Magazine article The Spectator

Fear and Loathing in Baden-Wurttemberg

Magazine article The Spectator

Fear and Loathing in Baden-Wurttemberg

Article excerpt

Everyone is frightened of the euro. So said the sweet old lady who runs the small hotel where I am staying. She and her husband are Germans who came to Stuttgart from Slovenia 50 years ago. They have worked 'day and night' to build up their modest fortune, and now they fear their savings will be destroyed.

The old lady explained how people are trying to guard against losing everything: 'Those who have money want to put it in property.

We'd rather invest money in our own country than send it to Greece. We're worried we're going to have to pay for others. But what can the small man do? Other people don't particularly like the Germans. They want the Germans to pay for everything. This currency splits people ever more. It's divided Europe.

And the Germans didn't want to have this currency in the first place. One just doesn't know what's going to happen.'

Round the corner, at the house where Hegel was born, Frank Ackermann, an expert on that profound but mysterious philosopher, was unable to say what Stuttgart's greatest son would have thought about the euro. But Ackermann knows what he himself thinks: 'If we'd been allowed a referendum, we'd never have agreed to this Esperanto money.'

I am well aware that the Germans did not want the euro. When I lived in Berlin in the 1990s, I watched Helmut Kohl push it through in defiance of his own people, who wished to keep the German mark, symbol of post-war recovery and healthy national pride. Go into any bar and you could find angry people who told you it was madness to have the same currency as the Italians.

My guess was that on returning to Germany 12 years later, it would be possible to go into any bar and find even angrier people.

The first place I went into, just across the road from Hegel's house, was called the Tauberquelle, of which the Stuttgarter Zeitung says:

Stuttgarter Zeitung Stuttgarter Zeitung 'You don't get more Swabian than this.' Stuttgart is the principal city of Swabia, Baden-Wurttemberg, a region whose inhabitants used to be mocked as misers and simpletons, but are nowadays acknowledged with grudging respect to be clever, frugal, hard-working and rich. The first man I met was an amiable civil servant called Bruno Blattner, who insisted on buying me a drink, and who said when asked in a studiously neutral tone about the euro: 'I simply consider there to be no alternative. If we went back to national currencies, we would be going back towards the principalities and duchies. If we returned to the German mark, it would rise in value and that would totally destroy our export industries. So I see no alternative to the euro. I'm also convinced that the international markets have reduced the politicians to puppets.'

Fritz Herbst, a recently retired civil engineer, was not so sanguine: 'In Germany the euro has of course had the result that everything has become more expensive.' This was a complaint I was to hear over and over again.

But when I asked Mr Herbst about the trouble with over-indebted countries such as Greece and Italy, he just replied that what would happen was 'incalculable', and the trouble was that you couldn't tell whether everything was being done in an open and above-board way in those countries. Meanwhile it had to be admitted that from an economic point of view, 'things are going wonderfully' in Germany. Someone else described Germany as 'an island of the blessed'.

In an attempt to stir up some anger, I asked whether the euro could possibly survive. Walter Buhler, a recently retired lawyer, gave his verdict: 'The chances of survival are good. If one is serious about a united Europe one must give help. But without stricter rules it won't work.' He spoke repeatedly, emphatically and even harshly of the need for 'stricter This is one of the reasons why so many Germans shrink from expressing nationalist opinions:

it can put one in bad company rules' for countries like Greece, and for everyone, including England, 'to pull in the same direction'. …

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