In truth, German character -- so admired and feared in some 500 years of European literature and history -- led to the present Germanization of Europe. These days we recoil at terms like "national character" that seem tainted by the nightmares of the past. But no other politically correct exegesis offers better reasons why a booming Detroit of 1945 today looks like it was bombed, and a bombed-out Berlin of 1945 now is booming.
Germans on average worked harder and smarter than their European neighbors -- investing rather than consuming, saving rather than spending, and going to bed when others to the south were going to dinner. Recipients of their largesse bitterly complain that German banks lent them money to buy German products in a sort of 21st-century commercial serfdom. True enough, but that still begs the question why Berlin, and not Rome or Madrid, was able to pull off such lucrative mercantilism.
Where does all this lead? Right now to some great unknowns that terrify most of Europe. Will German industriousness and talent eventually translate into military dominance and cultural chauvinism -- as it has in the past? How, exactly, can an unraveling EU, or NATO, now "led from behind" by a disengaged United States, persuade Germany not to translate its overwhelming economic clout into political and military advantage?
Can poor European adolescents really obey their rich German parents? Berlin in essence has now scolded southern Europeans that if they still expect sophisticated medical care, high-tech appurtenances and plentiful consumer goods -- the adornments of a rich American and northern Europe lifestyle -- then they have to start behaving in the manner of Germans, who produce such things and subsidize them for others.
In other words, an Athenian may still have his ultra-modern airport and subway, a Spaniard may still get a hip replacement, or a Roman may still enjoy his new Mercedes. But not if they still insist on daily siestas, dinner at 9 p.m., retirement in their early 50s, cheating on taxes, and a de facto 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. workday.
Behind all the EU's 11th-hour gobbledygook, Germany's new European order is clear: If you wish to live like a German, then you must work and save like a German. Take it or leave it.
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