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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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"Berlin has become the cultural capital of Germany," he says. "It is the leading city in Europe and perhaps in the world. It is becoming what Paris was in the '50s and New York was in the '80s."

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He adds, "Having said that, geography doesn't solve every problem."

The change here is palpable. Berlin may soon have its first Green Party mayor. Later in 2011 it will open a new airport. Work is beginning on rebuilding the imperial palace of the Hohenzollern family, heart of the German-Prussian empires.

Across the street from the site, the Berlin German Historical Museum is showing, without much open advertising, the first official exhibition of Adolf Hitler. It examines both the arguments Hitler used in his rise to prominence and the German people's response. It is an account of the "personalization of power" and of public complicity.

Peter Blankenburg, a high school teacher near Hamburg, says it shows "how the cultural institutions of power overwhelmed the German mind. We were seduced." But he adds that history teaching in his school still doesn't deal clearly enough with the war, and he notes that the 1930s in Europe is "a world so different" that it sometimes flies over students' heads. "We get to how Hitler came to power, but it is handled too quickly," he says. "The other problem is that my kids don't read anymore."

Elsewhere downtown, pizza and currywurst cafes are full. A roast dinner costs $12; in Paris it would be twice that. Neighborhoods are lively – someone is always playing a guitar.

Aldo Pasquini, age 28, travels from Milan, Italy, to Berlin every other month to stay with friends. He hangs out at a disco in a converted warehouse where DJs play music on three floors. "I have friends here," he says. "And there are things to do."

WHILE GERMANY'S export economy is rising, it is being built on a declining ethnic German population. That has created a new crisis. Germany needs immigrants for skilled labor, but the issue has spurred something of a backlash.

Just how sensitive immigration has become was evident last fall when Thilo Sarrazin, now a former board member of Germany's central bank, released a book, "Germany Does Away With Itself." It was an elaboration on his statement last year that Turks and Arabs are "neither willing to integrate nor capable of it." He also reiterated his belief that Turks and Kurds are genetically predisposed to lower intelligence.

German elites were angered, and Mr. Sarrazin was forced to resign his position at the bank. But the million-plus sales and other studies showing a rise in antiforeign and nationalist sentiment indicated he struck a chord. Depending on your view, it was either a dangerous airing of resentment over immigrants and Islam – or the first open national discussion on a taboo subject.

"The issue is an emotional volcano that sometimes breaks out," says Mr. Ritzmann. "People get scared when there's uncertainty."

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