Nikita Khrushchev, the former First Secretary of the Soviet Union, once remarked, “Berlin is the testicle of the West. When I want the West to scream, I squeeze on Berlin.” Given the EU’s current predicament, I find this statement prescient. But the people of Berlin could not care less about that predicament. In fact, most Berliners find Greece a bore and Portugal simply a destination for fast, easy women. So why am I so captivated by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s painful pandering and yet also sympathetic with Germany’s plight?
Germany has served as the antithesis to the rest of the EU’s character these last four years in fiscal policies, labor markets, free trade, and general stability. In my mind, Germany is basically being gangbanged by the rest of the EU, while paying handsomely for a reach-around. Yet it’s hard not to acknowledge that the nation’s surging economy has been made completely dependent on the needs and desires of other European nations to purchase exports while keeping said goods and services cheap and affordable. In fact, next to China, Germany is the largest international exporter. With that in mind, perhaps it’s understandable that many people I’ve spoken with don’t appreciate Merkel’s international importance. Many Berliners appear dumbfounded after learning that she can be found on page one of the NYT and WSJ almost weekly. As one gentleman here remarked, “She must make your newsstands much less desirable.”
Most Berliners don’t like Merkel, but can’t really say why. All the attacks I’ve heard are of the ad hominem variety, referring directly to her looks. Pulling from a cigarette, one Berliner told me, “Her fucking haircut is embarrassing for this city,” before collapsing on the bar in laughter.
Although the Germans tend to act indifferent towards their country’s newfound responsibility in keeping the EU from collapse, they admit that politics have completely ground to a halt these past few years. But to Germans, failure is not an option. No “bailout” is too big. There is no chance of Germany breaking away from the EU or printing its own currency. Basically, this is a blip in the EU’s (hopefully) long history. As a bar patron expressed, “Keep the tobacco rolling and the pilsner flowing. These … these are the things that keep Germany functioning.”
As Klaus Wowereit, the mayor of Berlin, stated this past year, “We want for Berlin to become richer while staying sexy.” One can’t help but agree.