I was in Berlin recently and this opened my eyes to what is Germany today and what the Germans can do.  I visited this city right after 1989. There was a profound wound at that time that needed to heal and the eastern and western sides were so different. They had a lot of work to do on their infrastructure and mindset. 

Berlin is now a new city, completely rebuilt.  From public transportation to government buildings, roads, private corporations headquarters, you can see that everything has been done rationally and neatly. This city works pretty well. There is no traffic, there are excellent services. They restructured old buidings, keeping whatever was left from the old architecture. You can still see bullet holes from machine guns on the walls of some of these buildings. The American Embassy so close to the Brandenburg Gate, the iconic landmark of Berlin, is there to remind you of the past. 

The wonderful Reichstag, the seat of the parliament of the Weimar Republic between 1919 and 1933, was badly damaged during the war. In 1990 it hosted the ceremony of reunification and only in 1999 it became the meeting place of the parliament, the Bundestag. 

You perceive that Germans have a particular relationship with their history. Their past is not presented openly in all its dramatic aspects, but you can feel it in the air. Germany is now in a position of leadership in Europe. It is amazing what they did if you consider the situation of total destruction of this country after the war. They are the biggest economy in Europe. One of the few nations in Europe with a trade surplus. I think the current crisis has blessed Germany as the leader in Europe. In relative terms to other European countries, thanks to the crisis, they are further improving their position. Think of their role during the Greek crisis, and note how badly Great Britain is being hit by the financial meltdown.

They are getting stronger also with regard to the French, who are for sure uncomfortable with a too strong and influential Germany, although their continental ties from a political and industrial standpoint are quite good. 

 One of the long term trends I see in Europe is the consolidation of their leadership and an increased role of Germany in all European matters.  This might not be perceived well by those who look at the past history of the country, and also look internally in Germany.   Very recently, the Federal President of Germany Horst Köhler announced his resignation following heavy criticism about comments he made on Germany's military role in the world.  On May 22 upon his return from a trip to Afghanistan he stated that "in emergencies, military intervention is necessary to uphold our interests, like for example free trade routes, for example to prevent regional instabilities which could have a negative impact on our chances in terms of trade, jobs and income."  Some critics said that his comments indicated he would use the military unconstitutionally and for economic reasons. This is an important signal of the sensitivity of discussing certain topics in this country. 

Fiscal measures were decided recently; Berlin will cut the budget deficit by a record 80bn euros by 2014.  Some have been critical of German budget plans. With so many European governments under pressure, German budget cuts do not help the European economy to recover and the risk is that Europe goes back into recession. And I think it will.  Germany is also reluctantly providing the biggest national share of the euro rescue package and the bailout for Greece.

In summary, although Germany is now the recognized leader of Europe, they still are not fulfilling their role comfortably and their population is reluctant more than the political leaders are.





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