What is going on in Germany? About politics, immigrants, a fading democracy and a changing nation

German winter landscape

There is, of course, no single correct interpretation of what is going on in Germany today. It all depends on your point of view. What, however, is clear beyond much doubt is that there is a divide between the published opinion of the people, and that what a majority of citizens are actually thinking. That is a problem, because it badly undermines democracy. It also leads to people in other countries assuming incorrect things about German views on the so-called ‘refugee crisis’.

I work as a general practitioner in medicine, and thus have contact with many people from many different groups of society. These people speak their minds to me in a way they otherwise might not. As a general rule, Germans are mostly uneasy about openly voicing their opinions, at least when their views do not coincide with the official mainstream. They have been brought up this way by politics, by the media, by schools and universities. In some way, it is the consequence of German history. In the aftermath of the terrible fascist regime, a moral system of control and self-control was imposed in the years after the war, and understandably so, and it continues to exist right to the present day.

But its roots go further back than that, perhaps right to the time when reformist Martin Luther openly supported the murderous suppression of uprising peasants. What these people had done at that time was basically demand democratic participation. Unfortunately, most of them were killed by those in power, which probably left its scars on society. Centuries later, in the time of the cold war, ideals of open participation were, at least in the Western part of the country, supposedly held high by a vocal youth and an academic elite, but this was not that difficult in a thriving post-war-economy and as a welcomed showcase for opposing a totalitarian Eastern Bloc.

Today, as a follow-up to all that, everything is about being politically correct. Unfortunately, this is basically also an easy way for discarding and thus oppressing those parts of public opinion which might otherwise harm the economic interests of the super rich. Germany has become a post-democratic country, and many people feel exactly that way. Those that say it out loudly and openly are ridiculed and pressurised by those who otherwise advocate tolerance, and it is happening daily in public and private media and on the internet, probably more so than in other free Western countries.

What people really feel

From my own observations, far more than half of the population are not only critical, but fearful and angry about the millions of immigrants, or refugees, if you adopt the official diction, that are right now crossing the basically unguarded borders into the EU and into Germany, while the politicians they voted for refrain from intervening, or even just listening, in any meaningful way.

We are talking about more than a million people, each year, just coming to Germany. This has already been happening for years regarding those immigrating from other EU-countries, including countries once belonging to the Eastern Bloc, which usually offer far lower salaries than Germany, but that is a slightly different matter, with many cultural roots quite closely intertwined. Still, even then no German was ever asked for his opinion on this important matter. I wonder why.

But now, people are coming from countries economically and culturally far more removed than ever before. Most of these people have no plans of ever going back, and many will in the near future legally fetch several of their family members, thus leading to a probable number of new inhabitants of more than ten million, in the next five years alone. Thanks to the miracle of procreation, these numbers will only explode upwards from there. Germany, already one of the most densely populated countries in the world, has about eighty million inhabitants, but many of these are old age pensioners. The number of people working and thus actually enhancing the gross domestic product is far lower.

When it comes to the new immigrants, these are overwhelmingly people below the age of forty. But most of them have almost no education according to any Western standard, and thus it will be a basically unsolvable challenge of putting all these people into meaningful work in an economy with already millions of unemployed.

The largest group of those already now taking the biggest share out of the social systems are the immigrants of yesterday, and their children. This is a fact, even if an uncomfortable one. On the whole, the immigrants of today and tomorrow will be costing the working people in Germany more money in the next few decades than they will ever be able to give back. Still, they are very useful for some, and that is important to understand.

Who is profiting

For one, all these new people need a place in which they can live. They need food, they need clothes and they need medicine. Do you get my drift? The rich people who make, or own, or somehow offer this are making a hell of a buck, right now, and increasingly so. It’s a huge industry, and because it can claim it is doing something good, it is very hard to criticise openly. I wouldn’t even say this is primarily benefiting rich Germans. It’s just rich people, wherever they live, somehow invested in companies that are holding out their hands for taxpayers money to get these people looked after.

Of course, quite a few of the immigrants will work, and they will work hard. They will also work for very little money, which will lead to everyone else who does not want to work for the same meagre salary in not getting a job at all, at least if they’re not vastly more qualified.

So you could say, the really rich are one group of people who actually rather welcome what is going on, but only because they can afford to live in exclusive communities, send their children to expensive private schools and basically have more money than they could ever need to alleviate the problems arising from an unequal society. Sounds like the United States of America? Well, what a surprise.

You know, it’s important to realise that Germany, like many other countries in Western Europe, was only a very few decades ago one of the most equal, fair and caring societies in the world. Back then, when we still had the Deutschmark and thus control over our own currency, a large number of people could get along on one salary alone, and could still afford to have kids, a house and go on holidays several times a year. Cities were full of people actually speaking the same language and sharing the same culture.

All that has changed. It’s not that the Germans ever were the kindest people in the world. They were ambitious and clever, and that is something that many people in the world admired. Still, Germans also tended to push forwards in queues and were never able to laugh about themselves very well. You could say they were always afraid of being left out and not getting their share of whatever. The thing is, now they really have every right to feel exactly that way.

The rise of neoliberalism

It all started about two decades ago, as neoliberalism began to sweep over the country in the aftermath of German reunification. State funds were being spent in huge amounts on getting the East of Germany up to standards, but rather than strengthening the local economy, mostly some big West German companies were profiting. What was still left of the productive industry was sold for a pittance. In the whole of Germany, former state companies and infrastructure were getting privatised at an enormous speed, but the tax-financed investments of earlier days for a long time kept many things running like a clockwork.

Some years later, the Euro came to replace the Deutschmark, and with it, mostly unnoticed, Germany lost control of its core financial levers. Then, politics and lobbyists hand in hand paved the way for a deregulation of the labour markets, of insurances and of financial services, on a big scale. Great amounts of savings landed in the private pockets of a few people, usually offering little security in return. And then, oh so surprisingly, the so-called ‘financial crisis’ came, and politics decided on saving basically worthless banks with taxpayers’ money. And now, what started to go bad some years before is getting worse in the way of totally uncontrolled immigration.

Unless, of course, you ask one of the German ideologists. I would put these at about twenty per cent of German society, but what these people say is greatly amplified, and today more than ever. There are two reasons for this. For one, the rich people, who are basically making loads of money with what is going on, own most of the media, which is of course the same as everywhere else. They can thus decide who gets heard and who doesn’t.

Secondly, public media, state schools, state universities and political parties are basically cramped with left-winged opportunist ideologists, partly as a consequence of those vocal people from the post-war decades having made it to comfortable, tax-paid jobs later in their lives. I know this sounds harsh, but it pretty much is the best way to put it, and all else would be mincing words. For these ideologists, the agenda is all about equality, but in a very small-minded, old-communist-party style way, with a fair amount of petit-bourgeois envy as the icing on-top.

Ideologists and their agenda

For many of these ideologists today, the most important issues are things like introducing the symbols _ and * into the German language, in order to even out all those bad anti-feminist words that have been evilly suppressing so many for so long. Or putting up little plastic fences at the side of roads, so that frogs don’t get run over. Or returning beautiful English style parks to their ‘natural’ state by flooding them with water, so that rare birds can thrive there. Or in general, to just be extremely self-referential. Basically, it’s all the things that rich people in their parallel worlds don’t give a toss about, as the middle classes are carrying the costs of these basically self-serving people.

And of course, as these ideologists are so overwhelmingly good people, they are also overwhelmingly pro-immigration, without any kind of filter, selection or limit. A few of them actually are quite immaterialist, and quite a few have very little feeling for the culture and heritage they are living in, so for these there truly is no real impact they need to fear. Many of them don’t even really like the Germans, and thus they think: the less, the better.

And many of them, often being more idealistic than productive, are in their ways already accustomed to living off salaries that somehow magically come from the state. So these people don’t really have much of a moral problem with others also sharing a cake that they themselves didn’t bake. That is, at least as long as their own cake doesn’t get smaller. The thing is, it will in many cases, but many haven’t figured that one out yet, or they are in the happy situation of making sure that savings are made elsewhere, and not on their own front porch, this basically being the case for all politicians in Berlin and Brussels, and for all of their families, too. And then there is that thing called envy, but many less well off ideologists would never openly acknowledge or probably even realise it exists. Basically, if they can’t have the bourgeois life, why should those elsewhere in the middle class?

Imagine all the people

But most of all, for these twenty per cent of German society, it is about the unifying dream that all people can both closely and peacefully live together, even if they are totally different ethnically, culturally, in their religion, their heritage, and in their respect and tolerance of other people. The trouble is, the opposite has always proven to be the case, and it probably always will. Birds of a feather flock together, and differences separate.

Even in a country like the USA, which is united by the agenda-setting of its overwhelming media consumption, its throw-away materialism and its pro-Americanism that is implanted from an early age onwards, this dream is only partially working in reality, and harsh divides cut through classes and nationalities, especially in the less affluent parts of society. Europe is so much different again, as it thrives by consisting of nations with very unique mentalities and cultures, but with a strong unification in moral and ethical values that have evolved over many centuries, even millenniums, basically rooted in the values of Christianity and the Roman way of life.

History has never shown that the dream of homogenous heterogeneity in a close space is a viable one, and it has lastly always lead to segregation, to parallel societies, and in some cases, to civil wars. Most people are egoistic, and in the end, it always boils down to Darwinism. The greater the differences, the greater the tensions. The fact is, the fittest and the most ruthless survive, gathering those culturally similar to themselves around them, with the cleverest at the top and the more aggressive and easy to manipulate somewhere below. With an unprecedented amount of immigration from people culturally as far apart as imaginable, all of what the European post-war Western societies had thought they had left behind will be coming back, and with a vengeance.

Now, please do understand me on this. I know that these are my personal opinions. Many people think differently about these things, but many, and I would say most, also think similarly to how I do. What a democracy needs is to fulfil two basic requirements: It must give people the ability to speak openly about what they think, while giving others the possibility to hear these opinions in an unbiased manner. And it must give people the ability to participate in converting these opinions to actual, meaningful decisions.

Let’s talk democracy

Both of these requirements are not being met in Germany today, at all. People cannot openly voice their concerns, and people are not allowed to vote on important choices concerning their own future. Germans did not vote on the introduction of the Euro, or on the saving of banks with their own money, or on the continuing privatisation of state assets, or on the constant enlargement of the EU towards the former Eastern Bloc, or on the uncontrolled influx of millions of immigrants from countries outside the EU. With such disregard for the opinions of the people, it is hard to feel Germany is still close to the ideal of a true democracy. Perhaps it never was, but it has never seemed less like that than today.

So what is going on in Germany? Well, if you ask me, Germany is heading towards a bleak future. On the outside, and much more so under the surface, it has changed considerably, and it is continuing to change, irreversibly, and for the worse. More people will start to voice their criticism, which will lead to more suppression of opinion. German culture, whatever that is, definitely its heritage, but probably most of all its equality and its freedom, will start to recede in the wake of a new, totalitarian and privatised type of politics, left and ideological on the outside, and brutally neoliberal on the inside.

What once defined Germany, its art and philosophy, its basis of values, and a once strong middle class, will slowly be swept away by corporate unification, materialism and consumerism, much as in other parts of this previously more diverse and more equal continent. In many ways, for Germany, and perhaps for the whole of Europe, the best times very probably lie in the past.

My views in German: http://nicht-mehr-mein-deutschland.de

The Harz, those little big mountains

When people think of Germany and the mountains, they usually think of the Alps, way down in the South, near the borders to Switzerland and Austria. There is, however, quite a passable lower mountain range much more in the middle of the country, expanding between the Southern part of Lower Saxony, the Western part of Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia, called the Harz. Its highest peak, the Brocken, reaches up to 1141 meters, or 3744 feet, and it is quite possible to go hiking here from spring to autumn, and skiing in the winter, even if it is not comparable to Alpine experiences.

Vegetation mostly consists of coniferous trees, with many regions lying above 500 meters. Mining once was an important source of income, as was and is forestry, but today more than in earlier times it is tourism, including walking and winter-sports. Many of the towns, with their houses with wooden or slate exteriors, expel a slightly musty odour, as do the cafés and restaurants, including their interior and sometimes the food they serve. But those not looking for nightlife, but rather for solitary nature experiences, will find their joy on the many extensive walking trails, among them the Harzer Hexenstieg, partly leading along old water ducts, and on the European long distance path E6.

The large water reservoirs in the Harz, around twenty in all, are used for drinking water as well as for hydro-electricity. They are of very different sizes, but offer some splendid views to the passing traveller, be it by car, by motor-bike or on foot. For a trip for the weekend, the Harz is always a region worth its while.

Water. Trees. Solitude.

Water. Trees. Solitude.

A few interesting facts you might not know about Germans

There are clichés about every nation, and many of these contain at least a grain of truth. Here are some of those clichés about Germans, or some of those grains. As you like it.

Germans usually say what they think. This can be really great at times, and really insulting at other times. Not all Germans take criticism as well as they hand it out, though.

Germans are not naturally polite. Stop to let a car pass on a road, and if you by law were required to do this anyway, mostly the driver will not thank you. It is taken for granted. Likewise, only if someone was very clearly interfering with somebody else, is ‘sorry’ seen as a necessary word. Simply pushing past to join the front of the queue is not enough of a reason.

Germans tend to stare. Figure someone dropping something, or a person slipping on the pavement, or an accident on a road. Most Germans would simply stare patiently or drive past slowly, while a few would actually help.

Germans in fact do have a sense of humour. It varies in different parts of the country, but by laughing about somebody looking silly you can seldom go wrong. Self-humouring on the other hand is less appreciated.

Germans are often afraid of missing out. Although Germany is probably one of the countries with the highest standard of living worldwide, Germans are often enviously discontent with their status quo and forever strive to change this.

Germans like to follow authority. Call it fear, cowardice or opportunism, but many Germans like to conform and obey the system, and only dare to mumble quiet criticism of those above them. Thus any kind of opposition needs a large critical mass, but once this is reached, it can drive a dangerous dynamic.

Germans enjoy to clap rhythmically to music. Play a song to a German audience, anything a bit upbeat, and you will mostly get a predictable and sometimes misplaced response of everyone joining in with their hands. Those not participating are using their hands to hide their faces.

Germans want to show how well they are doing. Probably no nation spends more of its income on riding luxurious cars. While the quality of workmanship is praised, the fact that these are faster, look intimidating and seem to have an inbuilt right to drive close to the person in front may help.

Germans are everywhere. Go to the most northern tip of Scandinavia or to the most remote Asian island, and you are always bound to meet at least one nature-loving German called Stefan, Peter, Julia or Katrin.

Defining a German is becoming increasingly difficult. With a growing number of descendants of foreign workers and ex-Eastern-block immigrants living in Germany, it is quickly becoming futile to define Germans by anything else than their language, common culture and place of birth. The only problem is that the shared culture is not representative of any origin, but instead tends towards the lowest common denominator.

Germans cannot talk about the past or present without emotional polarisation. As not so many decades ago some really bad things happened in Germany, most Germans are not able to talk objectively about bad things happening today. They either feel guilty or are fed-up with feeling guilty. That is a shame, as many are actually quite well educated.

Germans appreciate to do things thoroughly. That can be good or bad, depending on what it is about.

Germans are being cheated by neoliberalism the same as people elsewhere. And just like people elsewhere, Germans are usually too brainwashed by media to notice it.

Germans enjoy to criticize their own. ‘Typically German’ is a phrase often used by Germans, about Germans. It usually entails one of the points mentioned above, but implies that the person making the statement is excluded due to his or her insight.

Germans are mostly just like people anywhere in the world. At the end of the day, they want to eat, drink, sleep, multiply and be happy.

Note the larger seagulls sitting closer to the water. It's called Darwinism.

Note the larger seagulls sitting closer to the water. It’s called Darwinism.

German bathroom appliances actually work

A recent visit to England once again confirmed my opinion of British bathroom technology. Flush the toilet, and quite often, apart from a rumbling and murmuring, nothing much happens. When it is the least suiting and most embarrassing, you have to pump, press and pray for that relieving gush of water to finally come. Reaching the washbasin, you are usually faced with two separate hot and cold water taps, thus being offered the choice between scorching your hands or not getting your fingers clean.

Taking a shower is even more complicated. Due to a Victorian age infrastructure, decades of privatisation with old, leaky water pipes never having been replaced, and a consequently widespread necessity for water-cisterns somewhere under the roof, a normal shower-pressure can only be achieved by sucking and pressurising the water with a pump. At the same instance it is also heated electrically. All this works at times, but can require a complicated setup of pulling switch-cords in the bathroom, fine-tuning several rotating knobs and pushing buttons not clearly labelled. All after which it is possible you achieve a mild flow that is fluctuating between too hot and too cold.

For a German, at least, this is confounding. For decades it has for us been the most normal thing to flush once, with the additional choice of long or short, so as to save water. Washing your hands, hot and cold is pre-mixed and adjustable before it reaches you. The same is true in the shower and bath, where some modern setups are in addition adjustable with a passively working thermostat. And even if styled in fancy pink or lush green, a rubber plug-on shower-head for the bathtub has in Germany simply been unthinkable for many years.

I can only imagine that there must be a mixture of ignorance on sides of the often little-travelled British buyer and a cartel- or oligopoly-like structure on sides of the producers that makes all this possible. Dreams of the old empire, with thinly gold-plated taps or flush knobs just can’t compensate when facing something that simply works.

Roaming the country, we have seen quality appliances in one or two ‘luxury’ bed and breakfasts, but even visiting a hotel is far from being any kind of guarantee. I am sure the more affluent people in England do not have these problems, but that once again goes to show what a class-divided society this is.

So here, at least, and quite clearly, German engineering wins against those echoes of a once innovating nation. While David Cameron’s heroic and Hugh-Grant-like speech may have evoked great emotions, in either direction, mind you, Ed Miliband may have been more right when he said: ‘Britain can do better than this.’ In the bathroom, for one, this should easily be true.

Most Germans at first think this is some kind of practical joke.

Most Germans at first think this is some kind of practical joke.

Walking the Red Wine Hiking Trail, along the river Ahr

The panoramic ‘Rotwein-Wanderweg’ trail spans along the valley of the river Ahr, not far from Bonn, the former capital that lies in the mid-western part of Germany. Many grapes for some good red wines grow along these sun-drenched hills that reach over about 35 kilometers. Roaming here, the view is onto the grape vines ahead, onto the dense woods along the opposite side of the valley, and down onto the wine growing villages reflecting the millennium-old influence of the Romans.

On a sunny day, and it is often sunny here, this is a beautiful walk. It is best to begin in the historic city of Ahrweiler, surrounded by the old town wall and in its centre mostly accessible by pedestrians, a touristic place, but still charming and full of relaxed hotels and lively restaurants. From Ahrweiler, a winding path leads up to a vineyard and thus onto the Red Wine Hiking Trail. Following the red grape symbol, you enjoy steadily changing views and pass some sweet restaurants on the way.

Be sure to take a plentiful supply of drinking water, for you will be walking for five or six hours. And make some stops along the way, sit on a bench and enjoy the landscape, this mixture of nature and culture that seems to have changed little for so many centuries. Rest anywhere but in the last town Altenahr itself, a place that has retained a non-existent charm of a recent past. Instead, take the train back to Ahrweiler, relive the long walk on the way back, and then enjoy a nice evening meal and a cool beer, or, to keep it original, a regional red wine. Either way, you have earned it.

This view onto Mayschoss looks like from another world. The volcanoes have not been active for a very long time.

This view onto Mayschoss looks like from another world. The volcanoes have not been active for a very long time.

Germany after the 2013 election, a prognosis

In September 2013, chancellor Angela Merkel and with her the ‘conservative’ CDU-party will win the German parliamentary election and continue the existing coalition with the self-proclaimed ‘liberal’ FDP party. If votes are particularly hung, Merkel will enter into a great coalition with the ‘labour’-SPD and their ill-fated Mr Steinbrück. Whatever happens, it will not make any difference at all. The big German parties, in this media controlled reality the only ones with any chance in politics, are in their basic ideas and ideals very similar, with differences more of a cosmetic kind, much the same as it is in the United States.

After the election, many changes that in their essence have been prepared for many years will more clearly materialise. As a consequence, some other things will dematerialise. For one, the value of the Euro in relation to other European currencies will, under the weight of immense debts, slowly start to slide, while in addition the general income of the people, under growing pressure from cheap former-eastern-block workers, will fall further. Thus, people will be even poorer when it comes to their actual purchasing power, especially anywhere outside the Euro-zone. To compensate this, the quality of products and services will have to and will fall.

Secondly, privatisation and euphemistically named public-private-partnerships will increase significantly. This will be particularly true in those sectors which so far have mostly retained state backing: Motorways and other major roads, bridges and tunnels, trains and tracks, hospitals and schools, prisons and security not essential to core state facilities, public parks and woods. The money for this will still be collected by the state, but it will be handed on to companies that promise to do the same work for less money while still retaining a profit and having to borrow at higher interest rates. Interesting concept, and one I have never understood.

While it is fair to say that the general German citizen, politician and non-politician alike, is brainwashed by media and sheepishly does what told, the amount of state and lobbyist propaganda will have to increase. When it comes to their gut, even conformed people are not stupid. I am not talking about Big Brother shouting down from the walls. That would be communism, which we luckily do not have in Germany. Here, we have capitalism, which is great, but unfortunately we have an increasingly unbalanced capitalism, which is not so great, and its extreme form really seems not very different from communism, at least when it comes to the view of the individual as little more than a cog-wheel in the system.

To keep the peace, people will more than ever have to be fed cheap bread and games via television and internet, and will have to be convinced that there is no alternative to what is happening. We know this concept well, as we have been witnessing it for the last twenty years. If none the less unrest starts to grow, as can be seen in many parts of Southern Europe, there is also a danger of a stricter, more dictatorial regime that is already on the horizon. It will however not be obviously suppressive for many years to come. The foundation on a European level has never the less been laid with the treaty of Lisbon, signed by politicians who had not read it. On the whole, dedemocratization will continue as more and more responsibilities are transferred to not directly elected ex-bankers in high-up European political structures.

Returning to Mrs Merkel, the paradox thing is that many Germans, always prone to be discontent, are growing even more discontent with many things, with a less relaxed quality of life and the intensification of work-life, with less and less buying power earned, with unaffordable housing property, with the uncontrolled influx of immigrants from anywhere East or Southeast in a continuously expanding European union, with constant lorry congestion on all major roads, with the general feeling that the political class is totally detached from the people and mostly following the lobbyists. And, while these sentiments are pretty obvious if you do not listen to the media, but instead to what the people are saying, the Germans apparently still like their chancellor Mrs Merkel. Who actually is in charge of most of this, believe it or not.

But that is the magic of propaganda. People have been taught not to make the connection between their reigning politicians and what is happening to themselves. Instead, they have come to believe as told, that it is the markets, the ‘financial crisis’, globalisation, the others, the unemployed, the nameless super-rich in other countries. But not here. Not them. Not those they have voted for in this best of democracies. In fact, when the average German really feels listened to, he or she has learned that this is populism, and thus merely a manipulative tool employed by vain politicians.

Angela Merkel is perceived as not being vain or materialist. That in fact may be true. But it misses the crucial point. Angela Merkel’s primary interest is the conservation of her own power. To that, most political analysts across the spectrum would agree. The problem is, a character driven by self-preservation is not particularly philanthropic. Politicians in general probably are not philanthropic, but it still helps those reigned if that trait is not too far down on the agenda of those reigning. But all this is too abstract for most, and they generally believe the political spin spread by private media about mother ‘Mutti’ Merkel, that modest, intelligent physicist with a clerical background. It works.

By the way, about three years after the 2013 election, private media will start to softly wave goodbye to Mrs Merkel, and public media will hop onto the bandwagon. Then, party colleague Ursula von der Leyen, whose name stems from her husband’s Dutch ‘van’ but has been converted into a more elitist ‘von’, something of the shiny and authoritarian kind that the Germans love, will take over from Angela Merkel. Mrs von der Leyen already has the backing of one of the most influential women in German politics, Liz Mohn, family head of one the world’s biggest media houses, Bertelsmann. That should help. It worked before, with Mrs Merkel.

Left and right the same can also be a feature, though usually only outside politics.

Left and right the same can also be a feature, though usually only outside politics.

On the Germans, and the strange alliance between left and right

I must get this one off my mind. It is about us Germans. My observation as a half-German, half-English, is that many Germans posses a certain mixture of characteristics that can be conflicting and, I feel, at times dangerous. I believe it is the force of history, of a century-long socialisation that has worked its way into both the rules of this particular society and into the genetic makeup of its people.

It is strange. On the one hand, Germany is seen as and in many cases is the country of poets and thinkers, of technicians and inventors, of exactness and accountability. Of course, these characteristics are spread unevenly across the country, and the people in the middle and South are generally seen as a bit more enterprising and cultured, perhaps because their ancestors were more influenced by Roman settlement all those millenniums ago.

Nevertheless, a relaxed lifestyle or the appreciation of self-humouring lightness are traits not usually associated with most Germans. Instead, there seems to be a certain essence of character pervading here more than in other European people. It can perhaps best be described as a canalised fear and envy of those unreachable and more powerful, which expresses itself in subliminal negative emotions against those who can be reached, in a fear of always getting a little too little of the cake, of somehow being left out and thus not wanting others to have more than oneself.

Of course, this is a great drive for striving to be at the top, for having the biggest car or whatever maximum symbol you can achieve, and thus it undoubtedly furthers economic success. But it is a polarising trait that can be misused, and it has been frequently. Tell the already discontent post-first-world-war little man on the street that above all the blame lies on bankers of a certain religion, and you can find a veritable drive for fascism. Tell the little man that it is the academics who are rising above them, and you have a good basis for a police state. All this happened.

The thing is, as these traits are not bound to a certain political direction, you will find them in people of left and right convictions alike. Reducing, while trying to keep to the point, the characteristics in the left seem more connected with a kind of naïve idealism and a socialist approach, whereas in the right they appear more associated with self-interest and an individualist approach. In Germany, at least, this has led to an interesting constellation.

In many cases in which a general discussion among people of all political wings would help to preserve civil peace but at the same time would hinder the personal gain of a few, the politically right have understood to instrumentalise the politically left for their own good.

The ingredients are simple: Take your personal gain agenda, mix it with an emotionalised social sounding theme and feed it to a left-wing idealist of about average intelligence, who is in addition primed with the deep engrained feeling of guilt that only Germans know. Then sit back or get on with your life. The funny thing is, the left, who more than anything dislike the right, can’t seem to gather what is happening.

And so it goes from there: Talk about the control of immigration in Germany, and you are labelled a semi-fascist. Talk about the reasons for the enlargement of the European Union, and the same happens. Talk about the introduction of the Euro, the treaty of Lisbon, in fact about anything where a few people profit financially in a big way and many only in an idealist way, and you can only lose in Germany.

Troubling events scarred the history of this country. Once upon a time, peasants started to rise against aristocracy. With the support of such good-intending reformers as Martin Luther, they were brutally suppressed and killed off in the tens of thousands. The peasants never rose again, ever.

You could think that today hope would at least lie with the German middle classes. But conformed by media and fearing for the loss of a dwindling status-quo, the middle class seems more than ever defined by materialism, and less than ever by culture. That is dangerous, because it removes the basis for a society grounded on moral values.

I do not think Germans are better or worse people than others. The Romans conquered and killed, the English ransacked during their colonialism, the United States with their neo-imperialism are today wrecking the lives of many in the middle East, and Muslim terrorists are slaughtering without regard for anything much. What I believe, though, is that too many Germans possess a combination of resentment and persistence that can, and I fear will again, be harvested by those clever, manipulating and ruthless enough to do so.

We will see what the future will bring. History usually is a good indicator.

Such a nice picture for such a serious subject

Such a nice picture for such a serious subject

Is Germany a corrupt country?

Wikipedia defines corruption as ‘spiritual or moral impurity or deviation from an ideal’. It continues, stating ‘political corruption occurs, when an office-holder or other governmental employee acts in an official capacity for his or her own personal gain’.

It is difficult, that one. Fact is, in Germany, people in politics are constantly changing into the private sector and people working in the private sector are constantly, at least for a time, changing into politics or a closely connected part of the public sector. They call it the revolving door, and though I assume that most of the change occurs for the enhancement of personal gain in the form of money or influence, that is only part of the problem.

In Germany, since at least the late 1990s, privately financed lobbyists from the media, from insurance companies and banks, from the car industry, the chemical industry and the weapons industry have been openly assisting ministries in drafting new laws. These laws are subsequently usually slanting towards the advantage of the private sector. If you ask me, that really is a problem. After all, democracy should primarily be about representing the interests of the voter, and not of those people who scratch your back. From all I can gather, things are even worse on a European level, because there is even less accountability towards the citizen there.

Adding to that, Germany is one of the few countries in the world in which parliamentarians may, without fearing punishment, receive money from pretty much anyone, as long as it is not directly connected to casting a vote. There was a mostly unanimous opinion among politicians against changing those rules, and it was argued that it would otherwise unnecessarily stifle politicians in their decision making.

The situation elsewhere is comparable. For all I know, many former employees of one of the world’s biggest investment banks are active in high-up US-politics. And coming to that, they are pretty active in the rest of the world, too. It is much the same in Britain, where Westminster and the City seem uncomfortably close. The argument for the revolving door will always be a similar one. These people are experts at what they do. Which undoubtedly is true. The question is, what exactly do they do, and in whose interest?

So can all this be called corruption, or at least corruptibility? When there is such great closeness between politicians, industrialists, journalists, consultants and lobbyists, with many openly displaying glowing friendships in the media, never mind covertly on the golf course, what in all honesty should you call it?

There is no easy answer. Friendships, relations and networks are a part of life, and more so in politics, I would guess. And even if this would amount to corruption, were it alright to call it so and thus the enabling system with it? According to paragraph 90a of the German ‘Strafgesetzbuch’, anyone who ‘abuses or maliciously defames Germany or its constitutional system is punishable by up to three years in prison’. While I am not doing anything of the kind, it does make me think about free speech. It shows that freedom is always a relative thing, which I guess must be in the nature of the matter.

Which brings me back to corruption. Germany has a great constitution, written by insightful people after a devastating war. The question is, is that constitution being respected today?

Light and shadow make up the world, and the world of politics, too

Light and shadow make up the world, and the world of politics, too

Hannover, green city of pleasant average

There is probably no city in Germany quite as smiled at by other Germans as Hannover. Unjustly, as I think, and usually by those who have never been there. Which is alright with most Hannoverians, who are content with their city in a quiet way. For many, it is simple: They have lots of green, two small rivers, a city lake and a zoo, they have the university and the trade-fairs, and they have a reasonable infrastructure, so what more could they need?

Hannover unfortunately cannot pride itself in having been rebuilt in any meaningful way after the war. There are too many buildings of the 50s, 60s and 70s, including large concrete blocks such as the Ihme Zentrum, which may have looked fine as a cardboard model, but not in real life. To compensate all this, modern art has for years been placed along the central city roads. The art is mostly annoying, but you cannot say this openly, as it would show you as uneducated and intolerant, and in addition would insult the well-paid civil servants responsible for making the choices.

Otherwise, Hannover is largely defined by easily being the greenest city in Germany. As the large urban forest, called the Eilenriede, forms a green belt of broad-leafed trees through most of the South, it is possible to walk or ride your bike for hours, while just occasionally crossing a road. Mostly adjoining or close to this green belt are two well-kept English parks, the Georgengarten and the Hermann Löns Park, both with flowing paths along green meadows, as well as the Tiergarten, which is home to deer and some porcupine. Internationally known for its firework competitions is the baroque garden of Herrenhausen. Along many of these green refuges, the quality of living is high and sometimes almost rural.

Close to the center of Hannover lies the Maschsee, an artificial lake with a footpath of six kilometers around, abundant with joggers and pedestrians. You can take a pedal boat and even sail here, and when you are thirsty have a cold drink and a bratwurst in the beer-garden overlooking the water. From here, it is just a few steps to the Arena which houses many games of Hannover 96, the local football club which at times surprises with its fluctuating success.

The new Rathaus, also not far away, is by some seen as slightly kitschy, while others love it. In any case, it is one of the few recognisable buildings in Hannover, and again borders on a park. Being the capital of the federal state of Lower Saxony, Hannover is a bustling, lively city with lots of culture, much of it tax-sponsored, including museums, several theatres and an opera house. There are concerts, festivals and sporting events here, plenty of them outside, with the Hannover marathon, the musical Maschseefest, the artistic Kleines-Fest-im-Großen-Garten and the big Christmas market around the Marktkirche church being some of the most notable.

The House of Hannover, or Hanover, as the English say, was actually some centuries ago responsible for refreshing the bloodline of the English monarchy, but today the most well-known descendant is one who drunkenly urinated in public at the Expo 2000. The Expo, by the way, was an outer-worldly expensive event, but it did have the great advantage of giving Hannover one of the nicest train stations in Germany. Which even won a prize, and that makes it official.

The people living in Hannover are in many ways similar to the city. Not over the top, but rather straight-forward and peaceful, at times edging towards the mediocre, with a quiet and dry humour. Being accustomed to it, many enjoy the green, and those who want more of nature can easily do this by driving 40 minutes westwards to the large Steinhuder Meer lake, or southwards for 20 minutes and more towards the woody hills of the Gehrdener Berg, the Deister and the Süntel, or for just over an hour to the Harz mountains, which are mostly covered in coniferous trees. Northwards you can reach the pleasant Heide landscapes in one hour, then Hamburg, and then the Baltic and the North Sea in just over two hours. Not exactly near, but easily done on a sunny weekend day.

Summing up, Hannover is not a city of life-style and flair, but for many, it is a pleasant place to live. And that can be more than it at first may seem.

The lift to the top runs at a tilt, but once you are up, you can look straight down

The lift to the top runs at a tilt, but once you are up, you can look straight down

Würzburg on the Main, and its people

The city of Würzburg is one of those places in Germany that is so perfect, it is hard to match. In many ways, it is like a piece of art or a meal with just the right composition of ingredients.

Würzburg lies in the Northern part of Bavaria, and thus is as much middle-German as it is South-German. In fact, quite a few Franconians there do not see themselves as Bavarians and could well imagine independence, or so they say. The city is sweet and beautiful, but at the same time brimming with real life, there is a large river running through it, and it is surrounded by softly rolling hills that are covered with fields, woods and vineyards. Sun and warm weather are plentiful.

The wine produced here is mostly white, as it is in many parts of the country, the typical types of grapes are Silvaner, Müller-Thurgau, Bacchus, Riesling and Scheurebe, with the latter offering a fruity and almost flowery aroma. In one of the many ‘Weinstuben’ you can enjoy a good glass, with two of the nicest places being the Eulenspiegel and the Alte Mainmühle, both offering small recluses on different levels, with a candle on a wooden table in front of you.

Although a university city rich in tradition, Würzburg, with its around 130,000 inhabitants is nonetheless large enough to offer a rich life  beyond the world of studying. There is culture everywhere, and so are churches, most of them catholic. It is hard to imagine that much of this city was rebuilt after the war, for though there are many newer houses, almost none seem displaced or modern in an overbearing way. Looking down on Würzburg is the Festung, a large fortress that can be climbed on foot or reached by car, and which then offers a magnificent view onto the town.

The Festung itself is best seen from the Alte Main Brücke, an old stone bridge over the Main river, with baroque figures on either sides. A drink or meal can be enjoyed in the adjoining Brückenbäck, a light-drenched café overlooking the river. Slightly outside and with a view on Würzburg lies the Schützenhof, a pleasant beer garden that offers beer, wine and regional cuisine.

There is a tangy taste at times, and that stems from its people. The Franconians are on occasion not completely cordial and may emit a slightly grumpy and resentful note, but it is one that you could also find in other parts of Germany, albeit in different variations. It is strange that such a nice place would not leave its people more content.

But the Franconian way of softly moaning is quickly diluted by the large amount of young students from all around the country. Being a university town definitely has its advantages. And as with any work of art and any good meal, it is the combination that does it.

Water, sky, some green and a few historic buildings. That's the taste.

Water, sky, some green and a few historic buildings. That’s the taste.