it be Sanders,” Kohlenberg said.

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