German elections 2013: Island of happy people
22 August 2013
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
A month ahead of elections, Germans are fine and unconcerned at their neighbours' problems. It is in this climate of satisfaction and buoyed by good polls that Angela Merkel is leading a campaign designed not to antagonise her countrymen, jokes Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Looking at Germany from above, the country, despite its borders being firmly on the continent, resembles an island. A balmy island where living is a breeze. nonethelesss, it’s in the middle of a choppy ocean. On the neighbouring islands people are not doing so well, as if they’re feeling a little seasick; their islands lie a bit lower than the island of Germany. There, the waves thunder in over the sands and the fields, and some of these islands are at risk of being washed over entirely. The inhabitants of the island of Germany can probably see that, or they read about it in their newspapers. But those other islands seem so far away that the islanders of Germany need not worry about their balmy lives, scented by sea breezes.
That’s dangerous. At some point, this tranquil life on the island of Germany may come to an end. No one will be able to say then that they hadn’t been warned, that they hadn’t seen the signs. Twelve years ago on a large neighbouring island in the West, a horrific attack left almost 3,000 dead. The inhabitants of the island of Germany thought that was pretty bad. Something similar happened on islands in the southwest and to the north. The German islanders thought that was pretty bad too. And so even at home, preparations for possible attacks were made. But the plots were discovered early enough and prevented, and the matter was quickly forgotten.
A few years later, something awful happened again on the big island to the west. A bank there, built up a long time before by a family of German immigrants named Lehmann, went bust, and it took billions in assets down with it. Plenty of savers lost the money they had hoped to live on in their retirement. Other banks got burnt too as the financial fire spread. Even the island of Germany smelled the smoke, as some of their own banks shut up shop.
Not a serious business
For a brief moment, the happiness of the islanders in their warm hammocks was disturbed. What would happen to their money? Unrest grew as one neighbouring island to the south after another – there were close neighbours, after all – landed in big economic trouble. German money was pulled out and readied for the rescue. But the elites on the island of Germany told the crowds: the money hasn’t been thrown away – you’ll get back everything; you’ll even earn interest on it. A small protest group drummed up some resistance to this course, but quickly sank into insignificance, and the German islanders had soon wiped the matter from their consciousness. Things will work out well, thought most. Meanwhile, the stacks of billions of invisible euros were twisting higher and higher into the stratosphere.
Life was too balmy
Other terrorist events, civil wars and massacres in significant numbers have not really blown over the German islanders. That the people in the south of Europe were being enveloped by a region of the world being shaken to the core was not recognised as a serious business.
Life was too sweet on the island of Germany. The times when five out of 80 residents were unemployed were already history; only three out of 80 were in such dire straits these days. That a whole lot of people could barely scrape by on their wages and had to get something in secret from the island’s government was a reality no one really wanted to see. That many children were growing up in poverty and being taken away from their parents by authorities out of fear that their parents could not care for them caused no outcry either.
Every four years, the islanders must choose a new chief. Germany is a modern island: for eight years now, their chief has been a woman. Because there is no word for a female chief, she is called a chancellor. She’s terribly happy to be the chief, as she keeps telling her subjects. There’s an election coming up in a couple of weeks, and the chancellor wants to stay on as chief at all costs.
In the run-up to the election the islanders are constantly being polled on what they think of her. Despite her having been in power for so long, many of those asked still say they think she’s good. She’s really very popular indeed, says the party that the Chancellor leads. To help the people grasp what a great chief they have, pictures of the chancellor, oozing sincerity, are being spread around and wallpapered up everywhere. Only of her. Accompanying them are texts proclaiming what she has done for the island. And that her husband complains that she puts not enough Streusel in her Streuselkuchen crumble cake. This is the only criticism the chancellor permits.
Angela Merkel is not unpopular. But she is not popular with the masses either. The masses do not sprawl at her feet as if she were a Frankish Baronesse. Nor are they divided into admirers and enemies, as was once the custom for the tribal leaders of southern Germany. The masses are simply content that in the chief's tent there sits someone who does what the majority wants – and otherwise doesn’t bother them.
More Streusel, please!
Translated from the German by Anton Baer