The new German Mentality: "Include me Out, please!"

Posted in Europe | 04-Mar-04 | Author: Herbert Kremp

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Most Germans do not want any alterations or real reforms: "Include me out, please!"
You can define Germany by its TV-advertisements. The subject of one of them is a well known coffee brand. A motor-boat moors alongside a yacht. A young lady, framed by admirers, sits down on the sun deck. She takes a sip. Somebody asks her what she would wish for herself. And she says that everything should remain as it is.

In his recently published book “The Third Republic” the political scientist Hans Jörg Hennecke describes German answers, like that of the lady, as “isolationist negations of emergencies”. Indeed, nobody wants alterations (for himself) whatever may come. This desire may seem extraterrestrial, but it was and it still is a basic element of the German condition, also the claim of a prerogative or of a “wellness standard” to use a word on the height of our idiomatic time flow.

Since the division of power in our main reigning party, three weeks ago, we now know that the impetus of reforms has been broken. It´s two weeks since we know that nobody has a good word to say about the ersatz-ideas of innovations and élite fostering. We also know, since the end of last week, that the longed for reform-ersatz which is hoped to help save everything old ,as an indicator of the commercial climate and its recovery, is going down again. We even know the reasons: the reforms were nothing but partial repairs of the old structural model, the tax relief has effected nothing on balance, and the Euro is so harmfully strong because the Dollar is sick at heart. This is an emergency!

Yet, it has been ignored for a long time, for decades. If you want to sound out the German calamity you have to delve into the archaeology of the Federal Republic. On a shaft floor which is 50 years old, you will find a national dictionary of mentality which lists the following directives and epigrams in red and black:

Consensus; fair division of wealth, “so that the Germans don´t become evil again”; peace for the whole world from German territory; how to avoid the danger of disturbances through alterations; then a word of the poet Jean Giraudoux: “We want eternal security. We wish for centuries of security, to go in security to the end of the world and to the last judgement”. Finally: “If we wish that everything remains as it is, then everything has to change necessarily” – underneath in small print: “This apercu from Lampedusa´s `Lepard` is to be omitted from the next edition of the dictionary because of ambiguity.”

Let´s leaf a bit further through the dictionary. Having ascended a few landings we will find new entries, for instance: democratisation of the German society, internal equality, external détente, reforms in the sense of higher spendings and increasing the civil service; Third World and the emancipation of women; education for everybody, but on the premise that everybody is included. It doesn´t need explanation: We are today in the dialectic phase of the Bonn Republic, we read Willy Brandt´s word “compassion” with the world in the sense of the Socialist International and out of the desire to come to terms with our past.

Dr. Herbert Kremp: The German Star Journalist and Commentator speaks out
If we now step from the shaft of the German mentality into the present time, in which Hans Jörg Hennecke sees the arrival of the “Third German Republic” (after those of Weimar and Bonn), we find in our dictionary all the words again which we have met in the previous editions. The Germans, though united, have remained true to themselves. The costly flow of their life concepts has not changed although circumstances and environment have become very different. What then does “Third Republic” mean, if the mentality and the actionable claims of prerogatives are still the same?

Well, the idiomatic picture shows nuances. In the topical dictionary we find words like globalisation, transfer payments, missions abroad, European constitution, EU expansion; furtheron “Chefsache”, “Basta”, Muslims, islamistic subversions or some Turkish entries in the original language – all of them things which sound partially new and partially just new in tone; they are only familiar to a few. One might say, that they sidestep the interests and the habitual welfare wishes of the citizen, because they are foreign to his mentality.

The resulting anger is accompanied by the exasperation especially about the formerly highly praised word reform, the meaning of which has been perverted into its sheer contradiction. The synonym for benefits turned out to be organised confiscation, reductions of old age pensions, of health services and subsidies – an ice cold adjustment of costs. The opinion researchers signal estrangement. In their mirror the Third Republic appears as a highwayman, as a trickster who dismisses the social philosophy of the old republic, this morally garnished social distribution system, with a sneering fiscal pragmatism, and even ploughs it into the ground.

Every citizen feels that the state has to be renewed from top to bottom if it is to withstand the monsters of the 21st century. Globalisation in the wake of the freedom of capital transfers, terrorism and environmental catastrophes which according to an analysis of the Pentagon could cause medieval unrests and wars –this wild rouge et noir can not be answered by the promises of the dictionary of German freedom from worries. The challenge demands a leading idea, like at the times of the Prussian reforms, a leading culture, a creative risk.

This is what the Third Republic does not have to offer at all. Germany´s arrest is grounded on a deep mental crisis. While the hand of the international time clock circles mercilessly, the German political class dances its archaic waltz, to the left, to the right, sadly handing out waves instead of good money like in former times. Those born in peace govern the republic for the first time, biographically tired too soon. Under thousand Watt bulbs and cameras in the Berlin Hall of Mirrors, they rebel once against the US, once against the EU, and they stop their innovation reforms because the party milieu, untouched by the charisma of the idea, does not pull along. In their hearts, one might think, they have lost all joy in their country – and they never loved it anyway.

This lies like a low cloud over Germany. With some irony, one can only think of the ´bonmot` of the economist Schumpeter whom Hennecke quotes. Schumpeter compares the democratic politician with a horse rider who is so occupied with his efforts of staying in the saddle that he cannot make any plans for his ride. The question is: Where will this German ride end?