“Germans are more cynical about our leaders,” Fritz said. “We don’t expect them to solve big problems quickly. Our government works by consensus. Our major parties differ in details, but have the same basic ideas. We know change happens slowly.”

His name wasn’t really Fritz, but that’s German for “Fred.” (More)

Scattered Reflections, Part I – On Here, From There

This week Morning Feature will offer some scattered reflections on the past month. Today I’ll share some Fritzflüstern (Fred Whispering) experiences on how Germans see the U.S. Tomorrow I’ll share some thoughts on European politics. Friday I’ll try to tie it all together. Saturday is Christmas, so we’ll take a break from politics to review a 1st century blog from Judea recently unearthed by our Department of Pseudoarcheology.

The U.S. news of the past month seemed dominated by the debate over extending the Bush tax cuts. I kept up with events here through Noontime News and BPI’s news feeds, but I also watched and read some German news. I didn’t see any German stories about the tax cuts, though there was a TV piece comparing America’s unemployment crisis to similar problems in some European countries. Mostly I talked with Germans: friends of German Beloved, whom we were visiting, and others I met on trains and in markets.

“A very European outlook.”

Fritz said that after I said I see politics in terms of long cycles and trends that span decades or even centuries. He was driving us to visit one of many castles along the Rhine near Koblenz. He joked that castle building had been a hobby among the local leaders, though the castles served an important function. The Rhine was and still is a major trade artery, and the castles were both taxing and police stations. Tea party activists may see taxation as legalized theft, but that was better than the alternative: ‘taxation’ by anyone with the means to extort money or goods from passing traders. Government taxes were at least predictable, and the castle watchmen chased bandits from the river and the villages and vineyards along its banks.

Castles took decades to build. Most began as small, hilltop garrisons, augmented with new walls and facilities year by year. Projects were generational, with grandchildren working on buildings begun by their grandparents. It reminded me of an Italian saying about olive groves: “I reap what my grandfathers sowed, and sow what my grandsons will reap.” I said politics worked the same way, and Fritz called that “a very European outlook.”

“It is a complicated problem, and no one can solve it quickly.”

He said Germans don’t expect their government to solve difficult problems quickly. “We know it takes time to change anything, unless you want to make it worse. Only that can happen quickly. For the rest, it takes patience and persistence. We are still working on problems created decades ago, some by policies that looked for quick solutions.

“Our Turkish population is an example,” he continued. “We wanted workers quickly, but then they stayed. Now they have no homes in Turkey to go back to, but many never learned German and can only get menial jobs here. It is a complicated problem, and no one can solve it quickly.”

I asked what he thought the solution might look like.

“They will have to become more German,” he said. “And we will have to accept some of the ways they are not. To be German will mean something different than it does now. But to be German now means something different than it meant in the past. So we will change. Then there will be other complicated problems.”

River bandits gave rise to castles. Castles gave rise to warring local leaders. They grew and consolidated, eventually giving rise to the horror of World War II. That gave rise to the European Union, which has brought its own problems. All are complicated. None have quick, easy solutions.

But Fritz accepted that. “Check back in a few hundred years,” he said. “Then we will know how well we did today.”


Happy Wednesday!