Germany – the new mini-superpower
As its economic clout rises, Germany sheds its postwar identity, becoming more assertive in Europe and the world.
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Then last fall Merkel decided, along with France, to create a permanent bailout fund – one with specific conditions that may have eroded the financial position of Ireland, and possibly Portugal and Spain, by resulting in costlier debt repayments. More recently, Merkel opposed plans for a bigger bailout fund as well as the creation of euro bonds.Skip to next paragraph
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Underneath it all is the view that Germany is European enough already – and the fear that it will become the checkbook of Europe.
WHEN THE BERLIN WALL came down in 1989, the center of European gravity steadily shifted from the Franco-German Rhine to the middle of Europe. The rebuilt capital of Berlin is the powerful symbol unlinking Germany from its previous seat of power, Bonn, what novelist John le Carré termed "a small town in Germany." Any talk of a New Germany "has to start with Berlin," says Hans Stark, a professor at Sciences Po, a top French graduate school.
Few European capitals had a chance at rebirth late in the 20th century. But Berlin – bristling with building cranes in the 1990s – has. Unlike France with Paris, or Britain with London, Germany is not a one-city country. Berlin is Germany's intellectual and government capital, but not the commercial or industrial capital (Frankfurt and Munich, respectively).
That gives rebuilt Berlin something of an open and unfinished air. It's been compared to a combination of Boston and Washington. Social hierarchies here are newer than in traditional capitals of old Europe. You can wear your jeans to the opera. Apartments are huge by European standards, and cheap. Food is also inexpensive.
Yet for all the scrubbing and shine, Berlin is a city where 1 out of 5 inhabitants is on welfare. The German capital is poorer than the nation it oversees.
Low costs have made the city a magnet for artists and writers. By some estimates, more than 65,000 artists reside here. It is also an unofficial playground for the under-30 "globorati" who fly in on cheap flights from Barcelona, Spain, and Rome.
The city evokes an air of liberal tolerance and creativity. The 2009 winner of the prestigious French literary Goncourt Prize, Marie Ndiaye, moved here from what she called a "morose" Paris. Concerts, symposiums, debates, and lectures abound.
In a symbol of Berlin's rise, Suhrkamp Verlag, Germany's most influential publisher, relocated here from Frankfurt last January. The house is synonymous with the intellectual history of postwar Germany. In his spacious office, Suhrkamp director Thomas Sparr pulls out an invitation to an evening tribute to Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian writer and Nobel laureate, that he is attending, and explains the firm's controversial decision to move.