Why I'm Ending My Boycott of German Cars

I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the concept. In particular, I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of sending my children into a dormant (not, it should be noted, extinct, but merely dormant) volcano in a window-washer’s basket. Thrihnukagigur is not Bardarbunga, the volcano that is currently rumbling under Iceland's largest ice cap, but it ain't beanbag either.

On the three-mile walk to the volcano—through a desolate and lovely lava field—I asked a guide to explain the volcano elevator in detail. She said the process is simple: We strap you into a harness, and then you walk across a plank over the mouth of the volcano to the window-washer’s basket. You climb down into the basket (it holds six people) and then the basket motorman lowers you 400 feet to the floor of the volcano.

Does it ever break? I asked.

No, she said. “It’s a German engine. Very reliable.”

A German engine! They weren’t screwing around at this volcano! I was about to entrust the lives of my children to a window-washer’s basket dangling over the mouth of a volcano, and I was beyond pleased to learn that this machine was German. To my surprise, "German engine" brought to mind at that moment happy images of fastidious Bavarians in white coveralls, instead of the usual, which is to say, Himmler.

This is the moment I told myself that my boycott might have reached its natural conclusion. I was ready for a push anyway, but now, since the words “German engine” were filling me with hope and relief, then perhaps the car I use to transport my children should be powered by one.

The engine worked as promised, the basket was lowered successfully into the cold, empty chamber—which is beautiful and awe-inspiring and freezing—and more important, the basket brought us up 45 minutes later. It was actually quite thrilling, but there was no one to talk to about it on the long, lonely walk back through the lava field (I’m one of those people who overshares putatively interesting travel experiences with strangers—good luck sitting next to me on a long flight). Luckily, midway through the walk, a small group of tourists appeared in the distance—the next wave of volcano virgins. We were on a narrow path, and as the line of tourists passed us, I scanned their faces, looking for someone who might want to hear my excitement. Luckily, I found one.

“Mike Froman?” I said. One of the tourists was United States Trade Representative Mike Froman. That’s what I said to my kids—“Kids, it’s United States Trade Representative Mike Froman.” Mike was surprised to see me as well, because we were in a lava field in Iceland. No place is safe from the press.

When we got back to Reykjavik, I said to my wife, “Mike Froman, huh?" And then I said, "I was very glad it was a German engine. Weren’t you?”


“It’s funny. I was so happy that our Jewish children were going to be protected by a German engine. How’s that for irony?”

“Ironic,” she said, not ceding an inch.

I have two missions before me: Convince her that the boycott is over, and then find a way to actually pay for a BMW.

I’m hoping that United States Trade Representative Mike Froman might be able to help me find a deal. 

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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