BERLIN - Like most Europeans, the Germans have a love-hate relationship with America, psychologically deep and politically shallow. They love our culture, high and low, even as they sneer at "Schicki-Micki" or "Mickey Mouse chic." They imitate the best in avant-garde art, pop culture and middle-class prosperity and deride the boorish and vulgar in American life. (Sometimes they imitate the vulgar and boorish, too.)
The conflicting attitudes are reflections of the conflicted way they see themselves. They're mesmerized by the American presidential campaign, and as they watch - and try to figure out what's going on - naive ambivalence becomes ever more obvious, and ever more hypocritical.
August Hanning, the head of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, held a press conference the other day and he ladled out familiar European mush over what's happening in Iraq, noting that the path to security and democracy is "still very rocky." But he conceded that, rocky or not, Germany shares with America a mutual stake in the outcome. "All of us have a common interest, whether we take part in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq," he said. "This country must be stabilized."
Even John Kerry, who says lots of foreign leaders (all unnamed) want Americans to elect him and he's the man who can build a winning coalition of these reluctant allies, now concedes that whoever these mystery nations are, they don't include France and Germany. In something less than felicitous language, he specifically singled out France and Germany as allies who "aren't going to trade their young for our young in body bags."
So we're back to the drawing board. Somebody's got to do the heavy lifting and thank heaven for the United States. Once more with feeling, Europeans are asking themselves what kind of world they would be living in if the Americans, boorish and vulgar as they may be, were not in it. This becomes not an issue of nationalism or chauvinism but about "all of us," and about who wants to destroy "all of us."
This embarrasses many Germans mightily, because the ghost of the Third Reich still hovers over everything here. Even the youngest of the Germans understands history and feels the touch of evil. You can hardly walk anywhere in Berlin without bumping into reminders of the Holocaust. Small bronze plaques mark doorways throughout the city where Jews were taken from their homes and sent to Auschwitz, Sobibor and Treblinka. An enormous Holocaust Memorial, with its 2,700 stones commemorating the death of six million Jews, rises above the Brandenburg Gate that is the symbol of German nationhood.