The German Psyche is of interest these days (Ulrike Guérot) - Week 4

This week, I was especially busy with my presentation at the American Council on Germany (ACG), a Luncheon-event, where I presented my recent paper on Franco-German relations and a possible agreement between Merkel and Hollande on the future of the Euro-governance and growth. During this Luncheon, I was, once again, confronted with the “Why-does-Merkel-don’t-get-it?” argument, which hangs like clouds above NY. The “German question” was also present at an Ideas Lunch with a bunch of investment bankers I attended on Friday, probably the most New Yorkais-style thing I did so far during my stay: some bankers and investors, talking round robin about “what’s hot, what’s not”, real estate, commodities, gas fracking…what to buy, what to sell, what to watch out, where to invest, so quick that it made me nearly dizzy. One banker, working in real estate, recounted exultantly that Berlin is “hot” these days because Italians and Greeks would come with suitcases full of money to buy Berlin real estate. This made me feel a bit alienated. It’s probably money from tax evasion, money, which - were it available - could help to seek out the Euro crisis, and it points to the fact that Europe needs, among many other things, a better tax regulation and functioning states to make the Euro work. Thus, I couldn’t understand the exuberance about these suitcases filled with money. It made me rather sad. Not only is it bitter irony that Berlin, Germany, is again benefitting immensely from the fact that Merkel gets it wrong with the Euro. However, I have already written extensively on that issue last week.

Therefore, this week I will only give you my best reads on the Euro crisis, which, as we can see more clearly than ever, is a political crisis in the first place: One was an article by Harvard-Professor Amartya Sen that the NYT published on Wednesday: “The crisis of European democracy,” where he makes the important point - not mentioned often in Europe - that you cannot hand over decisions on expenditure to technocrats, dictating disastrous policies, without having voters revolt. Politics are, in essence, collective decisions on societal priorities. These need to be made in a legislative body, not at the EU-Commission, nor at the IMF. The Economist had another very good story on the European democracy deficit getting deeper than ever, hélas!

Reading this was the moment, where I wished the Germans had another sociologist of the same brilliance like Max Weber, who would travel to the US and depict what this country gets right about fiscal federalism – and would take his observation back to Europe. The German intellectual journal “Merkur” published a piece about Max Weber’s trip to the US in 1903 in its May volume 2012. During this trip, he was essentially inspired to write his famous book “Protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism”. These days the book would need to be something on protestant ethics and the nature of the FED or so. An interesting side note: Weber could give his presentations in German in 1903, and nonetheless, the auditoriums were full!

Perhaps, due to the fact that the situation in Europe is truly frustrating, I somehow turned away from politics to culture for the rest of the week: I went to Goethe-Institut NY at 72 Spring Street in SoHo, which, by the way, is a gorgeous location. If you haven’t been there: go! I had, in a moment of pure leisure, a sociological discussion with the director on the wedding lists in the NYT, his special interest, and the political economy of marriages in the US. “You need to leverage your life, and you can do so through marriage”, I learned. Marriage is a way to survive - or at least live better - in the expensive city. Well, I may consider that!

And as the German psyche seems to be in the midst of this Euro crisis from the US’s perspective, I thought it’d be appropriate to go to a play called ‘Freud’s last session’ on Broadway, which might help me to understand the psychoanalysis of the crisis better. One of the best sentences in the play was actually: “Close your eyes so that the Germans don’t see us.”. This was when Freud and his interlocutor tried to hide themselves while listening to the noise of approaching German bombers. Nonetheless, it is interesting to notice how present the WWII language and allusions to this period still are here, in the financial markets as well as in the theaters. And as if it was telepathy, I would receive a call from the BBC4 on the following day, whether I would be willing to be in a political feuilleton on Saturday morning about…the German psyche!

In a way, it was again the German psyche that structured Peter Schneider’s very beautiful reading of a Berlin trilogy at Deutsches Haus last Thursday, his departure event. The - deranged? - psyche of a German, who crosses the Berlin Wall from the West to the East in his novel Mauerspringer seemed that evening just like another little idiosyncratic feature of Germans. “Ugliness is inclusive” was one of the memorable sentences of Peter Schneider on Berlin during this talk.

On the more anecdotal side of this week are three things: The first one is just the observation that literally none of the many Asian women - and I really paid attention - in the typical nail studio I went to wore nail polish herself and I am still trying to figure out why. The second one was a pretty fat woman who wore a T-shirt with the inscription “Born to be wild” with so much confidence and dignity that I was truly amazed. The third anecdote is a nice moment of poetry: When I came home one night, a homeless person on 8th Street jumped up when he saw me, and, with his hands faking a camera, did a sort of photo-shooting with me. I asked why and he answered: “It’s because of your natural way to walk and you look so beautiful.” This is certainly not true, but every woman loves this sort of compliments, and so did I. I thus invited him for a coffee and it turned out he is Charly, 56 years, born in Ramstein, Germany (sic!), as the son of a black American soldier working at the US military air base. The world is so small – we were two German patriots for a small moment in time! These things only happen in NY!

So much German psyche and poetry this week: How will I go back to the austerity of European policy? Next week, just so you know, I will fly back to Berlin for the 5th Anniversary of ECFR (and I am happy: I came to NY with only flip-flops, having some illusion about May-weather in the City, and I ended up buying Gummistiefel here last week in order to avoid getting soaked nearly every day; boots I thought I’d never wear in NY; and now I hope that I get at least some glimpses of the sun in hot Berlin, which is enjoying sunny 75 degrees these days).

Hence, talking European austerity, I still need to prepare my next event at Deutsches Haus on Europe and Power, ”Venus in trouble: Is Europe running out of power?”, for which we could win Joseph Weiler from NYU Law School and German UN-Ambassador Peter Wittig. I don’t know whether the European External Action Service (EEAS) has anything close to poetry to offer, but please, come and join us anyway!