By Klaus Kastner / Observing Greece
To be sure, I am Austrian, not German. Also to be sure, Austria has had its share of German aggression and humiliation over the centuries. In 1740, the Prussian Frederick the Great did not even wait 2 months after the death of the Habsburg Emperor to invade and occupy one the of Habsburgs' most prosperous provinces, Silesia. Particularly when considering that his Habsburg counterpart, Maria Teresa, was an inexperienced, if not a bit helpless young lady of 23 years' age at the time, that wasn't necessarily an act of honor.
Over 100 years later, in 1871, Bismarck kicked out the Habsburgs from the German Nation which he had unified. Allegedly, Bismarck felt that the Austrians with their proximity to the Balkans had assumed traits which were not quite compatible with the noble German traits. When considering that the Habsburgs had been the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire (of the German Nation) for about 600 years, and particularly when considering that from the viewpoint of the millennia-old Habsburg dynasty the Prussians were regional upstarts at best, this was a classic addition of insult to injury. And then there was the year 1938 when Nazi-Germany invaded Austria, thereby turning Austria into the “first free country that should fall prey to the typical aggressive policy of Hitler”(Moscow Declaration).
And yet – I like Germany and the Germans and I am appalled by the Germany-bashing and the blasting of the national character of the Germans which is taking place in many corners of Europe these days, for the simple reason that I feel that it is totally unjustified and only reflects lack of knowledge of today's Germany and Germans.
I have spent 13 out of my 40 working years in Germany, 6 years during the 1970s and 7 years during the 2000s. I have lived in Munich and I was always responsible for the South German Market, that is the states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. These two states I know really well. The rest of Germany I know only from short trips, mostly business trips.
First of all, Germany is a beautiful country which seems to have everything from the Alps to the forests to the rivers to the plaines to the seas. The Germans take extremely good care of their country. Looking down from an airplane, the entire countryside seems manicured. On the ground, everything is indeed very well taken care of, public properties no less than private properties. That is always a key aspect for me because there are countries where the private properties are in excellent shape whereas the public properties are reminiscent of garbage disposals.
I have found the Germans to be a very friendly people with no fear of foreigners. My Austrian nationality was always a plus because the Germans have a soft spot for 'these charming people from that beautiful small country'. Most importantly, I have always found the Germans honest and frank in their communications. No sly maneuverings like in the more Alpine areas of Central Europe. Doing business with Germans was always rather pleasant: handshake quality, clear arrangements, no hidden agendas. I had only one major credit loss during my 13 years in German banking and that was with — an Austrian forestry entrepreneur in Germany who had cheated us!
I was fascinated with German solidarity and the Germans' acceptance that solidarity carries a cost. After German re-unification, a temporary solidarity tax was implemented to finance the reconstruction of the former DDR. I believe 8% was added to every tax bill and it translated into about 100 BEUR per year, initially intended for 5 years. That solidarity tax is still in place today, 25 years later, which means that the have's of the West have contributed over 2.000 BEUR to the have-not's of the East so far! There is a domestic transfer union where for years now only 3 states (Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hesse) have been payers and the other 13 states have been receivers. And, not to forget: Germany has been the largest net payer to the EU since inception.
If the Greek have's would show a similar kind of solidarity with the Greek have-not's, Greece's humanitarian crisis would be over tomorrow!
In summary, not once during my 13 years in Germany have I come across that German stereotype which is currently being created in some corners of Europe and in some intellectual circles. On the contrary, if the rest of Europe were more like the Germans whom I have met, Europe might be a better place. I have my family roots in Austria but if that were not the case, I might prefer living in Bavaria or, particularly, in Baden-Württemberg.
Interestingly, after googling the subject a bit I found that I am not alone with my opinion of Germany and the Germans:
May 2013: BBC announced that Germany is the most positively viewed nation in the world in this year's annual Country Ratings Poll for the BBC World Service.
November 2013: Germany was ranked 2nd after the USA in the annual Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index which measures the image of 50 countries.
November 2014: Germany was ranked 1st in the Anhold-GfK Nation Brands Index and surpassed the USA for the first time.
January 2015: Even in Israel, Germany is ranked as the most popular European country.
July 21, 2013: Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, writes in The Telegraph: “Forget about trying to contain Germany – we should copy it!” His article is one long love declaration to Germany.
Finally, the greatest surprise. I came across an article in The Telegraph by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard titled “Germany is the ultimate victim of the EMU”. AER starts out by saying: “Enough is enough. Please stop defaming Germany out there in the blogosphere. The Germans are not engaged in a mercantilist conspiracy to subjugate and milk southern Europe. They are not conducting 'warfare by other means', or heaven forbid, trying to establish a Fourth Reich”.
I think many Germans would feel very good after reading this article. They would feel understood why it is that they are so reluctant Eurozone members nowadays. They didn't really want the Euro; the 'strong Deutsche Mark' was their symbol of national self-confidence. But they were promised by their elites that the Euro would be just as strong as the DM. In national advertisement campaigns they were promised that it was'absolutely impossible for a EZ member state to become over-indebted' because it was'absolutely impossible for a EZ member state to run budget deficits in excess of 3%' (the Germans and the French were the firsts ones to exceed the 3%…). The Germans were cheated by their elites just like the Greeks were cheated by their elites.
I am glad that I am not German because I would feel terrible in today's Europe. On one hand, I would think that my country had really become a 'Musterschüler' after the Nazi-disaster; that we would always have done what we thought was objectively right and morally defensible. Not without self-interest, of course. And on the other hand, I would read and hear all the time that we are modern-day Nazis who employ financial waterboarding to achieve what our predecessors had not achieved with arms – the complete subjugation and Germanization of Europe. And I would cry to myself: “What kind of an idiot thinks that we have only the slightest intention to subjugate Europe?!? Don't they understand that we have learned from our past?!? Have they not troubled to find out what Germany and Germans are about today?!?”
Will today's Germany and the Germans ever get a fair trial in the judgment of their national character? I am afraid, not. That's the price which the grandchildren are paying for the sins of their grandparents.
This post was first published in Klaus Kasnter's blog Observing Greece and is republished here with permission by the author.