Consider the plight of the expat politics junkie whose German language skills are somewhat patchy: local news feeds detailing the ebb and flow of German politics may seem incomprehensible, whereas English-language news from abroad just can’t scratch that itch for insider analysis, texture and context. It’s all too easy for born-elsewhere Berliners to feel they’re simultaneously living at the epicentre of European politics and hovering in its periphery.
No surprise, then, that Berlin-politics X (formerly Twitter) lit up when a new podcast, BerlinsideOut, launched last year. Taking inspiration from Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s use of the word Zeitenwende (turning point) to describe the tectonic shift in the status quo occasioned by the invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, BerlinsideOut is an unashamedly nerdy deep-dive into the politics and policy that contributed to, and resulted from, this political sea-change in Germany and Europe.
Germany has a lot going for it compared to other countries, but it can be tremendously dysfunctional as well
In each episode, hosts Benjamin Tallis and Aaron Gasch Burnett (plus an array of well-connected political commentators, policy wonks and journalists) take on behemoth issues such as Germany’s energy and security strategy, and its relationship with the Baltic Sea countries. “The idea is to give people living here a chance to understand this insider world of politics from within the foreign policy bubble, in a way we hope doesn’t dumb things down,” explains Tallis. “But also, to give Germans a clearer idea of how they and their policies are seen around the world.”
The concept for the podcast grew out of a friendship that started on X and was sealed over beers at a fundraiser for Ukraine hosted by the BRLO brewery. Gasch Burnett, a German-Canadian journalist, is a long hauler who first moved to Berlin some 12 years ago to connect with his German heritage and live in “a free place where you could be fabulous and gay”.
British-born Tallis is newer to the city, having moved here just over three years ago. During his two decades working across Europe in security and foreign policy fields, he’s advised governments and run security missions in the Balkans and Ukraine – which surely makes his current post as senior research fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) somewhat tame? Not at all, says Tallis. “Politically, Berlin is the place to be right now if you want to make a difference, because things are really undecided. The country’s future direction is in the balance in so many ways.”
BerlinsideOut is Tallis and Gasch Burnett’s attempt to tip the scales. Despite its good-natured tone and academic air, the show is shot through with urgency and a certain impatience regarding what they see as Germany’s heel-dragging on actual policy change as opposed to rhetoric.
“Germany has a lot going for it compared to other countries, but it can be tremendously dysfunctional as well, especially when it comes to foreign policy,” says Gasch Burnett. “[Our frustration] is shared by many of Germany’s allies,” adds Tallis. “They know the difference the third largest economy in the world could make, in terms of defending democracy, of defending Europe, but also in terms of securing our own future.”
Both are familiar with below-the-belt accusations of Germany-bashing when they write opinion pieces or take to X (where Tallis’s posts prompt hundreds of comments as well as thousands of likes). They were prepared for more of the same when the podcast aired – and racked up multiple thousands of listens in the first week alone – but to their surprise, reactions have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
Roughly half of their listeners tune in from Germany, the rest from all over the globe (“Although not too many from Russia, funnily enough,” says Tallis) and they hear from a lot of think-tankers, academics and policy experts, both here and abroad. “Without revealing too much,” says Gasch Burnett, “we do know that there are people in certain German ministries who’ve listened and find it really informative to understand how the country is perceived from outside.”
The idea is to give people living here a chance to understand this insider world of politics from within the foreign policy bubble
Yet just as important to the pair are those arriving at BerlinsideOut in a state of enthusiastic ignorance. “What matters is not expertise,” says Gasch Burnett. “What matters is wanting to know more, wanting to do more because you think you should. Those are exactly the kind of people we hope to reach.” Tallis is also optimistic: “The surge in demand for quality analysis and information among the public since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine has been one of the most positive things we can take out of the last two years.” If you haven’t already tuned in, let this be your turning point.
- BerlinsideOut is available wherever you get your podcasts