Suzanne Fields

BERLIN -- "Money, money, money makes the world go round, the world go round." Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli sang it loud and clear in the movie "Cabaret," based on Christopher Isherwood's tales of the high life among the lowlife in the Berlin of the early 1930s. Today, they might change the lyrics to "euro, euro, euro, euro." But no one here suggests the euro is making the world go round.

The Germans grumble over the loans to Greece and Ireland as the cost of borrowing has risen for German consumers, along with the healthy economies in the European Union. Why should Germans help the profligate Greeks, who get to retire 10 years earlier than they do?

"A Greek in his early 50s is sipping ouzo all day with his friends on a sunny island," a German translator tells me angrily, "while at the same age I face another decade of walking home from work on cold nights, feeling lucky when I can stop for a beer."

Or as Christopher Caldwell puts it in The Weekly Standard, "Frugal Germans fear that their savings will be shipped to Greece to fund retirement-at-50 for a bunch of mafioso."

Some Germans pine for reviving the deutsche mark, romanticizing its solid and independent past and willing to go it alone. Wolfgang Schauble, the German finance minister, is eager to spike such fantasies, noting that sentimentalism over the deutsche mark is based on "unrealistic nostalgia." He's eager to calm agitation in global markets, fed by fears of investors that German support for the euro, crucial to the health of the currency, is diminishing.

"Without the euro, our own currency would experience a rise in value with negative consequences for exports," Schauble tells Bild, Germany's most widely read newspaper. Germany has one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, expanding at almost 9 percent a year, and its unemployment rate has fallen to 7.5 percent since the beginning of the global financial crisis. Unemployment now stands at its lowest in 18 years.

Germans are understandably terrified of inflation. They remember the trillion deutsche marks required to buy a loaf of bread after World War I, captured dramatically in the famous photograph of a man pushing a wheelbarrow piled high with money, on his way to the bakery. The government had turned to the printing press in hopes that inflating the mark would pay off the reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. It didn't work. When Adolf Hitler arrived with an agenda of evil, the Germans were willing to consider anything.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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