Monthly Archives: June 2013

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

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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