Sometime in this century, there will be at least three superpowers: the USA, China and Europe, in which Germany will hold the most power. This book is about what the Germans have to do to prepare for that responsibility. First thing, they have to grow up.
|This is the entire introduction.|
Welcome to Krautropa
My girlfriend had tears in her eyes.
She'd been watching TV. I was sitting in my office, back to the door, and after a while I noticed her standing there. The expression on her face was sad and puzzled at the same time.
"They're burning our flag," she said.
My girlfriend and co-writer Astrid Ule, who is responsible for half of everything I write, after all, is anything but naive. She's a modern, intelligent woman, who, like all German intellectuals, tends to lean left politically, has seen her share of political protest movements come and go and understands what's going on in crisis-plagued Greece.
She's also familiar with the phenomenon of "burning the flag" - from my home, America. When she sees images of my flag going up in flames somewhere around the world, she has no problem with it at all. Even when I say that it hurts me to watch, she'll answer unimpressed: "Then maybe your country should think about why that's happening." But her own flag - that was something else.
That was the moment I realized just how much Germany was changing. Even though most Germans themselves hardly realized it, their country would never be the same.
Only a few decades ago, Germany was the reviled home to the Nazis who had reduced half the world to ruins. Today, nearly all European countries are looking to Germany for leadership. It's an amazing turnaround: A guilty, hated villain with blood on its hands has become a respected, responsible and cautious leader in a community of nations.
Suddenly I understood what that meant for the future: Everything that America has gone through in the last 70 years - as a superpower, as an international military force, as a powerful and sometimes overbearing economy, as a hated and loved idea, as a standard to measure oneself against and to rail against, all that Germany is going to go through in Europe starting now.
It was an exciting moment for me. The burning of the German flag in Greece by the very people Germany wanted to help was only the beginning.
I took a good look at her, my German girlfriend. I wanted to remember this moment, the way she stood there confused and disturbed, and I said, "Baby, welcome to the club."
By promising to lend money to Greece only on the condition that the Greek state reform many of its policies, Germany intervened in the domestic politics of another sovereign country for the first time since World War II. It wasn't Germany alone, of course. The other countries in the European Union were involved, and Germany only supplied about a quarter of the money. But financially and politically, Germany was the most important partner with the loudest voice: Without Germany, the money probably would not have been conditioned upon reforms.
Up to now, only superpowers like the USA or the former USSR were allowed to tell other countries how to manage their own state. 70 years after the Third Reich, Germany, of all countries, is the "Führer" of Europe (how they hate that word!). Whether it wants to be or not. Most Germans don't realize even now that the combination of financial clout and political demands has already catapulted Germany into a position of leadership.
At the same time, Europe is evolving into something new entirely. It is becoming increasingly clear that if the European Union wants to survive, is has to develop from a strictly economic union into a political one. Some day in the first half of the 21st century, the EU will either fall back into dozens of powerless, isolated states or merge their states into a coherent political federation, a kind of United States of Europe.
And the United States of Europe will be big.
Already, the combined national product of the European Union member states is comparable to that of America or China: The United States of Europe will be the world's third superpower. And Germany will have the most political and economical clout.
The United States of Europe is not a new idea. It goes back as far as 1946, when Churchill made a case for it, but so soon after World War II it was a pipe dream. But today Europe is no longer at war with itself. For the first time in history, it has managed to build a union of common interests that all but guarantees the European nations will not go to war with each other again. You could almost call it an ideal situation: All the European Union needs to do is take the second step in the same direction, and it will become the world's next superpower.
Of course, there is a price to pay: Going from a collection of independent nations to a united federation means each individual country will lose its sovereignty, much like the individual American colonies gave up their sovereignty when they signed the Constitution in 1788. No country likes that idea. But looking back on history, no country is more used to change than Germany. This is a people that changes its form of government like other nations change their shirts.
Throughout most of the 19th century, there was no unified Germany. The people lived in hundreds of tiny, independent fiefdoms that were constantly at war with one another. In 1871 most of those states were unified for the first time under a single ruler in the so-called German Empire, which, for all its aristocratic pomp, only lasted 49 years. Following the disaster of World War II, the empire was dissolved and the German nobility finally thrown out of government in 1918, but the Weimar Republic, Germany's first attempt at democracy, lasted only 15 years. In 1933, convinced that democracy would not work, the Germans voted in the Nazis, who installed the Thousand Year Reich - which lasted 12 years. Under the eagle eyes of the Allied forces, Germany was relaunched once more in 1949 - this time as two states: Communist East Germany lasted 41 years, but democratic West Germany has lasted 64 years so far, making it the most successful unified state the Germans ever had.
Looked at it that way, another radical change is long overdue.
What might the United States of Europe be like?
As a federation, it could remain very much like the current European Union, in which each member state retains a large degree of sovereignty. But it's more likely that Europe will evolve into a federation like the United States of America, which is centralized enough that it appears from the outside to be a single, cohesive nation, but from the inside is still 50 states competing with each other.
This is how I think it will look:
It's sometime in the first half of the 21st century and Germany has ceased to exist.
The land is still there, as are the people and the cities - Hamburg, Frankfurt, Schnackenburg, all the rest. The Rhine still flows through the valleys, romantic as ever. The traffic jams on the Autobahn are as bad as always, and of course, the Germans' favorite TV show, Tatort, is still running, as it has for the last 40 years. Germany is just no longer a nation.
The Reichstag is still in Berlin, but in the seat where the chancellor used to be, now sits a governor. She's allowed to build a bridge here and there, sweet-talk investors and announce the winners of beauty contests, but no one consults her on the big questions - taxes, foreign policy, universal health care. Germany is part of the United States of Europe like Texas is a part of the USA.
The governor isn't even German. She's from Lithuania. Or Malta, or Romania. Like so many others, she came to Berlin (or to any other big city in Germany) from some other part of Europe, made a life for herself here and one day decided to go into politics because if no one does something, the whole country is going to go to hell. She's not a German citizen, but that's a term that doesn't even make sense anymore - she has a European passport. With that, she can vote or run for office anywhere in Europe, just like Ronald Reagan from Illinois could run for governor in California and then for president. In the United States of Europe, that kind of thing is common. People shake their heads and laugh when they think back on the days when it wasn't possible: Why shouldn't a Lithuanian become governor of Germany? What was that all about?
The governor's German isn't even all that good, but no one really cares, as long as they can understand her. You hear a lot of weird accents in Germany nowadays. In fact, in a way it's an advantage: Some of the things this woman says, you gotta love it. "It's not over until it's goulash," for example. The kids are repeating it on the streets.
The language is probably the biggest change - and the hardest change for the Germans to accept. The Germans love their language and were worried about losing it for the longest time. Then they saw that the change came much differently than they had feared.
They still speak German, they even write it, just not every day. At work or in town, they communicate in the language of Europe: English is the language of politics, economics, culture, the big newspapers and TV-series.
It's also the language of the single bars in Berlin, Paris, Rom, Budapest, Warschau, Prag and Istanbul. Only about a third of the populations of major cities are native speakers, everyone else comes from all over Europe, and they bring their mother tongues with them. But they all want a career in Germany, they all want to get ahead, they want to argue with friends and strangers about politics and pop culture, and of course they all want to get laid. For that, they need English. Or not English exactly: Like that old pioneer of European politics Wolfgang Schäuble said in an interview in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung am Sonntag back in 2012: "The most common language in the world: bad English."
But that doesn't mean the Germans, their language, their culture have vanished from the map. On the contrary:
For some time now, German has been the most popular second language in Europe and in other parts of the world. English is still Europe's lingua franca, but the Germans have so much sway, everyone wants to learn that language. You hear more German than French or Japanese on the streets in Brussels, even in New York and Beijing. All around the world, students automatically choose German as their second foreign language after English. Some people are calling it a "German Renaissance."
And it's not only the language that's getting so much attention: Classic German literature is back in vogue. The latest trend in New York reading circles is modern German literature: You hold the English translation and the original side by side on your lap - the original is so different from the translation, you really have to. The young generation of German writers play with language like a new toy: They switch back and forth between German, English and other languages so fast it makes you dizzy. To be honest, the Hungarians, the Bulgarians, the Danish are a little jealous: Their languages are beautiful, too, aren't they?
For the fourth time in a row, a German has been elected President of Europe. The Polish are beginning to lose hope that they'll ever get the Germans out of that fancy new presidential residence in Brussels, the one people call "The Little Tower of Babel." In most federal elections the conservative German-French CDU/UMP party -the so-called "Kraut-and-Crepes party" - takes the biggest percentage of votes. A lot of other states like Lithuania or Bulgaria complain, but what can you do? It's their own party that's the problem: The eastern European three-state party GERB is not big enough to govern, but it's big enough to be a kingmaker, and its favorite coalition partner is the CDU/UMP. Odd bedfellows, but successful bedfellows: East and West may hate each other, but in parliament they need each other.
Political coalitions in general have become much more interesting than in the old days: Since Turkey achieved the status of a full-fledged EU-member, most European Muslims vote for the AKP, which makes that party a kind of mini-kingmaker and a powerful negotiator for potential political partnerships. Interestingly, Islamic radicalism in Europe has decreased drastically since Muslims participate in European politics.
With sheer numbers alone, the German people would never gain a majority in European elections, but together with the French, the Italians and the Spanish they make up half of Europe's population, and West Europeans, unsurprisingly, tend to vote in blocks. That doesn't means their parties win the Presidential elections every time, but they do win more often than others, and their top candidates come most often from Europe's most powerful region, Germany. Looking back, that's the lesson learned in the euro crisis back in the 10's: He who has the money makes the rules.
And who wants to stay at home if all the interesting things are happening somewhere else? When the kids in Hungary are old enough to leave home, they run off to Germany, where all the interesting cities are, and sure enough, sooner or later they end up marrying some German girl. When they come home for Christmas, the grandchildren don't know any Hungarian Christmas carols, and they wish Grandma and Grandpa "Frohe Weihnachten" instead of "Kellemes karácsonyi ünnepeket!" They speak perfect English and German, but only a few words of Hungarian, and to add insult to injury they won't eat pogachas.
It's hard to imagine how the world once lived without the United States of Europe. Whenever there are riots in the Middle East, when sanctions need to be made against dictators, whenever a major issue goes before the IMF, the World Bank, the UN, whenever the world has to deal with a financial crisis like in 2008, when controversial environmental issues have to be argued out, the world turns not only to America, but increasingly to Europe.
Even when it comes to military intervention. Back in the day, the European states were weak military-wise, but once they all their armies together, they came up with a serious army. The Germans are still reluctant to get involved in military adventures - or at least to take the lead in them - since the experience of World War II, but the French are not so squeamish. They take the lead when it comes to fighting Islamic radicals in North Africa or keeping the trade routes in the Middle East free, and the Germans support them with technology and diplomacy. Over time, a kind of good cop/bad cop act has evolved: Germany is known for it's soft power, France for its military leadership.
But in general, the Germans are clearly the primus inter pares. They have gained so much influence in Europe, have taken the leading role so quickly that some countries have taken to calling Europe "The United States of Germany." The French, who will see themselves as the leading force in Europe, no matter the evidence, insist on using the nickname "Eurofrance," but the rest of the world just calls it "Krautropa."
|Some notes on "The Frightened Supermacht"|
There is probably no greater factor in the development of the German since World War II than their shame for the Holocaust and the fact that as long as the Allied Forces were around, they didn't have to take on any real responsibility or - more important - risks internationally. They could afford to keep their hands clean and point a finger at the Americans, who couldn't. Now they have already begun taking on responsibility in Europe and Europe - an economic giant - is on its way to becoming the world's third superpower... with Germany at the steering wheel. The Germans are facing a radically new and different phase in their history, and most Germans are in denial about it. They are living a kind of national Peter Pan Syndrome.
This book is my attempt to get them to grow up.
Buy the book.
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