Suzanne Fields
BERLIN -- A united Germany turned 21 this week. Families celebrated a three-day weekend, with the children waving black, red and gold national flags in the bright sunlight of an unseasonal October summer in Berlin. In Bonn, the capital of West Berlin when Germany was divided into the Soviet east and the free West, fireworks flashed across the night sky.

Unification has not been without problems, and the conventional wisdom is that it's been harder on Germans in the east, where unemployment is almost double that in the west. But it's difficult to find a German who would return the communists to power.

In fact, the fall of the Wall, which is celebrated on Nov. 9, usually draws bigger celebratory crowds. But the date falls on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, "the night of the broken glass," when on Nov. 9, 1938, Nazi thugs smashed Jewish homes, burned synagogues and broke out the glass windows of Jewish shopkeepers all across Germany. Delicacy prevented the date being taken as the official holiday of German unification.

This year's unity celebration follows Angela Merkel's resounding victory in the Bundestag, the endorsement of her decision to increase Germany's contribution to the eurozone rescue fund. The debate was fierce and will remain a continuing challenge to the government. Many Germans, like others in Northern Europe, resent paying for the high life of profligate Greeks in their Dionysian disarray. Peter Altmaier, chief whip of the Christian Democratic Union, the lead party in Merkel's coalition, told the Financial Times, "A huge majority is a very strong signal to Europe, the financial markets and America, that Germany is ready to resume its responsibility (in the eurozone crisis)."

It's difficult to recall how a wary world feared a unified Germany 21 years ago. There were fears that a militaristic nation that plunged the world into world wars twice in the 20th century had not really learned its expensive lesson. But times change. For four years in a row Germany has been ranked the most popular country in the world in a survey taken by the BBC of 30,000 people in 27 countries. A popularity contest is rarely about power, but it's an irony nevertheless that Germany is the poster country for peace and popularity.

This might be a source of pride, but it was hardly reported, discussed or debated in Germany. Germans are rightly sensitive to the judgment of history, and are generally reluctant to say positive things about themselves lest their criminal past be thrown in their face. Such sensitivity affects the way they act.


Suzanne Fields

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

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