The offer was exciting, an invitation one could hardly refuse. The study tour called for journalists from the United States to examine aspects of political, economic, and cultural circumstances of the Federal Republic of Germany - the post-World War II prototype of a US combination of democracy and capitalism. The prospects of ascertaining the thinking of West German citizens on matters of the Western alliance and the world were fascinating.
Our study program was organized by Inter Nationes, the West German government entity in charge of our review of German thinking concerning politics, economics , and culture. Our American group included four radio and two print media persons. Our interviews and discussions occurred in the metropolitan areas of Bonn-Koln, Munich, Berlin, and Hamburg.
What can one learn from exposure to the politics, economics, and culture of a people whose nation rose, literally, from the ashes of World War II?
Lesson No. 1 is that the citizens of West Germany are very concerned about their nation's relationship with its one-time benefactor, protector, and ally.
The foreign policies of American presidents are dissected continuously by West Germans. The realization that nuclear war, if there ever was one, will occur on the soil of their homeland is constantly in their thinking. The reluctance of the Reagan administration to deal directly with the Soviet Union is of much concern.
In domestic politics, the economic schism of US life into greater divisions of rich and poor - with its implications for human injustice and economic extravagance - invites comparison with the West German version of democratic capitalism.
A second lesson is that West Germans want openness and communications developed with the people of the US. West Germany, with the land size of Oregon but a population of more than 60 million, needs close contacts with peoples of the world who share their values of democracy and capitalism. Germans would like to get to know Americans better - collectively and individually - and to share views of common interests. Both politically and economically, West Germans can ill afford isolation.
Since West Germany is reaching the interdependence of political maturity, with a democratic decisionmaking process envied by most of the world, what aspects of German life in the Federal Republic would be of most interest to Americans?
First, Americans would appreciate how well West Germany works. Part of this ''working'' success is grounded in a well-coordinated transportation system. The balance among cars, rail passenger service, trucks, and buses is much more attractive in West Germany than in the US.
Second, the emphasis upon social services, including health, is an aspect of German life worth consideration. Efforts to blunt the worst features of capitalism seem to benefit all classes of citizens.
Third, urban life is livable and safe. The life of the urban city center is filled with people enjoying a variety of nighttime cultural activities. The cities are safe for nighttime visits with friends and family.
Fourth, housing consumes less space, but is well constructed and sufficient. More effective utilization of housing implies more efficient use of energy sources.
Fifth, the US blight of unregulated zoning does not exist in West Germany. The constant repetition of gas stations, fast-food joints, branch banks, used-car lots, convenience stores, putt-putt golf courses, and flashing neon signs does not show its ugly face in German communities.
West Germany, like the US, is both democratic and capitalistic. As in the US, the mixture of equal rights and unequal incomes creates tensions between the political ideals of democracy and the economic tenets of capitalism.
As practitioners of democratic capitalism, the US and West Germany can grow and learn from the other's culture. US weaknesses on the world stage can be compensated, in part, by our German ally. West Germany's weaknesses can be compensated, in part, by its American ally. Similar to this nation's longer associations with England and France, the next 35 years of American-West German relations can be as productive and challenging as the initial 35.
The key to this continued success of political economy is an openness to the needs of the other nation. Our politics, economics, and cultures are sometimes different. However, the American and German peoples have at least two common causes for the continued commitment of our alliance: human freedom and national sovereignty.