North Sea neuroses

Matthias Matussek, once London correspondent of Der Spiegel and now its culture editor, not to mention brother of top diplomat Thomas Matussek, has a book out. Wir Deutschen: warum die anderen uns gern haben können is meant to be a call for a renewed German patriotism and pride in culture. This would usually suggest a very dull book, but I enjoyed it immensely. Not for the right reasons, though.

Matussek’s approach is idiosyncratic, not that there is anything wrong with that, and the book is really a collection of essays, on topics ranging from Heinrich Heine and Angela Merkel to Britain, Britain, the German economy, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, the World Cup, Britain, Danish cartoonists, the East after reunification, and Britain. In fact, an obsession with Britain runs through this book like letters through a stick of rock-hardly a page passes without comparing some German institution, writer, company, statesman or building to one in Britain, and no chapter is complete with a volley of snark directed roughly westward.

Now, it is a truism that Britain and Germany share a mutual obsession. But this would be less interesting if it wasn’t for the sheer wordcount devoted to complaining about the British obsession with Germany. There is a complete chapter on Anglo-German relations, which I looked forward to-the possibilities are immense. Would he dig into the pre-1914 closeness that gave Bradford a Little Germany (and its own Nazi, Ernst-Wilhelm Bohle, born there in 1903 and later Rudolf Hess’s right hand) and Leeds a Dortmund Square, Robert Graves a relative on the Oberste Heeresleitung?

Nah. Instead, most of the chapter is dedicated to the results of a trip to Germany for some schoolteachers his brother’s embassy organised, and a pleasant but uninformative weekend in the country with John Le Carré.
Continue reading

It Was Easy to Miss…

but one of the most important decisions about the future of European security was announced Monday in Germany. Defense Minister Peter Struck has been on the airwaves and in the papers a great deal since the beginning of the year, talking about military reform. He’s been having a bit of a rough time of it. The Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung tartly noted that at the same time Struck was calling on the Bundeswehr to suit up for more demanding missions, he was announcing plans to cut the German armed forces? procurement over the next decade by considerably more than 20 billion euros. That’s more than a fistful, even by military standards. Predictably, there?s been a fuss, most loudly from armaments companies, saying that the planned cuts deny them the “planning security” that they had come to expect from the government. Second loudest has been the opposition, which has been doing its job by opposing the government’s plans.

But Struck’s pronouncements weren’t the important ones. The most important news about German defense, and thus European security, came from the Renate Schmidt, Minister for Families, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. No, really.
Continue reading