On 3rd October the German nation celebrates unification of East and West – Tag der Deutschen Einheit. Everything is closed for the day, flags fly on public buildings and the ordinary worker marks the occasion by partaking of an extra long lie-in, lazing about at home and not venturing outdoors until the next day. Here in our building at least, there was no sign of life whatsoever. Nobody came out even to empty their rubbish.
The Great and the Good, on the other hand, could not take advantage of a lie-in in their dressing gowns (life’s tough at the top). They were on public show, participating in various events, beating the drum to boost the morale of the masses and reminding them that solidarity and uniformity still reign.
Horst Köhler, Federal President, braved torrential rain together with Mrs Merkel and virtually the entire government, in attending a special ceremony of thanksgiving in Hamburg. In Berlin, the people celebrated on their own in front of the Brandenburg Gate – events for the folks had been organised with live rock performances, shows, children’s entertainments and such like.
“Our people are free and politically united. We live within secure borders surrounded by friends and partners.” Herr Köhler talked of what unites the German people but omitted to talk about the many things that divide them still.
Berliner Morgenpost reveals on page 3 that the new Germany may have come of age (having celebrated 18 years of existence) but bare statistics tell a different story.
East (incl. Berlin) West
Population 16.6 million 65.66 million
Jobless 15.1% 7.5%
Wage per hour €19.79 €25.93
Having said this, it is unrealistic of commentators to expect the country (or any other progressive, democratic, western, free market economy) to aspire to total unity in everything. It is somewhat utopian to expect high salaries, services, benefits etc. to be spread uniformly throughout a nation, especially one the size of Germany (both in terms of population and land mass). In this respect, Germany is no different to any other European nation – some regions enjoy prosperity while others do not. Our modern societies are characterised by fragmentation, by regionalism, by local narratives and not grand, national narratives. The Union in Britain is on its last legs thanks to devolution. The war-ravaged Balkans have reverted to their tribal allegiances. The Soviet Union is history. For Germany to try to stay united at this particular historical moment is swimming against the current. It is to their credit that they have achieved so much in just 18 years.
p.s. I don’t know if this is a good sign or not but Herr Köhler closed his speech at the thanksgiving service with an Americanised “God bless our German Fatherland”.
GERMANY HAS THE BEST IMAGE
International market research places Germany at No1 when compared to other nations. Here are the Top 10.
3. Great Britain
[Of course, the Brits will be cheesed off: not because they didn’t make it to Number 1, but because France got ahead of them!]
The survey asked respondents to judge countries as brand names and each country was assessed according to exports, government, culture, people, tourism, immigration, investment. In other words, what image does a particular country have with the rest of the world. Note the preponderance of European nations.
LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
As it is the season for dreaded infections, the weather is changeable and not many citizens believe in the benefits of fresh air via open tram windows, it is more than likely that you will catch a cold sooner or later. The newspaper recommends, NOT going to your local doctor and dosing up on expensive antibiotics but taking instead salt-water gargles for a sore throat. If your problem is a blocked nose, try oil from eucalyptus or pine needles in a bowl of hot water and inhale the fumes. The article even compares symptoms of the common cold and influenza, just in case you are tempted to exagerrate.
[All the above snippets from Berliner Morgenpost of Saturday 4 October]
The Berliner Zeitung reported this week on another anniversary, that of Potsdamer Platz.
It has been ten years since its reopening.
For five years, the area was a permanent building site with a forest of cranes visible from all parts of the city and piles of mud and rubble everywhere. Everyone had big expectations – surely all this time, trouble and expense would come to something. A desolate wasteland could not be left as a scar on the face of the city; it would be a reminder of bleaker days in the past and we must erase those dark days and move forward.
Potsdamer Platz is now a mecca for commuters. Literally thousands of them end their morning journeys here when they arrive for work in their shiny, sanitised, high-tec, impersonal office blocks. A sort of European imitation of Manhattan, but instead of draughty boulevards we have bare open spaces.
Aside from the office park, what else can you actually do in Potsdamer Platz? What is its real use? According to the writer, all you can do in the area is go shopping for shoes and eat a Big Mac afterwards. This is the net result of the investment and work of five years.
A poignant piece of irrelevancy – the world’s first pedestrian lights were installed in Potsdamer Platz.