SPIEGEL Interview with Economics Minister Rösler: 'I Used to Dream I Was a Vietnamese Prince'

Part 2: 'Why Is It a Problem to Be Seen as Friendly?'

Rösler: My belief is that our policies have offered too little, in terms of language courses for example. Punishment shouldn't be our first response.

SPIEGEL: As economics minister, do you plan to ease the rules on immigration to Germany?

Rösler: I will advocate for Germany moving further in this direction. Germany needs qualified immigrants and it's absurd for us to spend so much money educating foreign students and then, after they graduate, only allow them to stay in the country for one year.

SPIEGEL: In Germany, Asians are considered especially well integrated. Why is that?

Rösler: Vietnamese parents, like many others, place value on their children getting a good education.

SPIEGEL: Do you yourself run into problems in politics because of the reputation that Asians are always nice and friendly?

Rösler: Why would it be a problem to be seen as friendly?

SPIEGEL: Because friendliness, in politics, is often taken as an inability to be assertive.

Rösler: You don't need to worry about me there.

SPIEGEL: Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said in an interview that you are not only knowledgeable and likeable, but also have a great deal of humor. Did you feel Schäuble was belittling you?

Rösler: I did ask myself what the benefit of his comments was.

SPIEGEL: Are you proud to be a German?

Rösler: Actually, I am, but this sentence has been taken over by right-wing radicals. There's no need to overuse it.

SPIEGEL: Does Islam belong in Germany?

Rösler: There are around 4 million Muslims in the country and they too help to shape it, so yes, it's also correct to say that Islam belongs in Germany. That statement originated with Federal President Christian Wulff. When he said that, I sent him a text message right away: "That was courageous. This is going to make waves." And that's exactly what happened.

SPIEGEL: Why did you wait until you were 33 to visit Vietnam, your country of origin, for the first time?

Rösler: I'd simply never had a desire to go, because Vietnam didn't have any special significance for me. If you're not lacking anything, then you don't go looking for something. In the end, I went because my wife said to me: "We want to have children someday, and I'd like to be able to tell them what the country where you were born looks like."

SPIEGEL: How did you feel when you were there? Like any ordinary tourist?

Rösler: Perhaps like an especially interested tourist. It was sometimes clear that people there were wondering just what kind of person I was. They could tell that I didn't live in Vietnam. But I also didn't particularly look like one of the many Japanese tourists who go there. Most people thought I was an American on vacation, someone from one of the families that emigrated to the US.

SPIEGEL: Did you know details about your Vietnamese roots at that point?

Rösler: Yes, and I partly have SPIEGEL to thank for that. A man at an event in the town of Holzminden asked me where exactly I came from. I told him the name of the village where I was born, which I knew from my birth certificate. The man said that was quite a coincidence, because his daughter came from the same place. She was one of the children evacuated from Vietnam during the war, in 1975. One of the last planes out crashed and partially burned in a rice field. SPIEGEL later took a trip there with the surviving children -- and that was the city where my orphanage was. The SPIEGEL article also quoted both of the nuns who took care of a total of 3,000 orphans during that time. They thought up names for their charges, in order to be able to send them abroad.

SPIEGEL: Did you never look at maps of Vietnam to find out where exactly your birthplace was?

Rösler: I did, but I was never able to find it on the maps I had. When I was in Vietnam in 2006, I went to the former South Vietnamese presidential palace. The American war rooms had been in the basement there and there were still old maps on the walls, so I looked for my birthplace on them. I knew it must be somewhere near Saigon, and eventually I found it. Our interpreter then explained that after the war, all villages and cities in South Vietnam were given different names. No wonder I had never been able to find the place before.

SPIEGEL: Did you and your wife then travel there?

Rösler: No, because our tour group was continuing on in a different direction. And honestly, I didn't need to. I had a rough idea what my village must have looked like. Essentially, Vietnamese villages don't look all that different from one another.

SPIEGEL: Do you know anything about your birth parents?

Rösler: No. The nuns at my orphanage had to take care of more than 3,000 children. They had to make up names and ancestry for the children in order to fill out their exit forms. There really are no clues to lead to my birth parents.

SPIEGEL: Have you ever thought of looking for them yourself?

Rösler: No, I haven't. To me, my father is my dad. Things are good the way they are. I'm not lacking anything.

SPIEGEL: Were you afraid it would make your life more complicated if you found your birth parents?

Rösler: I never asked myself the question of who my birth father was. My dad is my father, period.

SPIEGEL: What did you like best about Vietnam?

Rösler: The scenery is wonderful, and the food. When you go to an Asian restaurant in Germany, it's all very Germanized. Many Asians don't even go to Asian restaurants here, because it simply doesn't taste like it does back home.

SPIEGEL: Why is it that you want to be more German than other Germans?

Rösler: I don't. For a long time, for example, I didn't even have a flag in my office.

SPIEGEL: And yet: Your favorite singer is the German pop star Udo Jürgens. You named your twin daughters Grietje and Gesche. You're a member of the Central Committee of German Catholics. And you registered voluntarily with the Bundeswehr. You're more than a German, you're a model German.

Rösler: Then allow me my rebuttal: It's true that I'm an avid Udo Jürgens fan, but it's certainly not because he sings in German. And I'll let you in on a secret -- we don't have a German flag hanging in our house. My private car is French, for very practical reasons -- it's the only car a twin baby carriage fits into upright. And as to our children's names: When we married, my wife took my last name, which is anything but a given nowadays. We agreed that she would take the name Rösler, and in exchange she could choose the children's names. I could make my wishes known, but my wife was the one who decided. And in fact, Grietje is more of a Dutch name, and Gesche is more Frisian.

SPIEGEL: Would you say Germany has a "leading culture?"

Rösler: That is a term that was coined by others, but yes, there's certainly a common culture we can use to communicate. It fluctuates somewhere between green-cabbage kings and modernism.

SPIEGEL: That's right, congratulations! You were crowned "green cabbage king" at this year's green cabbage festival in Oldenburg.

Rösler: The tradition of crowning a green cabbage king carries with it values that are absolutely serious, such as supporting and helping one another, and staying true to a region. I have spent many years giving talks on the subject of home and origins. I don't think that "home" is something bourgeois, straight-laced or boring.

SPIEGEL: When did you first notice that Asians lack the enzyme for metabolizing alcohol?

Rösler: During puberty, which is generally when that first contact takes place.

SPIEGEL: Were you badly drunk?

Rösler: No, I wasn't. The way it works is that most people's bodies convert alcohol first to aldehyde and then to acetic acid. But the process works differently for me, with an unpleasant result -- I don't get the buzz, just the hangover.

SPIEGEL: Sounds terrible. So you don't drink at all?

Rösler: I do. If I never drank alcohol, even a tiny amount would be enough to make me feel sick. But if I drink a little bit regularly, enzymes form that help in metabolizing it.

SPIEGEL: How much can you drink?

Rösler: A glass of wine isn't a problem.

SPIEGEL: How is it possible for someone who gets sick after just a few drops of drink to survive as a politician in the state of Lower Saxony?

Rösler: You might be thinking of some overly drastic clichés of the region. Lower Saxony is a free place, you're not forced to drink. And in any case, I believe the days are past when people thought you could only make it in politics through an enormous amount of social drinking.

SPIEGEL: Are you a role model for foreigners in Germany?

Rösler: Many people see me as a role model. Right around the time when I was about to become a minister, there was a meeting at the restaurant in the Bundestag. A dark-skinned man, who was working for the catering company, came up to me. And do you know what he said? "I think it's fantastic that one of us has made it all the way to the top."

SPIEGEL: Were you pleased?

Rösler: Yes, because it was honest and came from the heart.

SPIEGEL: Minister Rösler, thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Markus Feldenkirchen and René Pfister

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

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