Winner: YTI Essay Competition 2021

We’d like to congratulate Mr. Vladimir Stosic on winning the YTI Essay Competition 2021! The essay contest was held by the Young Transatlantic Initiative, a non-profit organization that is committed to fostering stronger cooperation between the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States of America. Mr. Stosic chose the topic “Rethinking Cyber Strategies: How Transatlantic Cooperation can be utilized to combat Cyber Threats.”

Cyber Achilles? On the Importance of Undersea-Cables in the 21st Century

by Vladimir Stosic

Among those photos, which were sent from Europe across the Atlantic to the USA on July 23, 1962 as the first intercontinental television signal by means of the TELSTAR satellite, is an image of the Beli Anđeo (English: White Angel) from the Serbian Orthodox monastery of Mileševa in Serbia. The White Angel is a 13th century fresco depicting a young man dressed in white -an angel – and the women who came to the tomb of Jesus Christ on Easter morning to anoint him. It was meant to be a message of peace between the old and new world. If one thinks about transatlantic cyber security today, two developments are surprising: First, satellite has not been able to establish itself as the main medium of international data traffic -95% of international data traffic runs over undersea cables. And second, discussions about cyber security are narrowing down to mostly autocratic regimes that want to manipulatively gain interpretive sovereignty over certain political actors or campaigns before and during elections, or around the involvement of the Chinese company Huawei in 5G expansion.

It is those undersea cables that represent a critical infrastructure in the field of cybersecurity. Undersea cables, according to the thesis of this essay, represent the digital Achilles heel of transatlantic security in the 21st century. Undersea cables are an understudied area of international relations. 97% of international data traffic and $10 trillion in daily financial transactions pass through undersea cables that span 1.2 million kilometers. (1) Undersea cables are critical infrastructure, because nearly every communication passes over them; from business contracting to scientific publications to government business.

Three trends are causing undersea cables to receive increased attention. First, authoritarian states are reshaping the physical Internet layout through companies that control infrastructure elements to better direct data, control data bottlenecks, and thus more easily spy on data. (2) Second, more and more companies are using the system of remote management, which is poorly secured and accordingly pose an increased risk of cybersecurity. (3) Third, the increase of cloud computing has increased the volume as well as the sensitivity of data. (4)

These three trends prompt a rethinking of transatlantic cybersecurity and a focus on undersea cables. It is not that the geostrategic relevance of undersea cables is entirely overlooked. However, the way in which critical infrastructure can be cast into an overall strategy in the transatlantic discourse on cybersecurity leaves some questions unanswered. Other actors are better positioned to do so. For example, cybersecurity seems to be a top priority in Russia: meetings between President Vladimir Putin and Mikhail Oseyevsky, president of Rostelecom, to exchange views on the pressing issues of undersea cable development potential are not uncommon. In the recent past, Russian submarines have been located in the Atlantic Ocean near undersea cables. (5)

And the People’s Republic of China also weights the issues surrounding security in cyberspace differently than the transatlantic players. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) -a maritime and terrestrial infrastructure project launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013 -also includes the Digital Silk Road (DSR) announced in 2015. In addition to the development and expansion of intercontinental economic sectors by the People’s Republic, digital projects are also being specifically pursued. The Chinese company Huawei is often in the spotlight. To stay with the case study of Serbia mentioned in the introduction, a smart city project is being set up in Belgrade using around 1000 Huawei-brand facial recognition cameras. (6)

Probably the most striking example of a Chinese undersea cable project is the Pakistan East Africa Connecting Europe (PEACE) project: starting in China, it is to run via Pakistan and the Strait of Hormuz to Djibouti and through the Bab-al-Mandab and the Suez Canal to Marseille, France. The interlocking of economic and military projects of the People’s Republic of China is particularly striking. In Gwadar, Pakistan, and in Djibouti, the People’s Republic of China maintains military bases that can provide military protection for the landing stations of the undersea cables. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that the Strait of Hormuz has been used by China, together with Russia and Iran, for joint naval exercises since 2018. The merging of geostrategic and geoeconomic components illustrates that the People’s Republic of China is taking a holistic approach: The critical infrastructure mandatory for China in order to rise economically is being accompanied militarily to ensure the long-term nature of its development.

And what about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU)? NATO has recently increased its emphasis on the relevance of undersea cables. For example, at a press conference in the fall of 2020, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized the importance of undersea cables to the Alliance’s deterrence, defense, and resilience. (7) And the communiqué from NATO’s Brussels Summit on June 14, 2021, also includes the following note: “We will maintain awareness of any potential threats to our critical undersea infrastructure and will continue to address them nationally and, where needed, collectively.” (8) And a similar realization seems to have taken place at the EU. In her State of the Union Address on September 15, 2021, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a connectivity strategy as a counter-model to China’s BRI with the “Global Gateway.”(9) Nevertheless, one looks in vain for concrete plans for action by the EU on the issue of undersea cables.

The growing attention regarding undersea cables is a positive development. But regarding the relevance of undersea cables for the prosperity and economy of the U.S. and Europe, one misses a coherent transatlantic strategy that includes critical infrastructure. So how can transatlantic cooperation for resilient transatlantic cybersecurity be operationalized?

The first step of such a transatlantic cybersecurity strategy could imply the continuous exchange of information on undersea cables between the U.S. and EU. For example, the U.S. and the U.K. could join France and Germany in regular meetings to initiate an exchange of information on undersea cables. This could also include possible cooperation opportunities and joint fleet exercises to maintain and secure undersea cables and their landing stations.

A second step could be to ensure high safety standards for undersea cables: By setting standards regarding the security of landing stations in coastal regions, the EU can make a sustainable contribution to securing the infrastructure, especially through its regulatory power for the member states.(10

Third, transatlantic actors could advocate for legal protections for undersea cables. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) does not prohibit states from considering undersea cables as legitimate wartime targets.11 International legal cover under the UN would be profitable for all actors, regardless of their different interests. The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China can also have no interest in enormous economic damage and interdiction of communications caused by destroyed cables.

The current situation reveals how vulnerable transatlantic security is. It is to be welcomed that attention around critical infrastructure is increasing even if there is still no talk of a holistic strategy between the transatlantic players. Military-civilian protection of undersea cables within the institutional framework of NATO and the EU can be used as a first step toward legalization within the UN framework. Whether attacking undersea cables in the context of war will be prohibited within the UN framework also depends on Russia and China.

(1) Colombo, Matteo/ Solfrini, Federico/ Varvelli, Arturo (2021): Network Effects: Europe’s Digital Sovereignity in the Mediterranean, European Council on Foreign Relations, Policy Brief, p.2

(2) Sherman, Justin (2021): Cyber Defense Across the Ocean Floor. The Geopolitics of Submarine Cable Security, Atlantic Council, p.1

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Roblin, Sebastien (2020): Russian Submarines Could Be Tampering With Undersea Cables That Make the Internet Work, The National Interest: undersea-cables-make-internet-work-169587

(6) Gomez, Julian (2021): Should citizens in Belgrade be concerned by newly installed surveillance cameras?, Euronews, surveillance-cameras

(7) North Atlantic Treaty Organization (2020): Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, 22. Oct. 2020,

(8) North Atlantic Treaty Organization (2021): Brussels Summit Communiqué, Press Realese (2021) 086, 14. Jun. 2021, para 10

(9) European Commission (2021): 2021 State of the Union Address by President von der Leyen, 15. Sept. 2021,

(10) Morcos, Pierre/ Wall, Collin (2021): Invisible and Vital: Undersea Cables and Transatlantic Security, in: Center for Strategic & International Studies, transatlantic-security

(11) Sunak, Rishi (2017): Undersea Cables. Indispensible, insecure, in: Policy Exchange, p.17

Word of the Week: Luftikus


A masculine noun coined by students in the 19th century from the word air (“Luft”) and by adding the Latin ending -kus. Originally used to describe an airhead, i.e., a carefree man with his head in the clouds. In English one might equate it with someone who is featherbrained or a dreamer. Don’t you know someone who doesn’t quite seem to live in reality or just isn’t very grounded?

Today the meaning has shifted to describe somebody who is reckless, unreliable and superficial. It certainly seems to have a negative connotation to it. Phrases such as “she realized quickly what a Luftikus he was” are very common in today’s conversations among German speakers.


On the other hand, it can also be used to describe an eccentric person, an oddball or crack pot. A happy-go-lucky character who just wants to have fun.

Do you have a face pop up in your head right about now?



By Regine Poirier, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Treppenwitz


The “staircase joke” or “staircase wit” possibly gets its name from the witty retort or clever comeback that comes to mind when you are on your way out, walking down the stairs following a situation, i.e. after it’s too late.

We’ve all experienced a situation where a snappy response fails us in the heat of the moment, but only pops up after the fact or perhaps later in the day or on the way home. It’s known as the Treppenwitz phenomena.

The term originated from the French expression “l’esprit de l’escalier,” which translates to “staircase joke” as well. It was made popular in Germany by the author William Lewis Hertslet in his book titled Der Treppenwitz der Weltgeschichte (“The Staircase Joke of World History”). In the book, published in 1882, the author writes about tragic ironies of historical events.

Today, the term Treppenwitz is used in German to describe a silly joke, an irony of fate, or inappropriate, silly behavior.


By Regine Poirier, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Kummerspeck


Many of us seem to believe that food is a solution to our problems. We have all seen the romantic comedies with someone heartbroken sitting on the sofa drowning their sorrows in ice cream, chocolate or other unhealthy foods. The sugar might ease the current pain temporarily, but the so-called Kummerspeck will most likely stay with us a bit longer. The compound noun has no direct translation but loosely means “grief bacon” or “sorrow bacon”.

Kummerspeck is the word Germans use to describe the extra weight someone gains after excessive overeating caused by heartbreak, grief or sorrow. Many people turn to eating after a period of stress or boredom as well. It is a general word used to explain the extra weight gained after a time of comfort eating due to unhappiness or depression.


Studies have shown that eating foods with saturated fats can help fight negative emotions temporarily. Hormones in our stomach communicate with our brain influencing our mental state. So, the short-term positive effects of numbing our feelings are possibly not just our imagination?

By Regine Poirier, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Innerer Schweinehund


Do you know the feeling of laziness that just keeps you from reaching your goals? The lack of motivation, will power or the force inside us that makes us stay passive when action seems risky or uncomfortable? Germans would call this their Innerer Schweinehund, their “inner pig dog”.


Originally used to describe the dog that hunts boars and later used by students in the 19th century as an insult to describe someone who behaves unethically or breaks the rules, the word has certainly shifted its meaning again to what it is today: the inner voice of procrastination that stops us from being our best selves. There are many tips on how to overcome that inner demon, such as finding a personal motivation, creating a concrete plan, writing down your goals and starting immediately. Having someone by your side with a similar goal might help as well. The ultimate reward is certainly worth it.

So, get off the couch, get over your innerer Schweinehund as we say in German and do something great today!

By Regine Poirier, German Embassy

Day of Germany Unity 2021 – Celebrate with us!

On October 3, we celebrate the Day of German Unity: Thirty-one years ago, East and West Germany were reunited. The United States played a major role on the road to reunification. We thank the American people for their steadfast support.

We have put together an exciting program to commemorate this momentous day in our shared history, so please join with us as we virtually celebrate the Day of German Unity!

Watch our exclusive video highlighting the vibrant German-American friendship.


Germany is a country with an abundance of beauty, wonder and inspiration. Have a look and visit us!


Discover the moving story of East German escapee Sabine Braun.

There is more to discover on our website: Listen to a message from German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas; learn about Germany’s foreign policy; be inspired by Beethoven’s Prometheus Overture; and much more!

Click here to continue the celebration on our website!

Word of the Week: Katzenjammer


Katzenjammer literally means “cat yowling or wailing” and is certainly not a pleasant sound. If you’ve ever heard a cat yowling during mating season, you may know what we mean. Many would say it sounds more like discordant music.

The word’s origin is somewhat ambiguous. However, many believe it was used during the second half of the 18th century among university students to describe the discomfort and ill feeling after a wild night of partying and excessive drinking, otherwise known as a hangover. Since the 19th century, it is also known as a general term to describe regret, disgruntlement, or misery. Some Germans even use the word to describe an uproar or bewilderment.


The word is sometimes used in English as well. Have you ever heard someone say, “I recommend you take some aspirin for your Katzenjammer,” “I do hope your Katzenjammer has gotten a bit better since last night,” or “the speech last night caused an outright Katzenjammer.”? The word is not as popular today as it was in the mid-20th century, but you can still find it in the English dictionary.

By Regine Poirier, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Mutterschutz

Maternity Leave concept ©Colourbox

Mutterschutz is the German term for maternity protection or maternity leave.  Mutterschutz in Germany is based on the Mutterschutzgesetz (Act on the Protection of Working Mothers) which provides for paid leave four weeks before and eight weeks after the birth of a new child. If you are expecting multiples or have a premature birth, the time period extends to 12 weeks.

Pregnant woman is walking in the city or make shopping. Maternity leave. Fashion and pregnancy. Urban lifestyle. ©Colourbox

Mothers in Germany also enjoy protection from being terminated during their pregnancy and up to four months after giving birth. Furthermore, each parent is entitled to stay at home for the purpose of raising the child without pay for up to three years.

We are thrilled that one of our colleagues has been able to enter Mutterschutz recently and we can’t wait to see the new arrival in a few weeks. We wish her all the best for the coming weeks and months.

By German Embassy 

The Bastei: a German rock formation worth visiting

If you’re looking for a travel destination with jaw-dropping views, add The Bastei to your bucket list. This rock formation stands 636 feet above the Elbe River in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, southeast of Dresden.

What makes this majestic rock formation even more spectacular is a wooden bridge that connects several of these rocks together. Visitors have been walking across the bridge since it was constructed in 1824 (and replaced by a sandstone version in 1851).

From the 12th to the 15th century, a fortress known as the Felsenburg Neurathen stood by the rock formations. This fortress, however, was burned down by an opposing army in 1484 and there is little left of it to see.

In 1801, tour guide Carl Heinrich Nicolai perfectly described the rock formation from one of its lookout points:

“What depth of feeling it pours into the soul! You can stand here for a long time without being finished with it (…) it is so difficult to tear yourself away from this spot.”

The rock formations have impressed so many people that The Bastei was even the location for Germany’s very first landscape photographs, taken by photographer Hermann Krone in 1853.

The Bastei continues to draw in tourists today, as it has done for centuries!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Plattenbau

Plattenbau. ©colourbox

If you’ve ever visited East Germany during the Cold War, you probably saw a lot of grey, cheaply-built apartment buildings that might have made you feel depressed. This sort of building is what Germans referred to as Plattenbau – a structure made up of prefabricated concrete slabs. Basically, an inexpensive structure with little originality.

In this context, Platte means “concrete slab” and Bau means “building.” World War II had left many parts of Germany damaged and in need of reconstruction. By the 1960s, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was struggling financially, and most of its new apartment buildings were therefore built in the Plattenbau style. There were several different designs, varying in size and height, but overall each one was made up of concrete panels.

Concrete slabs. ©colourbox

The Plattenbau design made it possible for the GDR to rapidly build new apartments across the country. GDR architects claimed to base their construction on the world-renowned Bauhaus style. Indeed, the Plattenbau was a functional concept, but lacked aesthetic qualities. At first, East Germans were excited about their new homes; many young people wanted to move out of their parents’ apartments to receive a Plattenbau-style apartment of their own, because at a minimum, they had central heating. But after the wall came down in 1989, things changed; East Germans saw the higher-quality homes of the West, and few remained content with their Plattenbau apartments. They sought out homes exhibiting greater originality in their design.

Over time, many of these buildings were modernized. Some were demolished. Others remain occupied, but are often a cheaper alternative to Western-style buildings. But if you visit cities in former East Germany today, you will probably see at least one Plattenbau. You’ll know it when you see it.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy