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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.

By Staff writer / January 30, 2011

Reuters photo/John Kehe illustration

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Berlin and Chemnitz, Germany

Quietly at first but less so now, Germany is breaking out of its postwar identity – the assumptions and understandings that held it in place for 60 years. Germany is shedding the past, busting old taboos and being more assertive. What an evolving Germany will look like in 20 or even five years is unclear, but will have profound consequences for Europe and the West. Much of the recent breakout is due to a rising German industrial base achieved by elbow grease, niche market savvy, and, as is often said here, by "doing our homework."

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Germans have looked around lately to find they have the preeminent world-class export economy in Europe. No one else comes close. German precision tools are coveted in Asia and Russia like Fabergé eggs. Germany is building much of the Summer Olympic and World Cup facilities in Brazil. The next generation of Eurostar trains linking the Continent and Britain will be made by Siemens of Germany, not, as they traditionally have been, by Alstom of France – a blow to French pride.

Postwar ideals and institutions that bound Germany into Europe – Yalta, European Union integration, NATO and transatlantic solidarity, the Franco-German alliance – are still visible. But they are less central to Berlin as time moves on. New generations of Germans read about Auschwitz as ancient history, and kids in Berlin schoolyards play with Russian children. Old taboos about patriotism and flag-waving are waning. Germany appears a more "normal nation."

On some fundamental level, Germany's emotional postwar binding with Europe and America is giving way to a new "realism." A reunified Germany is talking openly about its own interests and not subordinating them to EU interests. It now talks, for example, about protecting its trade routes. That's certainly not unfair – it's just new.

"Germany feels Europe is holding it back and that it increasingly wants to go global alone – faster, further, and better," says Ulrike Guérot, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. "There is a gap between the old rhetoric and the new reality."

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