I am very happy that the Guardian started a series about New Europe by travelling and writing about Germany. After all, Germany was famously categorised as “Old Europe” by former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. (Rumsfeld has family near Hannover. Allegedly they don’t get on, but that’s a different story.)
No English research of German culture can be complete without an in-depth analysis of the sense of humour, sauerkraut and 80s music. And don’t mention… football! Away from the amusing yet worn-out stereotypes, the Guardian has managed to shine a light on those German facts of life that from a UK perspective must seem plain outlandish. Germans happily live in rented accommodation all their lives? I have paid rent for my flat (or shared flat) when I lived in Leipzig, Cologne, Frankfurt or Munich. And have never felt as if I was throwing money out of the window (though if you ask me: I paid far too much). As the Guardian points out, the tenant is king in Germany. Without a fixation on the property market, Germans put their cash into the bank, we have dabbled in shares (many of us got burnt quite badly) and – we express our love for the German status symbol number one: das Auto. The latter is a German stereotype we just love to spread ourselves.
Coverage on the German economy is very extensive in the series. No wonder, since coming out of the recession, Germany is now booming. Listen to this podcast, for example. We manufacture, we export – if Germany is not exporting champion of the world in any given year, it is at least the runner up, behind China. The engine of German prosperity have been small and medium-sized, often family-run businesses. Last stallwart of a protestant work ethic that has employees celebrating 20, 25-year anniversaries in one company, sometimes at one desk. Germans are the Japanese of Europe.
And Germans are the original eco warriors of Europe. I remember green topics such as separate household bin collection being discussed in the early 80s. Now we just do it. (The discussion caught up with me like a blast from the past when I moved to London.) The hot topics today, apart from nuclear energy, are wind and solar power, and how to ensure energy sufficiency. Just like anywhere else.
Food for thought was provided by an article about filmmaker Werner Herzog and by Timothy Garton Ash’s comparison of East Germany after 1989 with the Arab spring of 2011. Of the Best of Germany list, I can recommend the naTo bar in Leipzig (Just get on a Ryanair plane and spend a weekend in Leipzig, you’ll love it!), Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden and the Deutsche Museum in Munich. If you want some real insider tips about where to party, eat out, hang out in Germany, contact me.
The Guardian cooperated with German news magazine Der Spiegel on this series. I look forward to Spiegel returning the favour and writing about Britain in 2011. And with the Guardian being an English paper… they did mention the war. A different one.
The whole series in the Guardian: