For the past decade, there has been a consensus that Germany has become the leading force of Europe – and a leading force for good and progress in the world. When Stefano Di Lorenzo, the author of the book “Mutti and the Mannschaft: Germany in the Twenty-First century” (published by East & West Books), first moved to Germany in 2007 he was, like many other young people trying their luck abroad, full of dreams, ideals and excitement: the new Germany looked to him like some kind of progressive utopia, a model of efficiency, honesty and modernity.

You can buy the book: “Mutti and the Mannschaft” on Amazon here.

Never really considered a cool or interesting country, the way France, England, or the US could be, Germany underwent a radical image transformation in the first two decades of the twenty-first century. It used to be a place where migrants from poorer countries went to work in German factories as “guest workers”, which means they were “tolerated” until they had to leave when the work was done. These “guest workers” were never supposed to be integrated or become part of German society. “It was strange because when I moved to Germany people were asking me: ‘When are you going to leave?’ instead of when I came”, says the author.

This has changed dramatically. It was 2010 when Merkel said that the Multikulti, the German attempt at achieving a multicultural society, had “failed, failed completely”. It may sound incredible now. Five years later, the same Chancellor, by now having earned a reputation (deservedly or not) as the wise leader of Europe, became a symbol of openness and tolerance, when she agreed to let in more than a million refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other places in a single summer. For progressives all over the world, Angela Merkel was now an instant hero.

One less pleasant of German leadership over the last years, however, has been what has been perceived by many, especially in Southern European countries, as a form of arrogance and persistent moralizing. Like the author points out, Germans tend to give the impression of being often extremely self-assured and they will not hesitate to show than they know how to do things better than everyone else – not for nothing, there is a German word for this, Besserwisserei, or knowing-it-all, which is regarded as nothing short than a national sin.

The author quotes Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist who lived in Berlin between 2015 and 2019, before moving to England: “Germany is not an open society. It is a society that wants to be open, but above all it protects itself”. And this book presents this contraction, between an expressed tolerance and openness on one hand and a constant dismay towards foreigners on another. Germany was probably the least apt country in the EU to take such a high number of migrants. Whether it’s in relation to how other EU members run their countries or how the Turkish want to open schools in the country, there is a fear of this foreign other that will distort the pure German sense of values. Foreigners are accepted as long as they become Germans. It may be an acceptable thing, probably: the trouble here is that it is exactly the opposite of the public cult of diversity that has become the state religion in Germany.

Germany’s leadership in Europe also looks problematic: despite the incessant pro-EU rhetoric, it is the very German economic models that have been imposed in particular after the euro crisis of 2010-11 that are so divisive and that have led to a rise in anti-European sentiment across many countries in Europe. German high-mindedness and the typical northern European attitude to dismiss entire countries as lazy, corrupt or inept have not helped neither. For this reason a German Europe appears little more than a fantasy – Germans after all, despite being in general very pragmatic people who don’t even pretend to enjoy small talk (small talk is regarded as something for dumb and vacuous people) have always in part been dreamers too.

Richard Sattler

You can buy the book “Mutti and the Mannschaft: Germany in the Twenty-First century”, East & West Books 2020, by Stefano Di Lorenzo on Amazon here