Prime Minister Bill English has left Berlin on his homewards journey from Europe with some idea of why former Prime Minister John Key used to describe himself jokingly as a "junior world leader".

It is a reference to New Zealand's size, but it may as well also be a reference to New Zealand's problems.

And if English thought he had problems, he discovered by the time he left Berlin early this morning that they were very junior problems indeed.

As English traipsed around Europe taking great care not to tread on the tangled mess of sensitivities caused by Brexit, a senior world leader - US President-elect Donald Trump - was showing no such compunction.


The newspapers and television networks in Germany were full of Trump's verdict of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

His verdict was that her policy on Syrian refugees was "catastrophic," that the EU had become a vehicle for Germany, and that Brexit was a wondrous thing.

So a visit from the steady, measured Bill English to German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the grand Chancellery on a wintry Berlin morning was probably a wee bit of balm for her soul.

Some of the landmines on English's first foray into the world of diplomacy were painted in neon. Trump was one of them.

English managed to avoid saying anything meaningful about Trump, beyond observing New Zealand was low on Trump's list of priorities and he did not expect to be the subject of a Trump tweet anytime soon. He did not even add that he would prefer it to stay that way.

Other landmines were not so easily detectable for a new Prime Minister on the diplomatic circuit - but nor did they really matter.

English apparently mistook a fish dish for mashed potato at Theresa May's and forgot what he ate within an hour of his lunch.

Nor did he learn his lesson. Asked what he ate at a lunch with Merkel three days later, all he could recall was asparagus and "some meat". He was not sure what type, but declared it was medium rare.


It was nonetheless an impressive showing especially at a time when the northern hemisphere is so wrapped up in its own problems.

He secured meetings with all the big wigs - from the three European Union presidents to May and Merkel.

He managed to put up a convincing case for New Zealand.

And he managed to get through it without insulting either side of the Brexit war.