John Kornblum, former US Ambassador in Berlin, knows a thing or two about Germany from his forty years’ acquaintance with the country.
In a nation traumatized by violent upheavals, voters seem to demand an emotional insurance policy before accepting change. This insurance must promise that new methods will not undermine the social and economic stability, which is so important to their special postwar sense of self.
New ideas must be sold as not really changing anything. Change must be seen as a method of strengthening stability, not as a new way of doing things. German politicians have become adept at making new ideas sound like old ones. In the words of Konrad Adenauer: ?No experiments.?
A current example of this phenomenon is the tone of political and economic writing in Germany. With a few notable exceptions, authors focus on the inevitability of collapse. Germany?s economy is destined to decline, the Chinese will rule the world, and America is finished as a great power.
There are few grand visions for a new future. Instead, readers are warned that if they do not move quickly, their comfortable world will collapse around them. Motivation is negative rather than positive.
However strange this discussion may sound to outsiders, it seems to be serving an important purpose within Germany. Belief in the old stability is wearing away. As 2004 comes to an end, the most important question is not whether there is going to be change, but how it will come and which direction it will take.
The whole essay is here. I think the part about undertaking significant change while maintaining the whole time that nothing is changing is particularly accurate.
When I was doing more transatlantic bridge-building, I used a sports metaphor.
America’s national game has clearly changed over time. Baseball reflects the rural past, with rules uninfluenced by the clock and the emphasis on individual duels, pitcher-batter, runner-fielder, and so on. Then came football, with its near-industrial approach: time management, extremely specialized roles, carefully choreographed processes. Now the game is basketball, an information age sport with smaller teams, fusions of roles, the mix of planning and improvisation and, of course, global superstars from Michael Jordan to Yao Ming.
Europe has always played soccer and probably always will. But just because it’s the same game with a round ball that lasts 90 minutes, doesn’t mean that it’s the same game at all. Broadly speaking, it’s possible to discern a rural approach (English football), an industrial approach (German, or perhaps more accurately Dutch, “total football”), and now the globalized game, probably best symbolized in Europe by the French team in World Cup 1998.
The lesson for Americans aiming to understand Europe applies here to anyone wanting to figure out a bit more about Germany: Just because the game is apparently the same doesn’t mean that the game is the same.