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.
More than a half-century has passed since the Nazis prescribed the "final solution" -- the rest is the tragic history of a brutal and bloody century. After the war, the Allies tried to impose economic stability on a Germany divided into four occupation zones, and the Soviet-dominated East had to build a wall of mortar and barbed wire to keep their people from risking death to get to the prosperous capitalist west.
Those left behind in the east despised the Marxist tyranny all the more, finally heeding the plea of Ronald Reagan to Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down that wall." It was not the "end of history," as certain historians suggested, but it was a new page. East and the West, finally united, and Germany replaced the deutsche mark with the euro. They were telling the Europeans that the past was past, and with a little discipline the past would be the prologue to prosperity.
"We must not squander the historic opportunity of a common Europe," says Wolfgang Schauble. German leaders are eager to show the young that the German euro has contributed to peace, building on the idea of a "common Europe." Leaders of the 27 EU nations are holding a two-day summit this week in Brussels to talk about how to resolve the current financial crisis.
For all their talk about responsible spending, some Germans still prefer to spend their euros frivolously. In one of the more absurd art exhibits at the Hamburger Banhof, known for pushing the avant-garde, Carsten Holler has gathered 12 reindeer (without Santa or his sleigh), two dozen canaries, eight mice and two flies in an exhibit called "Soma," referring to a mysterious hallucinogenic drug from a mushroom that some think is found in reindeer urine and offers "enlightenment." (How the artist imagines the mice, flies and reindeer to perform in this crass menagerie is one of the mysteries of show biz.)
While the esoteric meaning of the show is difficult to penetrate, and I tried, two visitors each night can try harder. They pay one thousand euros (about $1,360) for the privilege of sleeping on an elevated bed in the museum slightly above the animals, with breakfast, dinner and zoo fragrance included. If they find enlightenment, they can send the formula to Brussels.
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