Germany: Anguish and Prosperity

The Germans are a funny bunch. Germany is certainly Europe’s most successful nation and yet probably among the most stressed of its people. Just a few of my observations as we enter an uncertain 2020. Oh mein Gott!

Lorenz Clasen 1860 — Germania auf der Wacht am Rhein

Stuttgart– I must give credit where credit is due: the Germans listen to each other. I think this is in part because German grammar throws their verbs at the very end of every sentence which forces you to wait for the conclusion to know what they are really trying to say before you can yell back. For those who don’t understand German, it is easy to think they only discuss serious things which, in fact, is not necessarily wrong.

Just a Gut Feeling

I have often been surprised and shocked at how openly Germans discuss their bowel movements, problems and solutions, over drinks or at dinner; whether it be your normal constipation or a kind nurse who didn’t mind getting her hands dirty to help relieve you after surgery.  Even many of their toilets are made with a shelf so they can study the problem before flushing.

The Germans are not scatological in the perverted, obsessional sense. It is merely a normal way for them to discuss serious health topics, just like knee and hip replacements which seem to be another major German health issue. 

As you may imagine, medical advertising on German television centers on laxatives, anti-diarrhea medicines and pills to keep everything regular if you don’t have a problem as well as ads for surgeons offering their hip and knee replacement procedures. Funny enough, I haven’t seen advertising for erectile disfunction pills like Viagra or Cialis. So, either sex is not much of a health issue or it is just not an issue at all. (more on birthrates below)

This is so unlike the French where sex in all its forms and situations is a topic second only to discussing their livers which are always seriously ill, la crise du foie. They never seem to link their digestive problems to what and how much they eat. That would be too easy and not require the medication the generous French health care system pays for.

The French are also convinced, wrongly, as any German will tell you, that they are the most depressed, anguished and stressed people and that is why they have one of the highest rates in the world for anti-depressants. One in three French use psychotropic drugs during any given year (2014). (click here) This, despite six weeks paid vacation, a 35-hour work week, free education through university, universal heath care, one of the greatest welfare safety nets in the world, generous family allotments (yes, the French pay you to have kids!), Etc..

Wisicenus Germania, Wikimedia Commons

But when it comes to being pessimistic, little can compare with the gloom and doom of the Germans. For historical reasons, they fear we are nearing the end because other EU countries just don’t understand debt, inflation and deficits will sink us all. They are probably right.

No Laughing Matter

Meanwhile, the Germans do laugh at what they consider humor. I am told American humor, with its one or two-liners, and “superficial, slapstick” punchlines, is just vulgar, not funny and for the under-educated. ‘Nein! Der Humor’ is developed in long monologues which set up the situation, present the facts, their thesis and antithesis, and so on. It is a little like reading Hegel and rolling on the floor at the end of the paragraph.  Actually, once you have enough ‘Kultur’ to understand it, their jokes can be very funny.

ECB in Franfurt where the Germans
can keep a close eye on the money

But sometimes they can seem like Martin, the depressed robot, in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Maybe it is all this gloom and doom which explains the extremely low birthrate in Germany. Why bother bringing kids into a world that is about to end? Yet, given the planet’s imminent economic and climatic demise, Germany remains the world’s number one export nation and often has a budget surplus. The Germans say, because they don’t have enough kids, they don’t have enough skilled labor to meet industry demands as a result. You just knew something was wrong with the good news.

Despite serious anxiety pains due to the influence on their ‘Kultur und Traditionen’ exercised by the massive influx of non-European migrants, Germany plans on making it easier for hundreds of thousands more non-EU citizens to come to the country to make up for the lack of skilled labor. (click here) They are looking for trained professionals in sectors like electrical engineers, metal workers, information technology and nursing. This certainly seems counter productive to me:

  • Further non European immigration, like that seen in 2015, will increase the appeal of the hard right and its call to protect western values, traditions and so forth. Given the high rates of unemployment in many EU countries, it would be nice if business leaders invested in training Europeans to do the jobs first.
  • What happens to these migrant laborers if experts are right and in ten years, up to 40% of today’s jobs will have disappeared due to digitalization?
  • What has always been the scandal for me is the ‘brain-drain’ on poor nations as advanced countries continue to steal the educated and skilled labor developing countries need to develop. This is the poor subsidizing the rich. Poor countries pay to educate these people. We should have understood this 40 years ago and invested in under-developed nations so their skilled labor could build them.

The German right wing AfD Party immediately struck back at the call for more foreigners that the coalition government issued on Dec.16, 2019. One of the AfD Party parliamentary leaders, Alice Weidel, quoted by AP (click here), said: “The planned recruitment of skilled workers from abroad will further exacerbate the problem of immigration and the social systems. In the end,” Weidel added, “it will turn out that when we call for specialists, we get welfare recipients.”