A sad bunch

Here’s a ridiculously broad generalization based on nothing more than reading headlines and book titles during two days in Munich but…

Germany seems depressed — not economically but emotionally. And I’m not talking about the people but the journalists and the politicians. On bookshelves, I saw plenty of titles pondering whither Germany and opportunities lost. In the papers I (tried to) read, I saw plenty of headlines and stories about no end of knotty social issues. There’s a new regime taking charge and no one is jazzed about it because it is truly a none-of-the-above government.

  • The thing is though, I’ve found that the art coming out of Germany, especially in design and digital art spaces is so amazing as a reflection of the frustration wtih the government. Discontent always breeds the best of artistic expression, and with Germany friends and artists, I notice this.

    Take a look at the work of art+com. Socially it might be going downhill, but artistically I still find it inspiring. I of course still have yet to venture to Germany :)

  • I think a lot of people are depressed because they had hoped for a significant change in the political landscape. Now, with no clear majorities in the election and the resulting “Grand Coalition” governing the country, those hopes are gone. This coalition is going to make for one major roadblock, and I am very much in doubt that much will be achieved – too many egos & agendas involved, and not enough power on either side of the coalition to push through the radical changes needed in the labor markets and the fiscal discipline of the country. I would argue that many Germans share this sentiment, and what else but emotional depression & frustration could one expect from them… I, for one, am very disappointed with the results.

  • thibaud

    Same’s true for France and Italy. The French are almost masochistic in their appetite for books about France’s decline, malaise, fading position in the world, intractable unemployment, outsourcing of so many jobs to E Europe, etc etc. The Italians are irritated by their own economic stagnation and by the destruction, or better, migration eastward, of their own native industries, as well as the decline of many small and medium town centers. And of course the leadership in all three countries is beneath contempt: corrupt, economically incompetent, masters of scapegoating and intrigue but utterly unable to explain in intelligent, plain language what the hell they are doing or intend ot do to get their stagnant countries moving forward again. Berlusconi is a crook, as is Chirac. The French well know that their political elite was in hock to Saddam, as it has been to TotalFinaElf (and v-v),

    And of course there are the #@$%^&%! immigrants, and the American vulture capitalists, and the asian predator firms, and summarizing it all is that grand agent (in the Euro-mind) of disruptive global capitalism and the clash of civilizations, GW Boosh.

    Oh, finally, relations between men and women in these countries are also at a low point. Italian women overwhelmingly reject marriage and raising a family– the Italians actually have the lowest birthrate in Europe– and Italian men often continue to live at home well into their 30s and remain mama’s boys. Hard to know which side is more to blame for the complete collapse of the Italian family.

    Ditto for formerly-sacred French customs that held society together, such as families sharing home-cooked meals together. A bestseller in France describes how most French families rarely eat together anymore without either going out for fast food or else watching TV while they eat. Forget all the Bush-hatred. These societies are miserable for reasons of their own that have zip to do with who occupies the White House.

  • leon

    Gee, you mean that these sad citizens are actually addressing the issues in a meaningful way and not in sound bytes, or through puff pieces in a search for easy answers that confirm existing prejudices? They’re not claiming that their’s is the best fucking country in the world? They must be doomed.

  • Marianne

    I think that economic depression at some point inevitably leads to emotional and social depression; it is kind of hard to be cheerfull and optimistic when you cant find work to support yourself. And that is in fact the case Germany, Italy and France. The unemployment-rates are very high, and it has just been getting worse over the last years.
    And GW Bush might not be the most popular person i most European countries (I’m a European myself) but that is to a large extent for very different reasons than being ‘the grand agent of disruptive global capitalism’. I think the main arguments against Bush is political not economical.
    That was an Europeans (or more specific a Scandinavians) brief take on it.

  • You might be interested in reading a European-based blog (in English) to get more of an international viewpoint that appears on the popular US-based ones.
    The site is European Tribune at http://eurotrib.com

  • “Gee, you mean that these sad citizens are actually addressing the issues in a meaningful way and not in sound bytes, or through puff pieces in a search for easy answers that confirm existing prejudices? They’re not claiming that their’s is the best fucking country in the world? They must be doomed.”

    Yes, economically and demographically, Socialist Europe is looking quite doomed.

    Hey, I’ve got an idea, let’s emulate them.

  • James S

    leon wrote..
    “you mean that these sad citizens are actually addressing the issues in a meaningful way” …(and then he went on to take a cursory jab at Americans.)

    leon, I see zero evidence in these posts of Europeans “addressing” anything in a meaningful way. Rather, they speak of the malaise, depression, and feelings of hopelessness in their fading societies.

    To address a problem requires action, not brooding.

  • I know some Germans (personally) who are indeed depressed. Mostly about their economy. They see their ‘guaranteed’ workweek and benefits going down the drain as well.

    Ask anyone who actually owns a business: Trying to guarantee the number of hours in a workweek is like trying to capture smoke. Even if you succeed, it ain’t smoke for long.

    We need to set the best example we can, with free markets and encouragement for small business. That’s the best help we can provide.

  • Joe Deegan

    Maybe they would feel better if they had done something for somebody such as helping us free Iraq. I would think a country with their history would leap at the opportunity to do some good to sort of start to balance the books.

  • matt

    I was in Munich this week and had dinner with an old friend. There is both an identity crisis and one of confidence in Germany today, as he told me. The German social compact is falling apart, and rather that the traditional German spirit of hard work, values, and responsibility, today, he felt, there is an apathy and laziness that will have dire consequences.

    As a businessman and one whose family is highly regarded throughout the country, his opinions were very disturbing.

  • What a bunch of baloney. The Germans helped in Afghanistan. They helped in Kosovo. They are helping in countless peacekeeping missions all over the world. They are doing plenty good for plenty people in plenty countries. Just because they have their own will and don’t necessarily tag along in every single war that the US starts, doesn’t mean they don’t have a social conscience (which you are apparently implying). Also, if you know a little bit about the post-WWII history of the country and the rules imposed by the occupying forces after WWII, you will know how big a deal it is for Germany to deploy troops to any out-of-country missions.

  • My comment avove was in response to Joe Deegan’s post.

  • Joe Deegan

    What they have done such as Afghanistan is good, but I think they have to do more of it to feel better about being German. I’m thinking some selfless acts are necessary for human beings and human societies.

  • nick

    No offense, Carsten, but the Germans did little more than show up in Afghanistan. Many of their assigned duties are being performed by American contractors and soldiers after their slow action led to problems for other multinational forces trying to complete their own duties. Were they to run their own affairs in such a way, it would explain much. For those of us who have seen Germans work in and out of Germany, it’s hard to reconcile their failings with personal anecdotes. On a personal level, they are smart, mature, conscientious people not afraid of a little work, yet their institutions, public and private, seem to squander their enormous potential. It must be frustrating. I guess that’s why so many are applying for visas to America — they don’t see the problem getting any better.

  • It is my impression from a far remove that Europe gives off a grayish vibe like late-70’s Carter-malaise America. They seem to have that same sense of helplessness and futility that permeated the US back then. Check out some first season episodes of Hill Street Blues to see what I mean.

    I think that democratic socialism squeezes the life out of societies like a python. It gradually squeezes the freedom out of a people until they are left feeling helpless and suffocated. People trade little economic freedoms for little economic securities until decades later they discover they have no freedom left at all.

    They reach a point were each individuals knows that they can make few choices on their own. Any significant change requires pulling the consent of the entire population. Knowing they cannot get such a consensus, individual feel absolutely helpless to effect their own lives.

    To be happy, people need more than material security. They need the ability to control their own lives and make their own decisions. The socialist model robs them of that.

  • David Davenport

    Oh, finally, relations between men and women in these countries are also at a low point. Italian women overwhelmingly reject marriage and raising a family– the Italians actually have the lowest birthrate in Europe– and Italian men often continue to live at home well into their 30s and remain mama’s boys.

    A Russian or Ukrainian mail order bride would fix ’em up.

  • Joe:
    I would agree that more in that direction needs to be done so people can feel better about being German (which still doesn’t mean it has to be in Iraq, there are plenty of other opportunities out there). The problem is, there is a lot of ambivalence among Germans in regards to pride about being German. Due to the country’s history, people are often almost ashamed to be patriotic, fearing that it may be mistaken as Nationalism similar to mid 20th-century Nationalism. Believe me, I have spent close to 20 years in Germany (I left the country a few years ago), and I have encountered this ambivalence in many people. I don’t know what the solution is, I can only hope that Germans will accept the fact that history is history, and nothing is wrong with being proud of one’s country 60 years after the end of the war.

    I do not know enough about the ins and outs of what Germany accomplished or didn’t accomplish in Afghanistan. It wouldn’t surprise me though if what you are saying is true, as it would only be testament to something I do know: the German military is hopelessly out of date, out of shape, and out of money. Again, because of its history, because of the rules imposed by the WWII occupying forces, and because of many Germans’ fear of a repeat of history, any discussion about funding of the military beyond basic upkeep immediately raises eyebrows in Germany, to say the least. It’s not that they couldn’t run a better armed force, but that the majority of Germans seems to be happy with the status quo, i.e. a very limited military force with as little international combat involvement as necessary. This is the reason why the number of peacekeeping missions involving German forces far outweighs the number of combat missions.

  • Knowing a few Germans and having spent some time there, I absolutely agree with that assessment, broad generalization though it may be.

    For Germans accustomed to their government’s cradle-to-grave social policies, the need to contract those policies’ many expansive provisions is a source of ongoing disappointment.

    When one adds to this the massive influx of Turkish immigrants, with the resentments and fissures that creates, and disappointment that the assimilation of the East has not been as seamless or joyful as expected, you have some understanding of what’s going on in Germany right now.

    (The German inability and apparent unwillingness to assimilate Turks into Germany could create situations similar to those that recently arose in France.)

    I think you’re right, Jeff.

    Mark Daniels

  • JRA

    My take, as a UK expat in Germany, is that they’re depressed at the moment partly because everyone knows their country has economic problems and the SDP/CDU alliance is not exactly filling people with confidence – and there’s nothing they can do about it till next election; and partly because of the time of year – everyone I know gets more subdued around now, with the cold and rain and longer nights and people coming down with colds and suchlike. (I’ll also note that, generally, I find the germans are a pretty cheerful lot and show a right and proper fondness for beer, which is of high quality here.)

    Regarding how generous the germans are, saying they’re miserable because they do nothing for the world is slanderous. Whether their peacekeepers are actually all that useful is irrelevant – I don’t think the general population of any first-world country are well-informed about what their or their neighbours’ troops are doing in Afghanistan, so I don’t see that it can possibly affect their perception of generosity and their state of mind. Quoting the matter of Iraq is ridiculous – look, I’m proud of my country for the fact that we finally knocked Saddam Hussein from power, but the germans were, by and large, convinced that the Iraq war was a very bad and wrong thing. Of course they weren’t going to go along with it. From their point of view the right thing to do was lobby against it and protest in the streets; and when the war fought anyway, to contribute aid and reconstruction assistance after. And, that’s what they did. I’m not going to credit it to them as wisdom, but it should be credited to them as taking “the opportunity to do some good”, as they saw it.

    Whether, as individuals, they’re prepared to “do something for somebody” – well, we can look at the amounts of private giving for that. 2004 private giving as % of GDP (for foreign causes) runs:
    Norway (0.48%) > USA (0.12%) > Germany (0.08%) > Canada (0.07%) > UK (0.06%) > France (0.03%) > Sweden (0.02%) = Denmark (0.02%).
    So, far more generous than their neighbours; somewhat stingier than the US; and a lot stingier than the norwegians (who, presumably, should be renowned across the world for their sunny disposition.) So, OK, maybe the norwegians have a right to talk as if the germans give nothing to the world.

    (Data from here and here. Caveat: rather approximate. GDP is normalised to PPP, but which measure was, helpfully, not specified; so I normalised charitable giving to The Economist’s Big Mac scale.)

    (I’d address why I don’t feel giving to internal causes is relevant but this is long-winded enough already.)

  • JRA

    (And rereading the original post, I notice I forgot the specific disclaimer that it’s about journos and politicos, not the common people. Mea culpa; most of what I said applies anyway though, with the exception of private giving and personal knowledge of their cheery nature and stereotype-fulfilling love of beer.)

  • Joe Deegan

    I didn’t pick up on the only journos and politicos either.
    I can’t imagine that having to concede that your country was the worlds bad guy starting the greatest war in history wouldn’t havie a depressing effect. Germany has faced up to it’s history. Wouldn’t something on the other side of the ledger be a great thing.

  • JRA

    Joe: there’s only so much guilt and depression you can feel about what a bunch of people (who are now mostly dead) did when you were a kid or even before you were born. It wouldn’t make any sense to mope about it, and the germans I know don’t, as far as I can tell. Learn the lessons, deal with it, make sure it doesn’t happen again; then live life as normal.

    (And I think many germans, if asked about balancing the ledger, would reply that opposing war and promoting international peace and goodwill *is* something on the other side of the ledger…)

  • Dave

    I think socialism and the resultant culture of entitlement has softened up old europe. When things get rough, those who know how to get going actually get going. Since socialism by its very nature relies upon the State to cure all ills, and they have such a group of buffoons as their politicians, who seem to point to the U.S. as the cause of everything wrong, then what can you do? it’s not the politicians’ fault- it’s Bush’s fault. Everything in the whole world that affects europe negatively is Bush’s fault, espec. if you believe the media and pols.
    Then again, if it’s not an economic malaise, maybe it’s a spiritual emptiness. They’ve gotten all their toys, and it’s not made them happy. Even if you don’t believe in the Bible’s inerrant truths, it still inspires values that build strong families, community and inspires hope.

  • Tim


    Socialism makes people weak because it fosters dependency; stupid because they don’t have compete; and poor because it doesn’t create wealth. Absorbing an entire country in which two generations were made even more impoverished by Soviet Communism only makes matters worse. Their elites are undoubtedly depressed because they are smart enough to know Germany has entered a long cul de sac, but not smart enough to figure out how to secure the illusory benefits of Socialism while avoiding the obvious and unavoidable tradeoffs. Invariably things will have to get worse before they get better. We should give them our compassion more than our gloating.

  • I’m an American who has lived in Germany for 15 years and can confirm your observation.

    Germans are depressed–not just journalists and politicians–and have been so much of the time I’ve been here, though probably are more so now. An American can’t help but notice the fatalistic streak of the German people, a certain feeling that not only are things not good and not likely to get better but that one can do little to nothing about it oneself.

  • Joe Deegan

    I was there with the US Army 1969-71. At the time Germany was still experiencing an economic miricle and the big worry was the Sooviet Union. They did accomplish an amazing recovery after WWII so I think they are capable of great things. I wouldn’t count them out no matter what the situation.

  • Knemon

    This is off topic, but … It’s an interesting thing: Germans (people with some German ancestry, anyway) are either the largest or second-largest ethnic group in the US, depending whom you ask, and yet outside of a very few neighborhoods and small towns, there’s no sense whatsoever of Germanness among them (among us, I should say, as I’m mostly Krautish myself), or a perception of such in the rest of the population.

    The reason for this is obvious, I guess.

    Kurt Vonnegut (who’s been saying some … regrettable … stuff of late) writes about this in the prefaces to several of his novels. Germans in this nation are sort of the invisible people. Maybe it’s for the best.

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